In the Spring of 2018, before Dr. Phil Strain and his team from the Positive Early Learning Experiences (PELE) Center made their official move to the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education, Strain collaborated with Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley, and Dr. Elaine Belansky, director of the Center for Rural School Health & Education (CRSHE), on a pilot virtual learning series focused on early childhood education through the newly launched ECHO-DU, a hub-and-spoke model of distance learning with a home base inside Morgridge College. The three leaders, in addition to Hema Visweswaraiah, Director at Morgridge’s Fisher Early Learning Center, put together a proposal for Constellation Philanthropy, a community of individual funders working together to increase philanthropic investment in early childhood development in Colorado.

The proposal outlined a pilot project to increase the capacity of early childhood educators in underserved communities in order to provide inclusive educational opportunities for all children. According to the literature, the primary barrier to inclusion is not developmental status or cognitive or physical challenges, but rather problem behavior. Through this ECHO-DU series, educators and therapists would learn the tools to manage problem behaviors in their classrooms and create an atmosphere where children with special needs can learn with their typically developing peers. The Morgridge College team, led by Strain, would begin by teaching the Strain-authored Prevent-Teach-Reinforce for Young Children (PTRYC) method. Internally, Morgridge College would leverage the connections of Belansky in rural Colorado, its existing urban partnerships to ensure this information would be widely available to communities who need it, and the invaluable daily lived experiences of the staff from the Fisher Early Learning Center.

Through relationships, research, and reporting, Constellation Philanthropy helps donors invest wisely so all of Colorado’s children can have a great start in life. Kate Kennedy Reinemund, Executive Director of Constellation Philanthropy, was already aware of Morgridge College’s work in this arena through her personal connection to Fisher. She was blown away when Riley came to talk to her about this project.

“When Karen came to talk to us about this proposal, she had an energy that was contagious,” Reinemund recalled. “We were so impressed with the use of new technology to reach students and families who would otherwise go without.”

Other funders to Constellation, including the Anna and John J. Sie Foundation, Piton Foundation, Zoma Foundation, and many individuals, felt the same. They decided to fund the very first ECHO at the University of Denver. ECHO-DU is unique, because while most ECHO sites across the world focus on healthcare, ECHO-DU is one of a few focused on the P-20 education system. ECHO-DU participants collaborate with other educators in a case-based learning environment in order to learn about evidence-based practices and develop advanced skills related to mental health, school health-wellness, and school leadership. This pilot project would set the bar for other ECHO-DU projects and address a key finding of the Colorado Early Workforce Survey 2017, by helping teachers build the skills to meet the care and learning needs of children with special needs and challenging behaviors in order to increase the opportunities for inclusion for all children across the state.

The project launched with two ECHO-DU cohorts in the Spring of 2019. The cohorts totaled 35 participants, and each participant had direct contact with 20-25 children, for a total of 700-875 children impacted by the pilot. Additionally, participants became “specialists” in PTRYC and are now able to serve as a resource for the other teachers and children in his or her center or school, potentially impacting hundreds of additional children. The program served to build capacity, which is the vision of Project ECHO globally.

The use of ECHO-DU created a network of practitioners, especially in rural areas, who are now able to use a child and family-centered approach that, with continued implementation, could adequately support both the short and long term social and emotional outcomes of young children and inclusion. Participants were hungry for information and extremely engaged both between and within sessions; for many participants, this was their first exposure to PTRYC or to any evidence-based process for reducing challenging behavior.

“We [Constellation] look for what we call the ‘stickiness factor’,” said Reinemund. “We want to fund evidence-based, high quality programs with scalability. We love how DU takes resources and sees how they can get into the community with maximum potential.”

Strain agrees with Reinmund on the importance of the stickiness factor.

“In the course of my 45-year career I have had the good fortune to hold faculty positions in Schools of Medicine and Education,” he said. “One thing that both fields have in common is a gross disparity between known evidence-based practices and the use of these practices in typical settings.”

According to Strain, the time between vital information appearing in a journal and its appearance in everyday practice can approach two decades. He identifies this lag time as a waste of resources, depriving clients of the most effective services and disproportionately discriminating against the already underserved.

“ECHO-DU is perhaps the most effective antidote to this problem that we have,” he said. “This initial trial, generously supported by Constellation, provided invaluable data about how ECHO-DU can be utilized in the delivery of a very complex behavioral intervention for extreme problem behaviors in young children.”

As a result of the pilot, the PELE Center has adapted all of its distance training and coaching efforts to reflect ECHO-DU learnings.

