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History of CLI

For more detailed information we invite you to view the tabs on the left to navigate through the history of Curriculum Leadership Institute.

  • Overview

  • Foundations

  • Inception

  • Expansion

  • Independence

  • Crisis

  • Enlightenment

  • Refocusing

  • 25 Years of Service

1982: Center for Educational Research and Service is started at Emporia State University

1984: Dr. Stu Ervay named as director of the Center for Educational Research and Service

1984-1991: Dr. Ervay spearheads publications, field services, workshops, grants and research in the area of school and curriculum improvement

1989: The Center is renamed The Jones Institute for Educational Excellence

1991: Dr. Ervay leaves The Jones Institute to establish Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI) in order to provide more direct, contractual services to districts and develops the CLI Model.

1998: CLI gains nonprofit status and continues to develop and improve the CLI Model while working to bring meaningful curriculum development to school districts in many states across the country.

Applied scholarship is the initiative of a researcher to create a service model, based on clear and verifiable findings or theory, that promotes discernible change within a system. The scholar’s work is to theorize how an existing practice can be improved, create a model, implement and assess the success of that model within a specific field.

Applied scholarship in the context of social entrepreneurship, means that a researcher is motivated to make change happen within a social context for reasons other than monetary gain. Business leaders are accustomed to financial risk-taking within traditional entrepreneurship for the purpose of profit gains. However, many services are valued for reasons other than pure economic gain, such as the care and education of children, where quality is determined through performance, rather than dollars and cents.

Applied scholarship within the context of education, often calls for intervention. Intervention may not be initially requested or appreciated within the system being addressed due to systemic malfunction or inertia. For this reason, researchers offering a new service model must promote the idea in such a way that it appeals to administrators. Progressive administrators may hold a similar philosophical position as the researcher, or simply see the need for change after experiencing failure with other models. Once initial reservations are addressed, leaders and practitioners in a client school or district should understand and trust the service model enough to engage with the social researchers.

As a social entrepreneurship, Curriculum Leadership Institute was officially organized in the spring of 1991. Events leading to that date began with the issuance of a report titled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform in 1983, written and issued by President Ronald Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education. This landmark set of findings and recommendations initiated great discussions and fueled the impetus to improve education as it was then practiced.

In 1982 Richard Ishler, dean of Emporia State University’s College of Education (now The Teachers College), created a new organization called the Center for Educational Research and Service. Jack Skillett, as the center’s director, began developing services to assist Kansas public schools. Included in those services were research reports on the status of the state’s schools, sponsorship of workshops, and assistance to regional service centers such as the Flint Hills Education and Research Development Association (FHERDA).

Skillett sought assistance for the Center for Educational Research and Service from faculty members in the College of Education. Stu Ervay, Director of the Office of Professional Education Services, was one of these early participants. In addition to his interests in student teaching and field internship programs, Ervay paid special attention to the Nation at Risk report and it’s subsequent impact on legislation. He noted that many states, including Kansas, were creating mandates that required schools to delineate curriculum and instructional programs more thoroughly than had been in the past.

In 1984, Stu Ervay was named director of the Center for Educational Research and Service. Ervay continued initiatives begun by Skillett, promoted to dean of the College of Education. Together they expanded the center by creating multiple functions for the center such as: publications, long- and short-term field services, workshops, grants and special programs, and research and development.

As director of the center, Ervay spearheaded in-depth research and initiated a weeklong workshop in 1985 on curriculum leadership with partners among public education leaders. School districts interested in establishing processes associated with the work of Fenwick English (Curriculum Mapping), Bill Spady (Outcome-Based Education) and Larry Lezotte (Effective Schools) decided to work together. Subsequent workshops were held in 1986, 1987 and 1988. During that time, Ervay and associates developed a model for managing a district’s academic program. They sought to support each element of that model with a strong theory base. For curriculum design they used Ralph Tyler’s theories and research findings. For aligned instruction, Benjamin Bloom. For curriculum management Ervay ultimately discovered the work of William Edwards Deming, who was an expert on how business organizations can ensure the development of quality products and services. Ervay determined that most of Deming’s principles could be applied to education organizations in the context of proven governmental decision-making processes.

By 1989 Center for Educational Research and Service was renamed the Jones Institute for Educational Excellence and the College of Education was called The Teachers College. Despite the name changes, Ervay and his associates continued the work of school improvement by writing publications, conducting workshops, presenting at national conferences, and providing field consultant services both within Kansas and other states.

The Jones Institute for Educational Excellence soon published a monthly document called The Curriculum Leader, which was distributed to schools throughout Kansas and was available nationally as well. In order to create an internal entity with a name descriptive of the curriculum design and development work being done, Ervay formed Curriculum Leadership Institute. Ultimately, he decided that workshops and publications were only marginally effective in changing the internal management systems of public schools. Ervay decided to implement a comprehensive model for on-site consultant services. However, schools needing the help of on-site service providers required much more time than could be offered by professors and other full-time members of the ESU faculty and staff. University fiscal management, while able to support research and incubation projects and activities via grants, was not flexible enough to handle complex service projects paid for by contractual arrangements.

