The Ritchie Program for School Leaders: Executive Leadership for Successful Schools (Ritchie ELSS) immerses students in graduate-level coursework, the Colorado Principal Quality Standards, and project-based learning that prepares them for school leadership positions upon program completion. We approach this preparation using improvement science, inclusive excellence, 21st century teaching and learning, and transformative leadership. Content is individualized to the leadership needs of the aspiring leader and the needs of the school the aspiring leader serves at as the site of the internship. The 30-quarter-hour curriculum for the Certificate, leading to a principal license, integrates coursework with an internship supported by a mentor principal and is completed in one calendar year. Learning is fostered through a blended cohort of interactive online study, a three-day summer retreat, ten Saturday cohort workshops and webinars, and an internship. The curriculum is aligned to meet state and national standards for educational leadership excellence. 

“This program was the most beneficial, fulfilling, and impactful experience of my professional career. The program made me into an equitable, adaptable, data-driven, innovative, inquiring, and action-research oriented leader.” 
-Hank Nelson, alumnus


Cohorts and Modality

The Ritchie ELSS program utilizes a cohort model that is offered in various modalities to meet the needs of working individuals. As such, we run the cohorts below in the following modalities:

Hybrid Delivery Cohorts
  • Adams County Schools
  • Aurora Public Schools
  • Denver Public Schools
  • Jeffco Public Schools
Online Delivery Cohorts
  • Mountain Area / Rural – Serves educators in rural areas of Colorado. Fully online.
  • Teach for America (TFA) – Offered for TFA alumni in Colorado and across the United States. Fully online and hybrid options available.
  • Non-District Specific – Open to any aspiring school leader seeking a Colorado principal license looking for an online program. This cohort is open to applicants from any district of educational setting (private, charter, etc.) and applicants who are not currently working in an educational setting. Aspiring leaders in districts above may also opt into this cohort.

Overview of Program Design

The Certificate curriculum is organized in four quarters over one calendar year. Students meet in person (on campus or in Zoom), on two to four Saturdays, in each of the four quarters to participate in facilitated activities related to that quarter’s content and inquiry project. These Workshop Days include cohort work with the content, inquiry projects and internship experiences. Finally, there is a final event during the last quarter of coursework, when the cohort participates in closing activities and a presentation of learning. 

Click here to view a full overview of the certificate program.


“Graduates of the Ritchie ELSS program helped shape the instruction and assessment in the district and provided current professional development to staff.” 
-Mike Upright, West End Superintendent, alumnus


You will be eligible to apply for the  Colorado Initial Principal License  through the Colorado Department of Education. The University of Denver has not yet determined whether the program meets licensure requirements in a state other than Colorado or in any U.S. protectorates. If you want to pursue licensure in a state other than Colorado, contact the state’s Department of Education to determine whether the program meets licensure requirements. 

NOTE: Upon completion of a certificate and an admission application, you can take an additional four courses (15 credits) and successfully complete an Action Research Capstone Program to earn a  master’s degree in ELPS. 

Certificate programs provide substantial education in a specific academic discipline or on a coherent and freestanding body of knowledge. The certificate issued at the completion of the program represents the achievement of competence in a well-defined area of study. Academic certificates require a minimum of 24 quarter hours or 16 semester hours of credit.

Approximate Completion Time

One year

At A Glance

  • Starts June 2021

  • One calendar year

  • Online and Hybrid Options

  • Cost: ~$19K


Department Chair
Dr. Jayson Richardson
303-871-2212, KRH 356

Coordinator of Master’s Program
Dr. Doris Candelarie
303-871-6560. KRH 353

Academic Services Associate
Dr. Amanda Jensen
303-871-6027, KRH 350G

Admissions Contact
Rachel Riley
303-871-2509, KRH 110
Office Hours: By appointment only

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