“The impact of the initial gift from Constellation Philanthropy cannot be overstated,” said Riley.  “It not only successfully funded this program, which will benefit hundreds of children with special needs and their families, it launched ECHO-DU and serves as an exemplar for how this technology, which was originally designed for use in medicine, can advance evidence based practices in education and other fields.”

Nancy O’Sullivan, ECHO-DU Program Manager, says it was because of Constellation’s generosity that Morgridge College was able to build much of the ECHO-DU infrastructure.

“The experience and knowledge we gained were used to successfully launch three more ECHO series within six months after finishing the PTRYC pilot,” O’Sullivan said.

Those ECHO series were: Behavioral Health Solutions for Rural Schools (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 68 registered participants; Empathy and Social Emotional Learning (mindSpark & ECHO-DU), with 75 registered participants; and Wellness Coordinators Make It Happen (CRSHE & ECHO-DU), with 23 registered participants.

According to O’Sullivan, “Based on our initial pilots and continued success in the virtual professional development space, we have many other groups interested in using ECHO-DU to build capacity in their region.”

Clearly, the ECHO in ECHO-DU is making an impact.

“I am so grateful to Kate Reinemund and her staff as well as all of the Constellation Philanthropy partners for their support,” Riley added. “This was a new project and their sponsorship and vision have allowed this to become a reality, resulting in lasting impact for our community for years to come.”

Jesse Owen, PhD, Professor and former chair of our Counseling Psychology department, was awarded a $2M, multi-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study how psychotherapy can contribute to people being able to live more meaningful lives.

In an effort to build out psychotherapists’ toolkit for understanding the role of virtues in psychiatric patients’ well-being, Owen and Dr. Steven Sandage, Psychology of Religion and Theology at Boston University, are leading a multi-year, multi-site investigation to measure whether growth in gratitude, forgiveness, and humility can predict — or even help to cause — growth in general flourishing and well-being among mental health clients.

“I am excited for the possibilities to explore client and therapist flourishing, to promote what we all truly want — to live the good life,” Owen said of the new grant, which begins April 2020 and closes March 2023.

March 17, 2020 — Have you noticed? I’m sure you have or at least I hope you have. The gentle acts of kindness. The willingness to set aside personal needs, fears, and anxieties in service of the other. The undercurrent of humanness that is running, present but silently, even as the Coronavirus spreads across the land. The author Annie Dillard in “Teaching a Stone to Talk” reminds us to remember that the dragons of isolation are a means, if allowed, to bring us to places of deeper meaning and purpose. She writes:

In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.

Good and sound advice but not easy to follow for leaders, educators, and members of the helping professions. The individuals who others in need look to for guidance and visions of what is possible beyond the immediate moment of despair. Here are a few ideas to pursue if you are interested in finding the substrate of hope and mutual human care

Walk the aisle of your grocery store or pharmacy. Find the empty shelves. They are easy to locate because they are everywhere. No more tissues, paper towels, toilet paper, wipes, frozen foods, bread, eggs, dried beans, butter… A few scattered packages of Ramen noodles. The lack of essential items speaks loudly in the voice of scarcity. The temptation, and I know this when I recently shopped for my groceries, is to succumb to the social impulse to draw in and circle around my needs and concerns. This feels like a natural impulse, a move toward self-preservation. To gather up all I can find.

But I also realized, while standing there, that much of my panic is driven by my social context; a society that values individual initiative, messages that I’m responsible for acquiring my own means of sustenance, and the privatization of purpose and responsibility. So, I encourage you to go to your grocery store with no other purpose than experiencing the emotion of fear. The impulse to hoard anything you can find, even when there is nothing left to put in your cart. Scarcity is a verb in our society. But also, ride those emotions to a deeper level. Why is fear such a powerful feeling? How realistic is it? Empathize with individuals who are in need in the communities you are most intimately connected to. Expand the circle of isolation beyond your personal sphere that surrounds you as you stand in that aisle, alone while surrounded by emptiness. Connect to everyone in need. You are not alone.

Here is another idea to consider, especially for leaders, formal and informal. In the landmark study by Anthony Bryk and Barbara Schneider, “Relational Trust in Schools” they identify four social-emotional factors associated with successful school reform. These core elements are equally applicable to organizational leadership or a personal response to social networks impacted by the Coronavirus. Here they are: respect, personal regard, role competency, and personal integrity. Respect; genuinely listening to the other, with regard and attentiveness, even when you disagree. Personal regard: the imperative of extending yourself beyond the confines of your role. Role competence; possessing the knowledge and skills to complete tasks of shared interest to the community. Personal integrity; following through, in a timely manner, tasks you have agreed to complete. Attending to relational trust, as they say, is not rocket science. Saying hello. Asking, with meaning, how someone is doing. Sending a supportive email or better yet a card. Buying flowers for the office. All count toward building and sustaining relational trust. Small acts yield big results in human connectedness and social resiliency.

