The Goal: To learn how to replicate DU’s successful university-school district partnership.

The Morgridge College of Education (MCE) and Denver Public School (DPS) District played host to university educators from across the nation who were on campus to learn about the unique 16-year partnership developed by MCE’s Educational Leadership & Policy Studies (ELPS) department.

The study visit was sponsored by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) and featured a three-day experience that included panel discussions with DPS leaders, ELPS faculty, alumni, and current students. The program is identified as one of the most successful university-school district partnerships in the nation. According to Dr. Susan Korach, ELPS dept. chair, there are several things that sets the ELPS program apart from other principal and leadership development programs.

“From the beginning of the program, we’ve been committed to leading differently. That means we’re not a program that focuses on static readings and classroom assignments. We believe in the power of experiential learning. That puts our students into very challenging, courageous spaces where they can bring about real, disruptive change.”

A hallmark of the ELPS program is the DU Ritchie Program for School Leaders. This cohort was originally created to address the need for highly competent and socially responsible school leaders; namely principals and superintendents. Today, graduates of the program refer to themselves simply as “Ritchies,” but their mission is anything but simple.

“Being a Ritchie was transformational to me. We are a cohort of souls that are serious about changing kid’s lives,” says Anthony Smith, graduate of the 4th Ritchie cohort and DPS Instructional Superintendent. “What Ritchie has helped us do is, first off, identify who you are authentically and how you lead from that. . . . How are you leading for change and what is the status quo for these kids you say your care so much about?”

Susana Cordova, DPS Deputy Superintendent, explains how the ELPS value-based leadership model impacts her daily work.

“I’m not going budge in this school or in any other school because I know what is important to me now and I know how to lead for what’s important to me. I know how to, in tough times, go back to what motivates me to take a stand. To say, ‘It’s not OK to lower standards’ . . . or whatever it is, because I know my values as a leader say the most important thing that I can be doing is to level the playing field for kids who only get that at school.”

Phrases like “leveling the playing field,” “challenging the status quo,” and “leading for change” are not just words for ELPS graduates, but rather commitments they are taught to embody while still students. So it’s not surprising that one of the highlights of the study visit included a trip to the Denver Green School (DGS), a DPS innovation school that started as a class project in ELPS.

Mimi Diaz and Craig Harrer, original founders of the school, were challenged to create their dream school as part of their ELPS course work. What exists today is a K-8th grade, high-achieving school in southeast Denver with a student population from 33 countries, speaking more than 25 different languages. A core value of the Denver Green School is sustainability – evident, not only in the on-campus community garden, but also through its shared leadership model.

Now nine years old, the Green School, has been identified as a “high performance,” “high growth” school, and a National Green Ribbon School award winner for the last seven years.

For graduates of the ELPS/Ritchie program, the results of such innovative leadership is not the exception, but rather the expectation of those who “lead differently” – and one of the key reasons the program was selected as a study site for the UCEA visiting professor team.

If feedback from the study participants is any indication, the ELPS leadership model will continue to drive educational change on a national level.

“What I learned at DU will inform how we prepare school leaders at the University of Texas at Austin,” said Dr. Terrence Green, assistant professor from the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy at UT.

Dr. Jada Phelps-Moultrie from Michigan State agreed, “I absolutely learned so much and was intrigued by this esteemed partnership . . . I too am excited how we can make so much of what was shared applicable to our own institution.”

Dr. Susan Korach, ELPS Dept. Chair, explains what makes the educational leadership program so unique.
Craig Harrer, ELPS PhD student, (R) leads visiting professors on a tour of the Denver Green School he helped create.
Culture Fest at the Denver Green School celebrates some of the 33 different countries represented in the study body.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies EdD student Geraldine “Gerie” Grimes was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. Grimes is the President and CEO of Denver-based nonprofit, The Hope Center, a community-based agency dedicated to meeting the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities, developmental delays, and persons in need of specialized educational or vocational services. She was nominated to the CWHOF because of her life’s work and dedication to the needs of others, especially women and women of color of all ages, building community and using her voice to be a strong advocate for the voiceless.

Kaleen Barnett is not your average PhD student. In 2016 she was selected to run the Colorado High School Charter, a school for students who thrive in an alternative academic environment. In a previous life, she was a catering sales manager for the Hyatt. In 2018, she was named a Fellow by the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). And somewhere along the way, she earned a welding certification.

Barnett knows that a traditional approach to academia is not for everyone. She knows that success is defined by your goals. And she wants more academic institutions to recognize that technical certificates, community colleges, and other post-secondary options are excellent paths to a successful career. Her 2018 Fellowship from the ACTE fits into her long-term goals to tackle systemic challenges in education. The fellowship is specifically designed to develop leadership skills for careers in technical education (CTE) educators. In this way, CTE schools can develop organic leaders to meet their specific needs. The fellowship program is a one-year calendar commitment to network, learn, and represent the ACTE as an advocate for career and technical education.