Due to internal management and financial problems encountered while working within the Jones Institute for Educational Excellence, Ervay left it in order to form an independent version of Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI). He maintained close ties between CLI and The Teachers College, using much of the research and findings of CLI to support improvements in his continued instruction of university courses. CLI activities were particularly valuable to Ervay in such courses as: Curriculum Leadership: Models and Strategies, Designing Instructional Programs, Designing Authentic Assessments, among others.

Among the substantive needs required to form CLI as an independent organization were the creation of a business model, corporate by-laws, acquisition of funds, office space, and personnel. Ervay and his team met every challenge. One of most formative choices among personnel hired for CLI was Carol Roach, writer/consultant. Carol had been involved with the Jones Institute for Educational Excellence and also had been the lead speechwriter for the Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court.

CLI’s initial steps included a comprehensive mailing campaign that sent promotional materials to over 15,000 public and private school districts throughout the United States. From that initial campaign came $85,000 worth of subscriptions to The Curriculum Leader, opportunities for workshops and long-term service contracts. More mail campaigns were also successful during the spring of 1991 and summer of 1992. In order to keep up with the demand, Ervay added more clerical assistants and consultants, and moved the CLI headquarters from his home office to an office suite in downtown Emporia.

Two popular movements initially sustained Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI), outcome-based education (OBE) and curriculum mapping. At that time, public school districts were still supported primarily by local property taxes and often, Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) money allocated by the United States Department of Education (USDE). However, in 1995 a perfect storm hit the education world, striking from two directions. These fronts included (1) a vicious and misguided attack on outcome-based education as being an anti-religious movement, and (2) state actions designed to equalize school funding formulas. With OBE under a withering attack from many groups in the United States, CLI found itself in an uncomfortable situation because virtually all of its publications and materials regularly referred to that idea and practice. Also, superintendents feared making many discretionary budget decisions when it appeared that funding options could be diminished overnight as soon as equalization formulas kicked in.

Those who remained with the CLI through the crisis (Ervay, his wife Barbara, Carol Roach and Ilah Gilreath) had to function day-to-day, and everyone saw salaries eliminated or dramatically reduced. All options were considered, including the possibility of bankruptcy. However, everyone was determined to see CLI through the storm. 

There are many stories about how a crisis can dramatically clarify thinking and perspective, and that was certainly true with Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI) in 1995-96. The internal management of CLI needed to change and the business model underwent serious modifications. CLI would than apply and qualify as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. The decision-making process became more collaborative and the terms of employment with CLI became more entrepreneurial, and less imitative of annual teacher contracts.

Also during those years, the Kansas State Department of Education was hosting block grant projects issued by the USDE under the ESEA plan known as Goals 2000. CLI staff explored all options available in those programs. A proposal was written for one of the projects, and it was successful in gaining financial support for a CLI/ESU sponsored project titled the Instructional Design Network (IDN). IDN and its many public school participants contributed to the development of excellent new tools for use in aligning curriculum with instructional implementation.  Essentially, IDN was a stimulus for moving CLI toward adding implementation and assessment strategies to its curriculum management services. CLI was able to offer a much more comprehensive training and development package than it had before, allowing it to focus less on outcome-based education and Effective Schools as critical elements of the school improvement model.

In the late 1990s the growing use of technology was changing methods for communicating with prospective client districts. Subscriptions to CLI materials continued to diminish. Instead, CLI focused more on long-term service contracts and workshops.  

Switching gears from publication and workshops to service contracts almost exclusively meant more challenge for Curriculum Leadership Institute (CLI). Long-term contracts with school districts meant:

  1. regular travel,
  2. using consultants with a thorough knowledge of the CLI process,
  3. getting involved with the day-to-day processes of school improvement in client districts, and
  4. finding and training field consultants with leadership skills, as well as remarkable personal and academic qualities.

It was evident that CLI field consultants must be: available to travel quite often, researchers in their own right, and comfortable working within the politics of the educational organization they serve while staying aloof from it enough to be effective.

Since the conception of CLI to the present, our organizational goal remains the same, improve and refine our comprehensive model in order to achieve the end goal: maximize student learning. Our caring consultants roll up their sleeves in school districts everyday to apply our “what works” model to curriculum design.  The map of our districts served, speaks to our amazing reach over the years. CLI has grown throughout the years and anticipates future growth as well. Our model is summed up with statement from Devin Embray, Superintendent of Glenwood Community School District, Glenwood, Iowa:  “There are many models out there that talk about instruction OR curriculum OR assessment.  There may even be some that speak about two of the above three, but I have not found one that speaks to all three in the depth and degree that CLI does.”


The First 25 School Districts CLI Served

During our 25th year celebration, we published a 3-part interview series called “Meet the Founders.”  The first interview introduces Stu Ervay and Carol Roach, as they share their backgrounds in education as well as the very beginnings of CLI. Part 2 and 3 help listeners understand the educational milieu of the last 25 years, and also explain the secret to our longevity in the education field, which has been so wrought with change and political influence. 

Part 1 link

Part 1: Meet the Founders






Part 2 link to video

Part 2: “Like a Family”






Part 3 link to video

Part 3: “The Essence of CLI”