Relational trust is simply a more descriptive version of hospitality, the age-old commitment to care for the other, the stranger in our midst. Aren’t we all strangers to each other at work and in the grocery store as we grapple with our scarcity inflamed fear?

Hospitality has always had a subversive, counter cultural dimension. Hospitality is resistance… especially when the larger society disregards or dishonors certain persons, small acts of respect and welcome are potent far beyond themselves… Hospitality resists boundaries that endanger persons by denying their humanness.  It saves others from the invisibility that comes from social abandonment.

I find in this definition of hospitality by Christine Pohl in “Making Room” to be easy to understand only a little harder to implement. It does take courage and a degree of vulnerability to meet, greet, and care for the stranger at the gate of your city, your office, your home. But like relational trust it is the small acts that add up to resist fear, scarcity, and social isolation. Leaders should make sure everyone they supervise knows the name of everyone else in their group. Create opportunities for sharing stories about navigating, toward wholeness, moments of crisis.

The world right now is full of dangerous emotions that seek to break apart relational bounds and community connections. Now is the time to turn toward others for help. When I’m sick of body and heart, and I’m isolated in my own needs and means I can only rely on others for support. This is the way humans have survived tragedy and the unexpected for tens of thousands of years. Our ancestors lived and traveled in small groups, self-sufficient to the best of their ability. But the archeological record tells another story worth hearing. These isolated groups may have been separated geographically but they were often relational connected to and dependent on other nearby groups. Periodically these wandering tribes would come together or cross paths, exchanging information, trading goods, and developing social bounds. In the face of an unexpected disaster, a group in need could turn to other groups for support until the challenge passes. Survival was both an individual responsibility but also a deeper understanding that underneath everything, as Annie Dillard tells us, is the unifying truth of wholeness; we are all connected. The Coronavirus makes this truth abundantly clear.

During this pressing time, we wanted to share some good news. We hope that you can pause and reflect for a moment on the hard work that the Morgridge community – our students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, parents and community members – have contributed to the College in the past several years to get us to this point. In this moment, we have a lot to be thankful for, and we are thankful for all your contributions.

We are happy to announce that the Morgridge College of Education has jumped 22 spots in the annual U.S. News & World Report rankings, a reflection of the College’s continued dedication to improving lives by advancing systemic solutions to complex societal challenges. Morgridge made the list at 112 out of 200 in the top graduate schools in education.

“This type of recognition is wonderful, but what is truly impressive is what these numbers represent,” said Morgridge Dean, Dr. Karen Riley. “These numbers denote years of work on the part of every member of our community and reflect our collective commitment to excellence in teaching and scholarship. This type of success would also not be possible without thoughtful and deep collaborations with our community partners.”

For several years, Morgridge College’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program has earned a spot in the top programs in the nation. This time, the program came in at number 25 for Education Administration on U.S. News and World Report’s annual list, released March 17. New to the top 25 rankings is Morgridge College’s Teacher Education Program, ranked 18 in the nation for Secondary Education.

Both programs at Morgridge have deep community partnerships, which allow their students to connect theory to practice while receiving invaluable experience, setting them apart from competitors. The Teacher Education Program specifically offers an Urban Teacher Fellowship (UTF), an innovative one-year program made possible by a partnership between Morgridge College and Denver Public Schools. The goal of UTF is to support teacher fellows and provide them with the resources and experiences necessary to ensure that all children have access to highly-trained educators. The Ritchie Program for School Leaders, part of the Educational Leadership program, involves partnerships with several school districts across the state and immerses students in graduate-level coursework and project-based learning that prepares them to meet challenges within complex systems. Each student’s experience is customized to their individual needs and the school where they work.

“At a time when fewer people are entering the field of education we could not be prouder of the impact of these two programs,” continued Dr. Riley. “Facilitating the development of exemplary classroom teachers and school leaders is not only central to our mission as a college of education, but has a cascading effect. Our faculty, students, staff and alumni are working every day to improve the lives of children and families in our communities.” Read Dr. Riley’s Q&A on the teacher shortage in the U.S.