“I am incredibly honored to receive this particular fellowship,” Barnett said. “There is so much opportunity to change the narrative of education.”

Barnett is on track to graduate from Morgridge College in August 2019. Currently, her doctoral dissertation focuses on the impact of climate change on U.S. school children.

“Right now, national data shows that less than 30 percent of school buildings have access to air conditioning in classrooms,” she elaborates.  “The issue is not just a matter of student or teacher comfort, recent research shows that students score lower on tests taken on very hot days and have a harder time learning overall during school years with higher-than-average temperatures. Climate is having a major impact on education and we need to start taking note.”

Once finished, she would like to take her research further and explore how students with a technical education can be the answer to an aging academic infrastructure. What if technical students can install the air conditioning in the schools? It is a way to mobilize education and allow both traditional and technical students to thrive. Barnet plans to use the mentorship and connections made through her fellowship to advance her research and practice.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies PhD student Pat Mills is excited about expanding his dissertation research, focused on leadership in the classroom and developing a pipeline of leaders to better serve students. Mills, a retired Naval Flight Officer and former aerospace program manager, is well suited for the project. He’s on this third career, and focused on ways to build the next generation of leaders so the next generation of students have the tools to succeed.

Mills landed at Morgridge College of Education after he found out he could still use the funds allocated to him through the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill. Mills’ wife spent her career as a teacher, and he knew the struggles and challenges she faced. He also knew that creating leaders requires creating a leadership culture. He was accepted to both the University of Denver and the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and decided to make the drive to Denver.

As he explains, “I already knew the political bent of Colorado Springs and wanted to better understand attitudes in Denver. Not surprisingly, I am a different generation than most people attending DU. I wanted to do something to challenge myself. I tell my kids to always lean into life by taking risks, so I needed to set the example.”

At Morgridge College, we could not be happier he choose us. Mills’ long history in the military allows him to have a different perspective on educational leadership than more traditional students. As part of his dissertation research, he is studying teachers who came through the Troops for Teachers program, a program established in 1993 to help military veterans begin new careers as K-12 educators. So far he has observed veterans in both public and private classrooms and they have the same thing in common: they address each student as sir or ma’am, they acknowledge each student and engage them in the classroom discussion, and when class is over, they shake their students’ hands on the way out the door. These interactions, Mills believes, empowers the students to rise to the expectation of the teacher, making the students successful and the teachers leaders of tomorrow. His is excited to continue his research and see where it leads him in the next year.

In the meantime, Mills was recently awarded a Governor’s Executive Internship in Policy and Research and spends his days balancing college, policy, and family. His three children, two in their late 20s and one in high school, as well as his wife, are his support system. Between his studies and time at the Colorado state capitol, Mills is one busy retiree and that is exactly how he likes it.

On Monday, February 19, 2018 the University of Denver (DU) Black Alumni Affinity Group (BAA), in conjunction with the Leadership Insights program, celebrated Black History month at Cableland, the official residence of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, with a reception and conversation with Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) alumni Nick Dawkins (ELPS MA ’16). Dawkins is a principal with Denver Public Schools (DPS) at Manual High school, a historically black school in the Whittier neighborhood in Denver. His public conversation with Dr. Frank Tuitt, professor of Higher Education at Morgridge and Senior Advisor to the Chancellor and Provost on Inclusive Excellence, was preceded by remarks from Denver Councilman Albus Brooks (MBA 16’), attending on behalf of Mayor Hancock.

This annual event is meant to engage DU’s communities of color by giving them an opportunity to ask questions and provide them with information regarding how the University is addressing issues of inclusive excellence through DU’s leadership and DU Impact 2025. Dawkins was the night’s featured conversationalist.

According to Dawkins, his education at Morgridge prepared him for his current role. He firmly believes in creating a culture of happy kids in his school. Many of his students face familial or personal deportation, homelessness, trauma, and other challenges in their daily lives. He worked hard to create a culture of access where his students know they can come to him with any trouble they are facing.

Recently, Dawkins himself was facing an exceptional challenge. In the fall during a high school football game, reports of racism and a rebel flag catapulted Dawkins and Manual High into the spotlight. As the he-said-she said grew, Dawkins discovered an ally in Morgridge and in DPS. Both the district and MCE stood by Dawkins as an exceptional leader who has the best interest of his students at heart.

Dawkins is a change agent. It is something he takes very seriously and he relentlessly challenges the status-quo in order to build better a future for his students.

“If I’m not in trouble,” he says, “I’m not doing my job.”

Educational leadership and policy studies PhD student Natalie Lewis has been selected by the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) as part of the 2017-2019 Jackson Scholars Program. The Jackson Scholars Program develops future faculty of color for the field of educational leadership and policy.

