DENVER (CBS4) – Parents and local education advocates are calling for the Denver Board of Education to engage with all community members in the search for a new superintendent, saying for too long the community’s voice has been muted.
This, after Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova made the surprise announcement Friday she’s leaving the district and heading to take a new position in Dallas as a deputy superintendent.
Some parents and community members were stunned by the announcement, and believe the school board pushed Cordova out.
Those concerns were raised at a community news conference Sunday, sponsored by some local education nonprofits, including Transform Education Now and the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone.
“I have real concerns about the direction of this district, and I’m very concerned about whether some members of this board are putting children or politics first,” said parent Joanna Rosa-Saenz. “It seems as though they are all motivated by special interests.”
Rosa-Saenz and other community leaders believe the school board created a difficult work environment for Cordova, pushing her out in a time when the district needs strong leadership.
“A superintendent must be given the opportunity to lead, rather than be micromanaged or forced to spend timie on divisive political agendas,” said Happy Haynes, the Executive Director of Denver Parks and Recreation.
In her announcement Friday, Cordova made no mention of a hostile work environment, instead expressing her gratitude for her time at the district.
“To the DPS community, to the board of education, thank you all, it has been an honor to work with all of you,” Cordova said.
Sunday, speakers also commended Cordova for her work to create more equity for students in the district, including her efforts to get laptops and Wi-Fi in the hands of every student during the pandemic. Now that she’s leaving, some community members would like to see a replacement that continues Cordova’s work.
“We need someone in the district to believe in our kids enough to make a plan before they fall behind,” said parent Ana Orozco.
Parents who spoke Sunday are demanding the school board conduct extensive community outreach that hears diverse voices when it looks for Cordova’s replacement, something they don’t believe all board members have been doing in recent months.
“We need a strong superintendent who is ready to take on challenges this city’s facing,” Orozco said. “Our kids are likely to be two or three years behind when this pandemic is finally over, and they’re able to return in person.”
The Board of Education President, Carrie Olson, PhD, released a statement Sunday night in response to the virtual news conference that reads in full:
Just last Thursday, our Superintendent resigned. While she has had time to plan for this change, the Board of Education has not. We ask for a grace period as we organize ourselves, determine immediate next steps, and continue to manage the many pressing priorities of the district. These issues include rising COVID closures, issues at our schools, and long term district planning. We want to remind people that the way our students experience Denver Public Schools is through all the incredible people they interact with every day. This will not change. Students remain our top priority.
The Board is grateful for our neighbors across the city who are not shy in sharing their thoughts. We each represent thousands of voters who put us in these seats. These voters expressed their values and interests through their votes. The delicate interplay of managing the district with a Superintendent includes capturing the demands of the community, building vision from the Board of Education, and masterfully executing strategy led by the expertise of our chief executive and senior leadership team. Superintendents are incredible servants to the public, and the public is allowed to fluidly express itself in the interest of supporting the community’s children. While we represent a majority of voters, we must also, and will also, be attentive to all of our neighbors as we search for our next leader.
As is seen in our national climate, Denver too, as a community, deserves to focus on how we walk together through change. It is the intention of the Board of Education to do our part to also end divisiveness and bridge divides in our community. Our Superintendent accepted her position as the Denver community was looking for change. The last two years have been marked not only by expressions of frustrations, but also of hope. This Board has been proud to be open and to support, not suppress, voices. We are teachers, parents and community advocates.
A uniting theme of this Board is that we believe it is necessary for our communities to experience and confront honesty as we begin to grapple with determining what is next for Denver Public Schools. Managing change from ten years of a particular focus and infrastructure is hard. Still, we do know that all of the children matter. All of them deserve to be educated and cared for. Denver citizens have always been supportive of our children and schools. We must be bold now more than ever in prioritizing their needs. We must be collaborative on our road to greatness. There are more opportunities to exchange ideas when we work in partnership rather than in silos. We have learned what works and what does not in our landscape that we must accept and move forward in a new direction.
Partnership throughout this process will be our priority. Partners share goals and outcomes. They communicate with each other, even if there are criticisms. In addition, partnership requires respect and commitments from all parties, and that all involved are committed to work with, not against, each other. The Board makes this commitment and asks that all who would like to engage do so as well. For what we can control, we commit to being positive and to remain focused on our priorities. We will work to be proactive and, over the last two years, we have gathered an incredible amount of community insights (from our last Superintendent search, to those gathered while redefining school performance).
As we have updates and begin planning next steps, we will share more. Our vision is to hold regular press conferences to which all media will be invited. In addition, our intention is to partner through this process with individuals and groups across the city. This means that we hope to end the divisiveness that does not best serve our shared goal of educating our students. By doing so, these young people can thrive and grow to meet their educational dreams by creating strong public schools.
Thank you, and stay Denver strong. Please practice social distancing, wear your masks, and limit in person gatherings so that we can bring back all of our students to in person learning.