The Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Program (ELPS) offers a Mountain cohort option in its Executive Leadership for Successful Schools (ELSS) Certificate program. The cohort expands opportunities for educators and administrators to benefit from the program’s expertise and earn Certification for Colorado Principal Licensure. ELPS—which earned a top 20 ranking in Best Education Administration and Supervision by the U.S. News and World Report in 2016—launched the Mountain cohort in the 2014-15 academic year due to increasing interest from the region’s district superintendents.

Because the communities are far from higher education institutions on the Front Range and Western Slope, options for educators looking to expand their skills can be scarce. The cohort was created to address the unique needs of growing mountain communities and their schools, and to enable them to invest in school leaders who were already part of those communities. According to Assistant Professor of the Practice, Ellen Miller-Brown, Ph.D., the cohort provides a “high-quality, hybrid face-to-face and online program without the need for extensive travelling.” Face-to-face classes are held at locations in the high mountain region where the majority of the students reside.

Members of the 2015-16 cohort had great success; three graduates—Kendra Carpenter, Laura Rupert, and Robin Sutherland of Summit School District—applied for, and were accepted to, principal positions in their districts after completing the ELSS Certificate. Additionally, cohort members Hank Nelson and Clint Wytulka served as interim principals at their Nucla, CO schools during the program and were promoted to full principals after completion, and cohort member Will Harris was appointed the Education Technology Specialist in his Eagle County district school after completing the program.

Several Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) alumni, all of whom lead schools in DPS, are banding together to create an “innovation zone.” Chalkbeat Colorado reports that this zone will consist of several innovation schools which already operate in Denver. Innovation schools are defined by the high level of autonomy given to school leaders. This autonomy allows leaders to create unique and effective learning environments.

Ashley Elementary School became an innovation school in 2013 after principal Zach Rahn (MCE class of 2010) was hired as part of a turnaround effort. Since then, Ashley has seen progress in academic achievement as well as in school culture. Rahn strives to “inject joy into each day” at Ashley Elementary.

The Denver Green School is co-led by MCE alumna Prudence Daniels and serves students in K-8. This innovation school has its own produce garden, where each class tends a plot. The school uses solar panels for energy, providing unique learning experiences for students.

The Cole Arts & Science Academy, which is led by MCE alumna Jen Jackson, has focused heavily on early literacy. The school’s Kindergarten through third-grade currently ranks among the top in the state for literacy.

The leaders of these three schools – along with the leader of Creativity Challenge Community – are seeking the creation of this innovation zone, governed by a new nonprofit organization. This proposed zone will provide the innovation schools with even more autonomy, further allowing them to meet their separate needs while sharing in the common goal of promoting individualized learning. It’s all about “going from good to great” says Rahn.

The ELPS program specializes in training individuals capable of implementing positive change in the institutions they lead. Graduates like Rahn, Daniels, and Jackson learn to apply their skills, transforming low-performing schools into effective learning environments.

Suzanne Morris-Sherer is the current principal of Thomas Jefferson High school in the Denver Public School district. Morris-Sherer spent six years working as the principal of Side Creek Elementary in the Aurora Public School district after receiving her Principal Licensure from the Morgridge College of Education’s Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Ritchie Program.

In her three years at Thomas Jefferson, Morris-Sherer has drastically raised the status of the school. She tells her students that they “need to aspire to achieve”. By changing expectations placed upon the students and staff, she has been able to create an environment that gives the support and inspiration needed for success. “I just love seeing their potential… [Thomas Jefferson High] is truly the hidden jewel I always say it is”, stated Morris-Sherer, who has worked with the students and staff to incorporate curriculum aimed at developing life skills.

Watch the video below to experience the change at Thomas Jefferson High School.

This post is part of a series of stories recognizing MCE graduates during National Principals Month.

Adams 12 - Skyview Elementary

Adams 12 – Skyview Elementary

Stephanie Auday is in her 3rd year as principal of the Adams 12 Five Star Schools District Skyview Elementary School. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education from Minnesota State University at Mankato before moving to Colorado to further her career in teaching. Auday spent several years as a classroom educator in the Adams 12 school district before receiving her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies through the Ritchie Program for School Leaderships in the Adams County Cohort.

Soon after graduating, Stephanie began leading in her community through three Assistant principal positions in the Adam 12 Elementary Schools. “The Ritchie program developed who I am as a leader, it focuses on beliefs and values that drive your day-to-day work”.

Auday attributes her successful career in leadership to the application of systems thinking. “Good systems allow people to be creative and successful… clear organization is key”. At Skyview Elementary, Auday has applied this principle by analyzing the school system and implementing a plan for teachers to stay an hour and a half longer together every Monday. During these Monday sessions, teachers collaborate with one another and walk away with something accomplished. “The complex nature of schooling means we (teachers) need to support each other professionally and emotionally.” This community effort continues into the rest of the week where teachers will stop in the hall or meet up in a classroom to touch base.

Auday wears her learner’s hat with her staff and is open to dialog, discussion, and pushback. She aims to empower her teachers to have the capacity to solve complex problems. “This isn’t a job you can do on your own…the goal is to live in a professional learning community,” Auday explained.

This post is part of a series of stories recognizing MCE graduates during National Principals Month.


Crystal River Elementary School

Matthew Koenigsknecht is the newly appointed principal at Crystal River Elementary in the Roaring Forks School District. Inspired by six years of teaching in Denver Public Schools (DPS), he began his pursuit of a Principal licensure and Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the Morgridge College of Education. Koenigsknecht completed a year as a Ritchie Principal Intern at Harrington elementary School in DPS, and has already begun applying his education at Crystal River Elementary. Aspiring leaders in the central mountain region can access the same principal preparation experience through the Mountain Cohort of the Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program.

