Academics and Research

Award-winning program trains leaders for education’s challenges

The principal preparation program that Doris Candelarie went through 14 years ago was an early iteration of a program in the Morgridge College of Education known today as the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (ELPS) Program. The program features two cohort options for principal preparation: the Ritchie Program for School Leaders, an in-person model in which partner school districts provide release time or a full-time position for the internship; and Executive Leadership for Successful Schools, a blended online model in which the internship is integrated with the student’s job. Both options have the same competency-based projects with learning facilitated through a team of faculty, practitioners and mentor principals.

In November, the ELPS program received the Exemplary Educational Leadership Preparation Program Award from the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). The UCEA presented Candelarie with an Excellence in Educational Leadership Award at the same ceremony.

The University of Denver Magazine sat down with ELPS co-founder Susan Korach, an associate professor at the Morgridge College, to talk about the program’s origins and success.


Can you give me some background on the ELPS program and how it became what it is today?

It has its origins in 2003 with the Ritchie Program for School Leaders. The superintendent of Denver Public Schools (DPS), the dean of the Morgridge College of Education and the executive director of the Donnell-Kay Foundation (a private family foundation dedicated to school reform in Colorado) wanted to build a principal preparation program that would meet the specific leadership needs of DPS. We took the courses that were in our existing principal preparation program and we organized them into what we called competency-based inquiry projects, which centered around the real work that leaders do. The first project students do is an organizational diagnosis, as if they were a new principal coming to a school: learning about the systems, the data, the culture, the market and all the things principals need to examine and continuously monitor. Each quarter the students focus in on a different project that is related in some way to the calendar year of a school. In 2007 we worked with Adams County Schools on a similar project, and in 2010 we changed our existing program to the Ritchie model. We named it Executive Leadership for Successful Schools.


So these are students who are already working in the education system? How are they monitored and mentored? Does their work “count” in the schools in which they currently work?

Almost all of our students are full-time educators within schools, and we partner with the principal of their school or with the principal of a school that they work with in order to complete the projects and their internship work. The goal is that the program benefits the school’s improvement efforts as we prepare new school leaders. The data that students analyze and gather and the work that they do with teachers and communities are all things that can help the school and the existing leader.


What do the projects they complete during the program allow these students to do when they graduate and get jobs leading their own schools?

Each of these projects is meant to provide tools and experiences that students can then use when they are serving in the role [of principal]. A school is not a static organization; every year is a very different year because so many elements have changed. The projects ingrain the students in the process of really using data — and multiple forms of data — to monitor and adjust as they work to improve learning for all students. In addition to student achievement data, they learn to build effective systems and pay attention to what people are saying, what people are doing, the whole gamut of stakeholders, what resources they have, what resources they need and what their strengths and limitations are.


What advantage do principals who have gone through the ELPS program have over those who have not?

Our students have said that the program gives them actionable work and skills. Many of them are able to use their learning and their projects as they go through [job] interviews and their daily work as school leaders. They have a leadership platform of understanding that they can build on and use as a framework for decision making. We continue to support students even after they graduate. Many students keep in touch with us, and we have a lot of networks. Additionally, the work that they do in the program can be individualized to their needs. If we have students who are really strong with their instructional knowledge but they lack some of the strategic leadership elements, that then becomes a focus, a thread that goes through each of their projects.


Congratulations on the award — what does it feel like to get that kind of recognition?

It’s really a testament to the work of our students, our faculty and our district partners who are able to allow students to grow as leaders. The award identifies us as a program to learn from. We received the award at a luncheon, and then later that afternoon we had a session where we shared elements of our work to a packed room. We have also hosted four different university groups at DU who wanted to come in and learn from our experiences so they can reform their programs. These groups visited with our faculty, district partners, graduates and students and have continued to collaborate with us.







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