It’s no secret Denver Public Schools’ board majority had it in for Superintendent Susana Cordova from the start. The challenge was how to give the heave-ho to someone so highly qualified and well regarded; someone who enjoyed such broad-based community support, had won so many accolades and had devoted 30 years of her life to DPS. She’s also the first Latina schools chief to serve the majority-Hispanic district, the state’s largest. In other words, she held so much promise in her short time in the top job, less than two years.
While it would have been interesting to watch some board members try to gin up a case against such an exemplary public servant, Cordova evidently thought better of it. Probably tired of arriving at work each day to face the writing on the wall, she announced last Friday she will depart for Texas soon to become deputy superintendent in the Dallas Independent School District.
It comes as a blow to the district’s 92,000-plus students and their families. Not only because of what they’re losing — Cordova’s formidable skill set — but also because of what will remain: A feckless board majority whose only discernible goal is rolling back every badly needed reform Cordova and prior DPS leadership represent. Ironically, Cordova was hardly the author or even prime mover of those reforms during her prior years serving in district leadership. Yet, it seems her mere association with the previous administration was too much for this board.
As we noted here before, it was troubling to see some of the current board members win their seats in last year’s election on an anti-charter, anti-innovation school, anti-accountability platform. The upshot was to comprise a new board majority that is bent on upending and overturning decades of hard work and bold strides by earlier boards and administrations. Those accomplishments pulled one of the nation’s large urban school districts back from the brink of failure. In tandem with wide-ranging advances introduced at the state level, the past boards ushered in groundbreaking policies that strived for the first time to meet the individual needs of students as well as to provide meaningful accountability tools for parents.
The proliferation of autonomous, parent-driven charter schools has established DPS as a leader in Colorado’s, and the nation’s, charter-school movement. Students of every race and socioeconomic status, and particularly children of color, have benefited mightily by this watershed innovation. The same goes for DPS’ development of innovation schools, like the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Early College program and the Denver Center for 21st Century Learning, which offer kids of the most modest means a new path, and new hope, for a brighter future.
What is the new regime’s audacious, compelling new plan for replacing the old one? After a year in power, the board majority appears clueless and rudderless. DPS parents are still waiting to hear anything resembling an agenda for action — aside from dismantle and destroy, that is.
Cordova’s departure is collateral damage, and that bitter reality hasn’t escaped district parents and other stakeholders as Cordova moves on. DPS watchdog boardhawk.org posted the highlights of a press conference on Zoom over the weekend, held by a consortium of parents and education advocacy groups “to demand that the Denver school board look past political agendas and include community input as it looks to hire a new superintendent.”
Among the participants was Alicia Avila, a DPS grandparent and substitute teacher, who declared: “The elephant in the room is that Susana was pushed out by the board, and…as a community member, I think we need to focus on that because it’s not going to change if we don’t address this issue with the board.”
Another participant, northwest Denver community organizer and DPS parent Joanna Rosa Saenz, singled out new board members Brad Laurvick and Scott Baldermann for “cowering to special interests” like the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.
“I am very concerned about whether some members of the elected board of education are putting children or politics first,” she said. “It is deeply concerning that the majority white political organization and their puppets on the board are likely the reason our first Latina superintendent is leaving her hometown and the district where has worked for over 31 years…This city elected privileged white men who have no vision and have made it so difficult for this district to function that our superintendent was pushed out by the dysfunction of this board.”
The question now: Will the board majority pick a replacement who represents an about-face from everything Cordova represented? That would be troubling. Of course, it also, at least, would indicate some kind of direction — for the first time.