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Second Project LEAD Summit Brings Faculty, Candidates Together to Share Progress

SLI 2015
Lisa LaDonna Cooper and Linda Mitchell of State Farm present funds to the ACI Center to support Project LEAD during the spring summit in Chicago.

In April, faculty and teacher candidate “ambassadors” representing institutions in the Associated Colleges of Illinois (ACI) convened in Chicago to take part in the Project LEAD (Leaders in Education Advocating for Diversity) Spring Summit. The summit, conducted by the ACI Center for Success in High-Need Schools, followed up on the inaugural Project LEAD meeting that took place last fall. (Read more about that meeting here.)

The day began with a welcome and celebration of the ACI Center and the initial successes of Project LEAD by its sponsor, State Farm. This included a brief talk by Community Relations Specialist Lisa LaDonna Cooper as well as an exciting presentation of funds to support participating institutions.

Project LEAD initiatives are laying the foundation for building awareness and identifying supports that will encourage and retain diverse teacher candidates. At the summit, ambassador and faculty teams from each institution shared progress on their campus projects and plans for future advancement, which included such tools as informational videos, mentoring programs, surveys, and recruitment at college fairs. In addition, the ambassadors shared their desire to continue to collaborate and develop a structure and toolbox for this specialized project with contributions from current and new Project LEAD institutions.

Participants also learned about projects under way across the country, as well as in their state, to advance diversity in the teaching workforce. A presentation about state policy and teacher diversity was provided by Jason Hefler, deputy superintendent of the Illinois State Board of Education, and AACTE staff shared an update about the Association’s teacher diversity initiatives (including the Black and Hispanic/Latino Male Teachers Initiative Networked Improvement Community (NIC), the recently expanded Holmes Program, and the topical action group Diversified Teaching Workforce: Recruitment and Retention).

Later in the program, school administrators Rita Guzman (Joliet) and Robert Croston (Chicago) shared insight about their own educational paths and the importance of teacher diversity. Staff from North Lawndale College Prep conducted a training session on restorative justice and promoting peace, and teacher candidates and faculty alike were inspired by the impact of the restorative justice program.

Our own college’s Project LEAD initiative has focused on both recruiting and retaining diverse candidates in our education program. Current North Central ambassadors, who are upperclassmen, will serve as mentors to first- and second-year teacher candidates with the goal of ensuring that students know they have support and resources as they complete their degree and secure a teaching position.

Overall, it’s been an exciting inaugural year for the Project LEAD initiative. We are looking forward to the future progress and positive impact of this collaborative endeavor on the field of education!


Alicia Okpareke is a faculty member with Project LEAD at North Central College. Cris Chacon is a Project LEAD student ambassador at the college.


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Alicia Okpareke

Project LEAD, North Central College

Cris Chacon

Project LEAD, North Central College

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