The College of Education traces its roots back to the 1890s when teacher preparation was its primary focus. Today, in addition to teacher preparation, the College has expanded to offer master’s and doctoral degrees in the disciplines across the spectrum of education, wellness, data, information and human development.

Each year, U.S. News & World Report ranks professional school programs in business, education, engineering, law, medicine and nursing, including specialties in each area. The Best Graduate Schools rankings in these areas are based on two types of data: Expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research and students.

The data for the rankings in all six disciplines comes from statistical surveys of more than 2,081 programs and from reputation surveys sent to more than 24,603 academics and professionals, conducted in fall 2019 and early 2020.

Press Release: Validating Toolbox to help evaluate cognitive processing in people with intellectual disability

UC Davis Health study a “big first step” in standardizing assessments

Researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute, University of Denver, Northwestern University, Rush University, and University of California Riverside, have updated and validated a series of tests delivered on an iPad to accurately assess cognitive processing in people with intellectual disability. The validation opens new opportunities for more rigorous and sensitive studies in this population, historically difficult to evaluate.

The widely used NIH Toolbox was designed for use in the general population. It had not been applied as a rule to people with intellectual disability. Intellectual disability is characterized by significant limitations in both cognitive functioning and in adaptive behavior such as everyday social and practical skills. The most common genetic causes of intellectual disability are Down syndrome and fragile X syndrome.

The article “Validation of the NIH Toolbox Cognitive Battery in Intellectual Disability,” published February 24 in Neurology©, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, determined that the tests accurately measure cognitive skills in individuals with a mental age of 5 or above. Additional modifications to the test are needed before it can be shown to be equally good at measuring skills in people with lower functioning.

“Our study assessed how the battery is performing in people with intellectual disability. We made some adaptations to the assessment so that it works well in this population,” said Rebecca Shields, the first author on the study and a UC Davis graduate student in human development working in the laboratory of David Hessl. “This is a big first step showing how it works in these individuals. Applying it consistently across this unique population means other researchers and clinicians can use it too.”

Manual developed to aid clinicians in using the test

To guide clinicians and researchers in using the Toolbox with this population, the group also developed and published a manual as a supplement to the NIH Toolbox Administrator’s Manual. The manual documents the researchers’ guidelines specific to assessing individuals with intellectual disabilities, allowing other researchers to administer the test in a standardized way. This project was led by Forrest McKenzie, a member of the Hessl laboratory, and is available in the online article as well as on the NIH Toolbox website.

“People with intellectual disabilities can be very difficult to assess. Many of the existing measures we use to evaluate them have a lot of limitations,” said Hessl, senior author on the study and a professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Also, different investigators choose a wide variety of different tests for research, making it very hard to compare results in the field. We really hope that the NIH Toolbox cognitive tests can be used more uniformly, as a common metric.”

The lack of standardized tests also has had an impact on clinical trials of potential new treatments, he said.

“When we are trying to determine if people with disabilities are really improving, if their cognitive rate is getting faster or if they are responding to treatment, we face challenges because of measurement limitations,” Hessl said. “This Toolbox really tackles a lot of these limitations. It is well standardized, and objective. And the test is given on an iPad, so the way each person responds to the question should be more consistent and reliable.”

Test measures cognitive skills and executive function in just 30 minutes

The test, which typically takes about 30 minutes, measures a variety of skills, including memory, vocabulary, single-word reading and processing speed. It also measures executive function, such as the ability to shift from one thought to another or to pay attention and inhibit impulses. In the cognitive flexibility test, the individual is asked to match items by shape. But the rules of the game then switch, and they are asked to match the items by color.

The test also measures receptive vocabulary, or how words are understood. For example, the test taker will hear a word and see four pictures then select the picture that matches the word. It also measures memory by presenting a picture story in a sequence then asking the test taker to put the story back together in the same sequence.

A list-sorting task on the test requires the individual to remember the group of items they had seen on the screen and repeat them back in a certain order. A processing speed task evaluates how well the individual can compare different patterns that appear on the screen.

Researchers found that the battery of tests was feasible for a very high percentage of individuals with a mental age of five or higher; individuals in the study did not refuse to participate, were able to respond to the tests as designed and understood what the tests required. The battery also proved to be reliable; the scores were consistent for individuals after re-testing. Hessl said these test properties are especially important in determining the value and utility of the battery, such as determining how useful it may be in detecting changes related to treatment.

Shields said that the team is now learning about how well the test battery picks up cognitive changes over development. They are bringing back the same participants in the study two years later.