Koenigsknecht has developed three strategic priorities for his school: to identify and have fidelity to a mission and vision for the school; to implement high-quality instruction driven by data and supported by professional development and coaching; and, to develop a strong culture for students and staff by increasing their capacity.

Crystal River has successfully implemented the first initiative through Matthew’s leadership. He attributes a great deal of his success to the rich environment and support that the Richie program provided him. “Everything I learned at Ritchie was applicable and really great preparation for the work we are now doing… They taught me to have a vision and every day they stressed the importance of values-based leadership” stated Koenigsknecht.

This post is part of a series of stories recognizing MCE graduates during National Principals Month.

Trevista at Horace Mann

Trevista at Horace Mann

Jesús Rodriguez is the current elementary school principal of Trevista at Horace Mann in Denver Public Schools. Trevista is a school with turnaround status that met the expectations of the Colorado Department of Education’s school performance framework for the first time last spring under the leadership of previous principal LaDawn Baity. Baity, along with Rodriguez, is a graduate of the Morgridge College of Education’s (MCE) Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Ritchie Program for School Leaders. Rodriguez, who is also a current ELPS Ed.D. candidate at MCE, became principal of  Trevista at the end of the 2014-2015 school year, having  worked as the assistant principal at Trevista prior.

Rodriguez is dedicated to improving student performance at Trevista, and was recently featured in Chalkbeat Colorado (“Opening a new chapter, a Denver elementary school on the rebound changes its look and feel.”) The article illustrates the dramatic changes that have occurred under the leadership of Rodriguez and how these affect student culture.

This post is part of a series of stories recognizing MCE graduates during National Principals Month.

FOX31 Denver featured Educational Leadership and Policy Studies graduate turned principal, Nickolas Dawkins, on Sunday 21, 2015. Dawkins is dramatically improving the quality of education students receive in Denver.

It is every child’s right to have a transformational leader in every school and every classroom — this video will show you what happens when transformational leaders create strong cultures in their schools, and the lasting impact these people have on our students.

This video tells this story through the lens of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies Graduate & DPS Principal, Nick Dawkins, who was recognized for excellence by the DPS Foundation.

“Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma,” by Dr. Carolyn Lunsford Mears, recently won the 2013 Colorado Book Award in the anthology genre at the 22nd annual awards ceremony in Aspen. The award was given by the Colorado Humanities and Colorado Center for the Book, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress Center for the Book. Colorado awards recognize talented authors, editors and illustrators in the state.

Mears’ anthology is a collection of stories from people who have experienced traumatic events such as the Columbine shootings, September 11th attacks, and Hurricane Katrina. “It shows a real variety of experiences and relationships to different tragedies and different types of challenges, broadening the concept of trauma,” stated Mears. She goes on to explain, “I think it’s a book of hope, reconciliation, trials, and redemption. The contributors gave me their stories with the purpose of helping others; it is very much their experience, and I wanted their voices to be represented.”

Carolyn Mears, a Researcher, Adjunct Professor and Dissertation Advisor at Morgridge College of Education, is herself a Columbine mom whose son survived the tragic events on April 20, 1999. Her life was forever changed by the incident, sparking her desire to become knowledgeable about ways people cope with trauma and reaching out to affected individuals and communities through her books, presentations and consulting. Mears shares stories of healing to expand the base of knowledge around schools and communities that have experienced tragedy. Carolyn elaborates: “When someone experiences trauma, it becomes a part of their life story . . . who they are. Other people don’t understand what it is like, and because of what happened in my community and my research, I think I can help with that.”

Carolyn entered the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies PhD program at Morgridge College of Education specifically so she could design a course plan and an outcome that matched her passion, who she was, and what she wanted to do. Through the flexibility of the program and high quality of faculty, research and rigor, Mears conducted research for her dissertation, “Experiences of Columbine Parents: Finding a Way to Tomorrow”, winner of the 2005 AERA Qualitative Dissertation of the Year.

Through the innovative method she developed for her research, AERA recognized Carolyn’s work as having created a “distinctive qualitative approach” that brings the research to life, evoking deep understanding while addressing subjectivity and removing the researcher from the equation. “I try to be invisible,” Mears comments. In order to share her approach with others, she wrote“Interviewing for Education and Social Science Research: The Gateway Approach,” a finalist for the 2010 AERA Book of the Year Award. Carolyn Mears continued studying the aftermath of traumatic events and exploring the broader community implications, which led to publishing the award-winning anthology,“Reclaiming School in the Aftermath of Trauma” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Reflecting on the impact of her work, Mears states: “There is a gift that can accompany the pain of trauma; it is an increased awareness for human life that resonates with all of humanity, that connects people in broadest and most personal sense, providing a deeper appreciation of how intimately connected we all are. My hope is that when people read this book, they understand more about themselves and the world we all live in, in order to help each other when the unthinkable happens.”

Mears continues to assist people affected by tragic events and speaks internationally about trauma and planning for recovery. She comments, “Schools are the place where we grow our future; when someone attacks a school, it’s an attack on our collective future.” She hopes her work will influence educators and community leaders to plan in advance for meeting the needs that accompany traumatic experience, both large-scale disasters and personal victimization. In every classroom and every school and every community in the world, there are individuals who have experienced traumatizing situations. By learning more about what this means, we can better know how to prepare and how to help.

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