Superintendent Damisch part of specially trained superintendents to graduate from Illinois School for Advanced Leadership 

Why would an educator, having reached the level of becoming a superintendent, put in two more years of research, training and learning? Ask the 19 Illinois superintendents who just completed the Illinois School for Advanced Leadership (ISAL) cohort and you get a common theme: to go higher and farther in their pursuit of excellence.

Marengo-Union Elementary District 165 Superintendent Lea Damisch graduated from ISAL in June.

“ISAL has allowed me to develop into a better leader through purposeful research and opportunities to collaborate with other superintendents statewide,” said Damisch, who has been an educator for 17 years, the last six as superintendent in the Marengo-Union district. “It was great being part of a group of dedicated professionals that truly cares about kids.”

ISAL was developed and is sponsored by the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), the statewide organization that represents public school superintendents and administrators. The goal was to create a new level of leadership in public education.

“Given all of the challenges facing superintendents and public education in Illinois, we thought it was important to provide a unique opportunity through rigorous curriculum, training and experiences for those men and women who were willing to push themselves beyond what is expected of a superintendent,” said IASA Executive Director Brent Clark. “Everyone talks about return on investment, and in this case it will be making a difference in public education.”

The two-year ISAL program included developing a personal professional growth plan, as well as developing a district plan for student achievement that included conducting a comprehensive needs assessment. Each of the ISAL students was assigned a veteran superintendent as a coach. ISAL also studied the superintendent’s role through five leadership lenses: 1) facilitator of shared moral purpose, 2) change agent, 3) relationship/culture promoter, 4) capacity builder, and 5) coherence maker.

Creating ISAL had been discussed as early as 2005, and a design team composed of veteran superintendents and educational leaders was formed in 2008. After two years of work, the ISAL program was rolled out in 2010. Nancy Blair, a professor of leadership studies at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee and an author of three books on leadership, facilitated the program.

“I think this program is unique. I say that because it compares to what we do in our doctoral programs at Cardinal Stritch with regard to transformational leadership. We work deeper than most programs, from the inside out,” said Blair, noting that the ISAL graduates had to develop a personal growth plan as well as a district plan.

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