Center for the Study of Higher Education 

Project SOAR

Project Student Outreach Access & Resiliency is the UA’s premier mentoring program. Project SOAR targets students attending under-resourced middle schools in the Tucson area. The program enrolls approximately 100 UA students per semester who serve as mentors for hundreds of middle-school students.

Native SOAR

The Native SOAR program focuses on University of Arizona (UA) Native American college students mentoring Native American high school students towards the goals of college access and academic success.  Alongside its mentoring aspect, Native SOAR also encourages families to take part in this experience by participating in our Campus Visits. The campus visits and one-on-one mentoring are designed to encourage and motivate college-going by providing strategies on how to navigate the college experience and processes. In all of its operations, Native SOAR maintains much respect and inclusion for the diversity of cultures and traditions of all Native American communities we serve. The Family Education Model (FEM) and the eight pillars of the American Indian Well-Being Model are pivotal to the program and services Native SOAR offers.  The Native SOAR program is currently being supported by the Helios Foundation.

For more information please see:

Educational Leadership Program

AZiLDR Develops School Leadership Teams for Continuous  Improvement

School leadership is essential for continuous school development and effectiveness. With today’s accountability policy demands, curriculum changes, reforms, and other external pressures (e.g. poverty), principals cannot lead school improvements alone. Arizona Initiative for Leadership Development and Research (AZiLDR) is a research-based school development process that prepares leadership teams to build capacity for continuous school development. AZiLDR is co-directed and facilitated by UA faculty members, Rose Ylimaki and Lynnette Brunderman. Maria Menconi, retired deputy superintendent from TUSD and adjunct faculty member, is also a lead facilitator and trainer for coaches.

Teams vary according to school size and level, but they most often include the principal, assistant principal or coach, teachers, and a district representative. These participants attend ten days of Institutes spread throughout the academic year as well as monthly follow-up meetings (regional PLCs), and individual school visits (walk-throughs). Topics for the institutes and regional meetings include team building, culture and climate, step-back coaching, curriculum standards, quality instruction, data literacy, and culturally responsive practices. With support from the districts and AZiLDR, teams develop and lead data-driven plans for improvement throughout their schools. In so doing, teams build capacity for curriculum work-leadership throughout their schools. Teams also examine their own school /district data as well as results from a leadership survey and periodic interviews that they use for reflection about their progress and for the development of next steps.

The school development process was initially developed in a statewide ITQ project in 2011-2012. Based upon findings from the statewide project, we refined the content and delivery system. During 2013-15, 8 additional Southern Arizona school teams competed the refined project with funding from the state of Arizona. Preliminary results indicated improvement in the state letter grade for all participating sites as well as growth in the capacity of the sites to implement change; these results have been presented at UCEA, AERA, and the European version, ECER, and published in Leadership and Policy in Schools and Journal of Educational Change.

16 additional school teams will participate in the project through 2015-16, with another ITQ grant providing funding support for most participants. In some cases, districts are paying for participation. Last  year, two doctoral students worked on the program: Lisa Fetman and Jennifer Porter.  you are interested in more information, contact Jill Koyama at or Lynnette Brunderman at

Sunnyside Featured in Statewide Project: Strengthening Instructional Leadership Mathematics

The UA , in conjunction with the Sunnyside Unified School District, has engaged in a project ‘Strengthening Instructional Leadership in Mathematics’ sponsored by an ITQ grant. Several phases have already been implemented. In the summer of 2014, all K-8 and pertinent district administrators and other K-8 mathematics leaders (i.e., coaches) were provided intensive professional development around the four goals of the original grant, 1) shifts in content and process standards; 2) instructional shifts; 3) relationship to instructional leadership; and 4) communicating with parents and community. Following this training, Sunnyside principals requested to lead the professional development for the teachers of the district, and thus a new phase began. The district was divided into 5 clusters, with principal and teacher leader teams together providing the professional development for their respective clusters. To accomplish this, leadership team members underwent intensive additional training, and were provided a structure in which they could plan together for the delivery of 6 modules. A consultant, Cynthia Lee, provided the template of the modules as well as intensive training with the teams, also allowing them time to plan for delivery while providing support for any questions that might arise. These six modules were then delivered across the district on designated Wednesday afternoons from October through March Finally, the project featured a group walk-through experiences on a quarterly basis to allow administrators and coaches to refine both their observational skills around AZCCRS mathematics implementation and their feedback skills. External evaluators noted tremendous growth in the ability and comfort level of building leaders to understand and provide appropriate feedback. 

For the 2015-16 school year, the project will continue with continued group walk-through experiences and debriefing on a quarterly basis as well as capacity building for a base of teacher leadership (K-6) in mathematics across the district who will support PLCs focused on mathematics, curriculum revision, professional learning of mathematics content and pedagogy, and a compilation of unit assessment exemplars. For additional information, contact Dr. Brunderman at

New International Curriculum Work-Leadership Project

There has been a growing interest in international research on educational leadership. The increased international focus on leadership is connected to more nationalized curriculum policies (e.g. Common Core), evaluation policies, and a borderless world vision of open markets. These policy and societal changes have also redefined how power and influence is distributed between central administration and local schools, between state level administration and private interests, and between transnational organizations and various nations. These developments also make it crucial to see connections among policy studies, societal trends translated into curriculum, and leadership practice.

During her sabbatical year in 2014-15, Rose Ylimaki co-developed a new international project on curriculum work-leadership with Professor Michael Uljens (Abo Akademi, Vasa Finland). To begin, Ylimaki and Uljens co-developed a general framework for curriculum work and educational leadership that builds upon strengths and limitations of educational leadership studies, curriculum theory, and policy studies. The new general framework for curriculum work and educational leadership will inform new research studies and school development practices in the midst of policy and societal changes. Ylimaki and Uljens will co-edit a book on this topic for Springer Press and a special issue in Leadership and Policy in Schools in 2016. For additional information, contact Jill Koyama at

International Successful School Principalship Project (ISSPP)

The ISSPP is the largest and most sustained network on research on successful school principalship across nearly 20 countries and involves faculty and students in the Educational Leadership Program at the University of Arizona. Case Studies draw upon: (1) data collected from multiple perspectives; (2) comparisons of effective leadership in diverse contexts ranging from small primary schools to large urban secondary schools; and (3) identification of personal qualities and professional competencies generic to effective school leaders. The research team at the University of Arizona is particularly interested in effective leadership that contributes to educational and social justice in communities characterized by high poverty and cultural diversity. Further, the Educational Leadership program is using findings from the ISSPP as part of their efforts to cultivate the next generation of leadership in the borderlands.

For more information about ISSPP, please see

To find out about our most recent international ISSPP conference involving EDL students and faculty:


Turn Around Leadership Project Report

Turnaround Leadership Development Project (TLDP)