Lewis is the current Assistant Principal at McAuliffe Manual Middle School, part of the Denver Public School (DPS) system. A graduate of DPS Manual High School, Lewis is began her career as a substitute teacher in Philadelphia. Her experience led her to pursue an advanced degree in education in order to be a leader to underserved populations.

“I am excited, honored, and extremely privileged to receive this award,” Lewis said. “This sets me on a path to my ultimate goal to blend educational theory and practice.”

Lewis plans to utilize this program to create more equitable opportunities where educators can integrate research into their schools and classrooms.

The UCEA Barbara L. Jackson Scholars Network began in November 2003 after a vote of the members of the UCEA Plenum. The two-year program provides formal networking, mentoring, and professional development for graduate students of color intending to become professors of educational leadership.

UCEA facilitates the development of a robust pipeline of faculty and graduate students of color in the field of educational leadership. As a result, Barbara Jackson Scholars and Alumni enhance the field of educational leadership and UCEA with their scholarship and expertise.

The University of Denver’s (DU) Morgridge College of Education (MCE) and Denver Public School (DPS) System celebrated 15 years of one of the most successful private college–public school partnerships in the nation with a reunion held at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, November 14th. The DU Ritchie Program for School Leaders, was originally created to address the need for highly competent and socially responsible school leaders; namely principals and superintendents.

In its 15-year history the innovative partnership has been credited with producing the majority of Denver’s public school leaders, including:

  • 82 principals
  • 107 assistant principals
  • 4 instructional superintendents

In the current 2017-18 academic year 38 principals and 71 assistant principals in DPS are graduates of the DU Ritchie program. Many of whom have the longest tenure in DPS, have successfully led turnaround efforts, and were the first to achieve innovation status in their school leadership.

In addition to recognizing such milestones, the commemorative event reunited program graduates, professors and mentors from across its 15-year history. Individuals instrumental with founding and sustaining the leadership program were presented with a custom piece of artwork created by West Leadership Academy 11thgrader Julian Urbina-Herrera, and his assistant principal Cris Sandoval, a 2005 Ritchie Program graduate.

Among those individuals recognized for their leadership and support:

Program founders:

  • Ginger Maloney, former dean, MCE at DU
  • Jerry Wartgow, former DPS Superintendent
  • Tony Lewis, Exec Director Donnell-Kay Foundation

Program Namesake:

  • Dan Ritchie, former DU Chancellor

Co-creators of the program:

  • Maureen Sanders, former director of leadership development, DPS
  • Dick Werpy, former DU professor
  • Susan Korach, dept. chair, MCE at DU

More information about the DU Ritchie Program for School Leaders is available here.

More photos from the event can be found on our Flickr album.

Three Morgridge College Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) alumnae were recently recognized for their efforts when their schools were honored by the Colorado Succeeds Prize.  Valdez Elementary School Principal Jessica Buckley and Assistant Principal Gwen Frank, both graduates of the DPS Ritchie ELPS program, received the Colorado Succeeds prize for Transformational Impact in an Elementary Award. Additionally, ELPS graduate and The Stem Launch School Assistant Principal Carrie Romero-Brugger saw her school recognized for outstanding achievement.

On September 30, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies gradate Fernando Branch (Education Administration, Secondary School Leadership, ’12) was honored by the City and County of Denver at the My Brother’s Keeper 25 luncheon at the Park Hill Golf Course. Originally an initiative of the office of the president in 2014, My Brother’s Keeper honors those working tirelessly  to make the American Dream available to all boys and young men of color by eliminating gaps in their opportunities and outcomes.

Three hundred forty-five miles from the University of Denver is the West End School District RE-2. Tucked into the southwest region of Colorado, West End Serves the communities of Bedrock, Naturita, Nucla, and Paradox, covers over 1,000 square miles, and serves approximately 250 total students. Providing education to the rural farming communities, the district faces challenges like any other school district; yet its isolated location brings with it a different set of obstacles when providing the best possible education for students and teachers alike.

Mike Epright, West End’s Superintendent, has made a push and a commitment to maintain quality education. According to West End’s website, the district does so “by providing elevated academic classes, vocational and technical training, and special education programs… Students throughout the district also have the advantage of excellent technology and the opportunity to obtain multiple college credits prior to graduation.”

The district also made a commitment to build capacity through the development of its educators by participating in the Colorado Department of Education Turnaround Leadership Grant Program. The Turnaround Leadership grant, as described by the Colorado Department of Education, “establishes and promotes leadership training specifically for the turnaround environment and is an integral part of Colorado’s state-wide strategy to improve the performance of students in the lowest-performing schools and districts in the state.”