Funding for the study came from the NICHD (RO1HD076189), the Health and Human Services Administration of Developmental Disabilities (90DD0596), the MIND Institute Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (U54 HD079125) and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through grant UL1 TR000002.

Other authors on the study include: Andrea Drayton and Stephanie Sansone of UC Davis; Aaron Kaat and Richard Gershon of Northwestern University; Jeanine Coleman and Karen Riley of the University of Denver; Claire Michalak and Elizabeth Berry-Kravis of Rush University Medical Center; and Keith Widaman of the University of California, Riverside.

Feb. 29, 2020

Dr. Sarah Hurtado, HED, was featured in the Denver Post on Friday, Feb. 29, lending her expertise about sexual violence on college campuses. The article reads:

“Sarah Hurtado, a DU assistant professor focused on researching rape culture on college campuses, said society often thinks about rape as a violent act perpetrated by strangers. But particularly on college campuses, most sexual assaults happen between acquaintances.

Membrino, a junior, remembered staring up at an episode of “The Office” projected on a dorm ceiling while she was sexually assaulted during her freshman year at DU. She was too drunk to consent, but will never forget lying like a ragdoll on her Tinder date’s bed.

Hurtado said alcohol is often a factor in campus sexual assaults.

“I think a lot of times we use someone’s alcohol consumption as a way to blame them or say they should have been more responsible or made better choices, but at the end of the day, there’s only one person responsible, and that’s always the perpetrator,” Hurtado said. “It’s important for people to know that someone can’t consent if they’re inebriated.”

Photo credit: Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post 

Pictured above: From left: University of Denver students Madeline Membrino, Grace Wankelman and Shannon Saul pose for a portrait outside of the library on the DU campus on Feb. 26, 2020. The trio, who are all survivors of sexual assault, started an Instagram account called wecandubetter where DU students can anonymously share their stories of sexual assault on their college campus.

According to research by the Economic Policy Institute, the teacher shortage “is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought.” If current trends persist, the nationwide shortfall of qualified teachers could reach 200,000 by 2025, up from 110,000 in 2018. In other words, it’s time to take it seriously. Karen Riley, dean of the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education, fielded some questions about the shortage from the DU Newsroom.

Dean Riley goes on to answer the following:

  • What is driving the nationwide teacher shortage?
  • Where is the problem most acute?
  • What does a teacher shortage mean for schools and their students?
  • What can school districts do to retain both their young teaching professionals and their experienced teachers?
  • What are the major ramifications for our communities if we don’t address this problem?

March 6, 2020 — Once a month, I meet with faculty and staff to share stories about ways to (balance/integrate) our call to care for students—our heart and passion as professionals—with institutional structures that lean heavily toward efficiency and structure. Our method for the conversation is simple. I email a poem or wisdom story with a few prompts to stir thinking and reflection from the heart. When we gather I read the poem out loud, hold a moment of reflective-silence, and then invite everyone to share a word, image, or phrase that grabs their attention. The conversation flows from a combination of lived-experience in higher education, insights from the poem, and unexpected connections drawn from what others share. Participants enter our shared space with a variety of emotions from heavy-hearts to the deep-joy of being together.  Our time has a sacred and transcendent quality. It is a real blessing to be part of this community, striving for integrity and fidelity to self and the nature of the work.

We recently explored the theme of burdens and the value of periodically laying them down. The poem “Burlap Sack” by Jane Hirshfield was particularly helpful in guiding the conversation. The poet draws on the metaphor of a mule burdened with burlap sacks full of sand, ropes, nails, and axes to draw a distinction between self and work. She writes: “To think that the stones or sand are the self is an error. / To think that grief is the self is an error.” I find this observation a wonderful reminder that what I do, especially the stuff that is onerous or challenging, is not me. This, I think, is important to keep in mind when the institutional work, that must be done, crowds out the heart-filling work that forms the core of my call to teach. When I’m overburdened, I must, as Hirshfield cautions, be “careful between the trees to leave extra room”. I know this feeling well, moving with intention in crowded emotional spaces. When I’m not careful my overloaded bags, my business, can cause harm and hurt as my sacks of stuff bump into students, colleagues, or family members. I think I can do it all, when in fact I can’t. My hubris is bigger than my actual capacity to do good in the world. Hirshfield concludes her poem with an invitation, to lay my burdens down, to no longer carry the heavy load: “What would it be to take the bride / And leave behind the heavy dowry? / To let the thin-ribbed mule browse in tall grasses, / Its long ears waggling like the tails of two happy dogs?”

