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.”