The department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) at the Morgridge College of Education hosted a colloquium on November 30 that focused on the challenges and experiences of turnaround schools in the greater Denver area. The event featured a panel discussion between principals of current turnaround schools as well as district administrators working with turnaround schools.

The colloquium’s panelists, all of whom have graduated from, or are current students of, the Turnaround Success Program, included:

  • Peter Sherman, Executive Director of the District & School Performance Unit at the Colorado Department of Education
  • LaDawn Baity, Instructional Superintendent and former principal of Trevista at Horace Mann
  • Ivan Duran, Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education, a graduate of Denver Public Schools, and a current EdD candidate at the Morgridge College of Education
  • Nick Dawkins, principal at Manual High School
  • Lisa Mahannah, principal at Oakland Elementary
  • Julie Murgel, principal at DCIS Montbello
  • Jésus Rodríguez, principal at Trevista at Horace Mann and current doctoral candidate at the Morgridge College of Education

The panelists held a discussion about the realities of providing leadership in turnaround schools and the many factors, internal and external, which can contribute to a school requiring turnaround services. Pre-conceived notions about communities, the difficulty of providing adequate mental health services, and disparities in low-income and disadvantaged communities all contribute to a lack of student success.

Culture was an important theme of the discussion; panelists talked about how important it is to create a structure and provide high expectations and accountability to change students’ perceptions of learning.

A second, and significant, theme of the evening was innovation. The ability to innovate varies between each school due to differences in priorities. Despite this, panelists all agreed that having the ability to take initiative to get results in schools is of the utmost importance.

After the panel discussion, attendees engaged in a design thinking activity in collaboration with the Daniels College of Business. Jennifer Larson, a student at the Daniels College, led a brief presentation describing design thinking – the experience of “how” rather than just “what,” and asking “what if we?” or “why can’t we?” – in relation to solving a challenge. The activity included participants breaking out into groups to learn from each other about unique experiences with challenges in their educational work.

Susan Korach, the ELPS Department Chair, closed the event by asking what the audience heard and did not hear from panelists and fellow participants. Attendees noted that they did not hear discussions about test scores or practicing for assessments, nor did they hear pessimism or excuses from their colleagues about the work they do. They did hear an emphasis on relationship-building in their communities, honesty about equity and oppression, and hope and optimism regarding the future.

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