Denver Public Schools announced this month that they were finalizing a contract with a Chicago-based search firm to head up the search for a new superintendent, meaning the search will now start more earnestly.
District officials highlighted Alma Advisory Group’s focus on “diversity, equity and inclusion,” noting the firm was led by a woman of color.
“We are committed to finding a diverse pool of highly qualified superintendent candidates,” said Carrie Olson, Board President. “The board reviewed several search firms, looking for one that aligned with our values and priorities as a board and for selecting the next superintendent of DPS.”
Responding to questions about the cost of the search, district officials said the board was approving a contract for up to $75,000 for Alma, considerably less than was spent under previous boards. In 2018, the district spent over $161,000 during the superintendent search that yielded one finalist: Susana Cordova, who is now leaving Denver for a job in Texas.
Monica Santana Rosen, CEO for Alma, when asked about their experience, said while their firm has successfully conducted searches for other school executives for similarly sized districts, they have not previously conducted a superintendent search.
In 2019, three new board members, backed by the teacher’s union and neighborhood school advocates, were elected when running to “flip the board.” The election marked a change in DPS’ leadership; the majority of the board had previously been backed by education reform organizations. Who the new board chooses as superintendent will likely signal the direction the board would like to see DPS take in the future.
The press conference announcing Alma’s role was mostly about process. When asked whether the board was seeking a superintendent with a background in education (two previous superintendents before Cordova came from the private sector with little or no education background), Olson said the board would be discussing more details on goals and ideology soon. She did add that the board heard the community’s concerns “loud and clear” recently and she expects more community feedback to reiterate that view. Olson is a former teacher.
In a followup conversation, Northwest Denver DPS Board of Education Member Brad Laurvick said he’s meeting with the firm as a group with other board members and one on one in order to address issues specific to his district “I have some very high expectations of someone who understands classrooms…who understands the nuances of working with a multilingual district.” Laurvick added that he and SW Denver board member Angela Cobián are committed to doing community outreach in both English and Spanish. Both represent districts with higher percentages of Latino families.
Education organizations are also watching the superintendent search.
“We hope that the Board works with community to find a seasoned educator that reflects the diverse student body of Denver,” said Jen Walmer, Democrats for Education Reform Colorado State Director. “We hope that the new superintendent will be focused on addressing the learning loss of Denver’s students, closing the opportunity gap, and work to build consensus among Denverites for policies that meet the urgent need for rapid and meaningful improvements to deliver the education system our students deserve.”
Tiffany Choi, President of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said they are “looking forward to having an active voice in the superintendent search. We are working on surveying our members about their priorities in a superintendent and will be engaging with current BOE members to share the teacher and Specialized Service Provider perspective during the process.
The district plans to hire a new superintendent in time for them to take the helm by the fall semester.