The grant works in two ways: one grant is for the participant (e.g., West End School District RE-2), and one grant is for the provider (e.g., Morgridge College of Education). Together, the entities are able to provide training to educators who can then return to their districts with the tools they need to implement lasting, positive change.

In 2015 two worlds became one as the West End School District partnered with the Morgridge College of Education’s Education Leadership Policy Studies (ELPS) Mountain Cohort. Through this unique partnership, two educators from West End were able to engage in Morgridge College’s ELPS classes in order to expand their personal breadth of knowledge and enrich their district. This fall, another West End educator will join the 2017 Mountain Cohort.

Suddenly, 345 miles was not too far.

“Having the opportunity to develop and implement current research in school improvement, the West End School District has been able to benefit from having two ‘grow your own’ educators take part in the University of Denver’s Aspiring Leaders/ELPS MA Program,” said Epright. “Over the two-year commitment, these two leaders helped shape the instruction and assessment in the district and provided current professional development to staff which shaped a new program change to Project Based Learning.”

Hank Nelson, Morgridge graduate and Instructional Leader at Nucla Elementary School, agrees with Epright. “Participating in the ELPS MA Program was the most beneficial, fulfilling, and impactful experience of my professional career,” he said. “Not one experience failed to be valuable, developing my growth as a leader while indirectly providing a service to the needs of our district. This program made me into an equitable, adaptable, data-driven, innovative, inquiring, and action-research oriented leader.”

An action-oriented leader is exactly the type of leader Epright wants in his schools.

“…through hard work and cooperation, they set a vision of educating each student to the best of their ability,” he added. “I strongly recommend all rural districts reach out to the programming offered!”

The Morgridge College of Education is committed to addressing the needs of both rural and turnaround schools. With its constant adaptation to meet the needs of its students, Morgridge hopes to bridge the divide between distance and hands-on learning. Its Mountain Cohort specifically strives to create an opportunity for rural communities to invest in school leaders who were already part of those communities. In this way, turnaround leadership can organically occur.

The ELPS program, which earned a top 20 ranking in Best Education Administration and Supervision by the U.S. News and World Report in 2016, is now accepting applications for its Mountain Cohort for fall 2017.

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) graduate Lara Jackman  (MA’16) has recently accepted  the position of Elementary Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator with Summit School District in Frisco, CO. Jackman, who leaves her position as Literacy Resource Teacher and Reading Recovery Teacher at Upper Blue Elementary School in Breckenridge, CO, will step into her new role for the 2017-2018 school year.

Jackman was in the Mountain Cohort of the Morgridge College of Education’s principal certification program, Executive Leadership for Successful Schools (ELSS). The Mountain ELSS 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 of ELSS in the 2014-15 academic year to support leadership development within the rural mountain communities of Colorado and to meet the needs of region’s district superintendents. Since that time, the cohort has seen 13 graduates accept leadership positions within their districts, six of which are now in assistant principal or lead principal roles.

According to Morgridge Assistant Professor of 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.

Miller-Brown is incredibly proud of Jackman’s recent promotion.

“She [Jackman] is very knowledgeable about curriculum and this is the dream job she wanted with the certification she received through our program,” Miller-Brown explained.

The Morgridge Mountain ELSS Cohort will kick off another class in fall 2017 and is accepting applications now for the 2017 – 2018 academic year.

Morgridge College of Education alumna Kendra Carpenter (ELPS, ’16) has been selected by the Colorado Association of Elementary School Principals (CAESP) and the Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) to be the 2017 recipient of the Reba Ferguson Memorial Rookie of the Year Award. The award is given annually to a Colorado administrator in his or her first three years as an elementary school principal and honors elementary school principal Reba Ferguson, who tragically died in a traffic accident on her way to work in 2008. Carpenter is in her first year as principal of the Dillon Valley Dual Immersion Elementary School in Dillon, Colorado.

“I feel honored to be recognized in the name of Reba Ferguson,” said Carpenter. “Although I did not have the privilege of knowing her, I have heard what an amazing leader she was and know I have big shoes to fill to live up to her name.”

To win the award, Carpenter needed to be in her first three years as a principal and demonstrate remarkable leadership qualities, allowing her to make a positive impact as an instructional leader, community leader, and/or innovative leader.

Carpenter has worked for Dillon Valley Elementary for over 15 years, with a focus on diversity with its dual language model. Her passion is working with families and teachers to create an engaging environment where all learners will be successful.

According to Carpenter, the support she receives from both The University of Denver and her Morgridge Mountain Cohort is invaluable.

“These two entities continually help me grow my leadership skills,” she said.

Her goals for the future include continuing to work to create inclusive learning spaces where the whole child is honored, individualized professional development for teachers, and maintaining high expectations for all learners.

Carpenter will receive the award on Thursday, July 27 at the CASE Summer Convention in Breckenridge, Colorado.


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