In our group conversation we imagined, along with the poet, what it would be like to “browse in the tall grasses” of higher education with joy and pleasure. We went a step further. We wrote on sticky notes the sources of our burdens. The challenges and those tasks that are usually life-giving but can weigh us down if there are too many good things or when we must rush through the joy and on to the next task. We placed the sticky notes on a drawing of a burlap sack, filling it with the burdens we carry around like pack mules. We talked, in triads, about our bags and what they were filled with and we unburdened ourselves by pulling off sticky notes that named tasks we didn’t really need to keep carrying. We invited ourselves to be at peace with the work, both the challenges and the joys.

One theme that emerged during our investigation of the poem—and our willingness to be investigated by the poem—was the question of balance. It is helpful when carrying heavy loads to make sure the bags are well balanced. This is essential to the long-term health of the pack animal. Too much weight on one side creates an imbalance that a person works against to stay upright. Balance makes good sense in the metaphor of pack mules, but I’m not sure it works as well when applied to humans working in educational settings. Balance, in these setting, means stagnation. There is little room for experiencing the fullness of human emotions; the highs and lows. And when the load shifts, the person must add energy to the other side to balance the competing forces. Balance, it seems, ends up distracting a person from a closer examination of what the sources of the tension are. When I’m striving for balance I’m more concerned with the nature of the axes, sand, and shovels in my burlap sacks then how did those items get there and are they the right items in the first place.

I think a better goal to strive for is integration. How do I pull together, into wholeness, the competing forces of calling and institutional responsibilities? Rather than self as a counter weight balancing out other forces, in integration the self is a fulcrum between burdens. The self remains independent of the two demands of inner calling and outer institutional protocols and responsibilities. Integration values a dynamic approach to making sense of the lived experience of educators. It accounts for the ways that at times one side may weigh more, and be out of balance, but the self is still centered. As Hirshfield notes: “The self is not the load of ropes and nails and axes. / The self is not the miner nor builder nor driver.” The self is a combination of the various elements of identity, gifts, talents, and social context.

The balance metaphor is premised on parts and pieces that are consciously maneuvered to achieve a static relationship. The integration metaphor is premised on wholeness with the distinct elements in fluid relationship. The key concepts, for me, are wholeness and relationships. As long as these elements are present I’m okay with shifting sacks of responsibility and unbalanced loads. Here are a few questions to ponder as you seek to integrate your burdens, once you put down the unnecessary ones. In what ways have your gifts of service, leadership, or teaching turned into burdens? In what ways do you find it difficult to navigate your work when your burlap sack is full of burdens? Who or what have you harmed as you bumped into them with your burlap sacks? What burdens would you have to put down to feel like you could wonder freely in the pastures of education?

March 6, 2020

Dear Morgridge College of Education Community, 

I am pleased to announce that Craig Harrer has been named Director of the Ricks Center for Gifted Children. Since last summer, he has been serving as the Interim Director at Ricks. Craig will now serve as the permanent Director.

As our Interim Director at Ricks, Craig has been focused on community building, gifted learning, and creating internal and external organizational trust at Ricks and the University of Denver (DU). This work has been vital to Ricks and its continued success as a national leader in gifted education. Under Craig’s leadership, we will continue to provide our community – Ricks parents, students and families – an unprecedented educational experience. Something that I have appreciated about Craig and his approach to gifted education is his physical presence in the classroom specifically leading project-based initiatives.

With over 25 years of educational experience in Denver, we are lucky to have Craig as the Director of Ricks. As a native, he grew up blocks away from the DU campus and graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. Since then, he has taught Kindergarten and grades 2 through 8 in a variety of subjects. As an Administrator, he was Principal of Rishel Middle School before helping to open the Denver Green School, a Pre-K through 8 innovation school in Denver Public Schools. Read more about Craig’s success at the Denver Green School.

Before coming back to Ricks in February 2019, he worked as a high school Assistant Principal and as a School Leadership Consultant. During his doctoral coursework, he worked part-time at Ricks from 2016-2018 and was excited about the opportunity to rejoin the Ricks community. Craig is also a proud Pio and values his deep ties with DU, including being a member of the doctoral cohort in our nationally recognized Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program with a dissertation in shared leadership.

Personally I am so thrilled to have Craig leading the school and look forward to working with him long into the future.

Please join us at a celebratory reception to congratulate Craig on Tuesday, March 10 at 3 p.m., Ricks (2040 South York Street, Denver, CO 80208).

Best,
Dean Karen Riley


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