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.”

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.

The Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) program at the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education in partnership with the Daniels College of Business (DCB) has been named by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) as an identified provider for the School Turnaround Leadership Grant Program. The University of Denver Turnaround School Leadership Program is a tiered system of leadership development that includes the ELPS MA program for aspiring turnaround leaders (Turnaround Fellows) and a professional development program (Turnaround Leader Success Program) for existing principals, principal supervisors, district staff, and other stakeholders. Districts, charter schools, and the Charter School Institute can apply to CDE for funding to have eligible teachers, principals, and district staff participate in this comprehensive program that will prepare and support leaders to improve the performance of students in the lowest-performing schools and districts in Colorado.

ELPS, a frequent recipient of national awards and grants for its efforts in innovative and effective school leadership preparation, already provides a foundation for turnaround leadership competencies through the certificate programs: Executive Leadership for Successful Schools (ELSS) and the Ritchie Program for School Leaders (Ritchie). The collaboration with DCB will build on this foundation and deepen competency development for the turnaround environment through the additional coursework of the ELPS MA with a focus on entrepreneurial, re-culturing, business, and innovation leadership. The Turnaround Leader Success Program will provide an additional layer of support for building leadership capacity throughout schools/districts.  The ELPS-MA program is a 2-year, 7-quarter program; students are eligible to apply for CO Principal licensure at the end of their first year. The Turnaround Leader Success Program will be customized to meet the unique needs of participating districts/schools and the work of the Turnaround Fellows.
By increasing partnerships with school districts, charter schools, and the Charter School Institute, the program will focus student learning on the unique needs of low performing schools. Specifically, those of special education, low-income students and their families, and English language learners; developing leaders ready to make a difference in the community.

“Part of being a school leader is building systems and empowering staff to transform schools to meet the needs of all students,” explains Dr. Susan Korach, researcher in leadership preparation and co-creator of the Ritchie and ELSS cohorts at the Morgridge College of Education. Korach, along with the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) faculty, attended the biannual Colorado Association of School Executives (CASE) Educational Leadership Convention this July in Breckenridge. The Convention brought over 1,000 principals, assistant principals, superintendents and school leaders from across the state together to engage in workshops, seminars, and professional development to share ideas, research findings, and stories with the mission of improving Colorado schools.

Many current MCE students and ELPS program graduates were presenters at the 2013 CASE conference, speaking on their experiences as school leaders and how they’ve come to ignite change within their schools and educational organizations. Nelson Van Vranken, MCE alum and Principal at Hanson Elementary School, and his leadership team presented on their school’s recent transformation. In 2009, Hanson was identified as one of the lowest performing schools in the nation, based on student growth and performance data, but in 2012 ranked in the highest performing TACP category. Van Vranken attributes much of his schools success to his training at MCE: “The Ritchie cohort fully prepared me for the challenges of urban school reform. Through our reform efforts, we gathered data to build a clear vision for the school, then focused on creating a school culture that supports learning. In all of this, our goal is centered on lasting change, so our biggest learning is in front of us. It was powerful to have the opportunity to share the lessons we have learned through our work with colleagues from around Colorado. ”

Morgridge College of Education is a “Friends of CASE” sponsor because the two organizations share the vision and commitment to helping improve Colorado schools and districts. Dr. Korach elaborates, “We want to create more partnerships and support leadership work throughout the state. Supporting CASE is an opportunity to help MCE have a broader prospective of leadership, expanding our support, programming and relationships from mainly urban districts to rural areas.”

Through the ELPS program at Morgridge College of Education, students work InContext within their schools and educational organizations while developing their leadership and professional skills. “We intentionally prioritize adding value back to the schools and educational settings in which our students are working;” Korach states, “through the Ritchie and ELSS InContext learning opportunities, though each capstone project at the masters level, and through the doctoral courses and research projects, our students are serving as active change agents in our schools and our community.” ELPS students are encouraged to be members of CASE to continually further their educational leadership development and collaborate with other educational leaders.

Morgridge College of Education offers Certificate (Ritchie and ELSS cohorts), Masters, EdD and PhD programs in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Typical students in the ELPS programs have anywhere between 3-20+ years experience as an educator, however, a smaller number of students come from outside of the field of education. The Ritchie Program for School Leaders is a district partnership cohort with Denver and Adams County School Districts, while the ELSS cohort utilizes blended online technologies in district (Aurora and DPS) and regional cohorts with InContext opportunities for the integration of coursework and internship. Both Ritchie and ELSS consist of 4 quarters of coursework, focused on school-based inquiry projects, and a 300+ hour integrated internship to meet the requirements for principal licensure and evaluation. Upon completion of a Ritchie or ELSS cohort, graduates must pass the PLACE principal exam for state licensure and receive approval from Colorado Department of Education. Both cohort options immerse candidates into practice of real situations in real schools, resulting in a unique learning experience that retains a high hire rate for assistant principal, principal, or educational leadership positions. Many Ritchie and ELSS graduates continue with 15 hours of coursework at MCE to receive their Masters. The ELPS EdD and PhD programs support educational leaders with aspirations of being superintendents or getting involved in district level leadership and policy making. For more information on any of the ELPS programs, please contact the Office of Admissions at morgridge.du.edu/contacts.


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