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DPS superintendent resigns

LARGEST SCHOOL DISTRICT

Cordova exits post after two years, takes job in Dallas district

By Tiney Ricciardi

The Denver Post

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova resigned Friday, ending what many describe as a tumultuous two-year tenure bookended by a historic teachers strike and the extraordinary challenge of educating students during a global pandemic. Cordova accepted a position in the Dallas Independent School District as the deputy superintendent of leading and learning. Her last day in Denver has yet to be determined, nor has an interim superintendent been named.

Cordova, who graduated from the district she has led, spent much of her career at DPS, serving as a bilingual secondary teacher, principal of a high-needs elementary school and an administrator. She succeeded Tom Boasberg as superintendent of Colorado’s largest district, which serves about 93,000 students.

Cordova’s first days on the job in January 2019 were spent at the bargaining table to prevent teachers from walking out of their classrooms. More than 2,600 educators

Susana Cordova


eventually left their posts in the name of fair pay as schools remained open and students flooded the hallways.

Denver’s first teachers strike in 25 years lasted three days, sending a ripple effect throughout the district. In November of that year, Denverites voted in new school board members who vowed to reform the district.

At a news conference Friday, Cordova acknowledged she didn’t always have the smoothest relationship with staffers and the board, but she maintained the discourse made DPS a better district.

“It’s really important in a large, public organization like the Denver Public Schools for there to be honest dialogue, debate and conflict,” Cordova said. “Conflict is actually really important in a democracy, and I think it’s also really important that we work through conflict to get to decisions that we all can support.”

“A debt of gratitude”

Cordova counts DPS’s work on curriculum equity and inclusivity among her greatest accomplishments as superintendent. This year, the district adopted the Know Justice, Know Peace resolution, which commits to adding more comprehensive historical and contemporary contributions of Black, Indigenous and Latino communities in K-12 curriculum districtwide.

“As the child of Mexican-American parents and a first-generation college graduate, I know that I owe a debt of gratitude to DPS, and I have been honored to spend the past 31 years as a member of Team DPS,” Cordova said in her resignation announcement. “I am sad to be leaving Denver, but I will be eternally grateful to everyone I have worked with and learned from over the past decades.”

“We’ve been so lucky that she’s been a part of DPS throughout her life as a student, as a mom, as a teacher, as a leader and as a trailblazer,” said Carrie Olsen, president of the board of education. “She was the first Latina superintendent and only one of two women of color to lead our district.”

Dallas Independent School District is Texas’ second-largest public school district, serving about 154,000 students across 230 schools, and has 220,000 employees, according to the district’s website. Cordova said she was not actively looking for a new job but was approached about the opportunity. Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has been one of Cordova’s mentors for several years, she said.

“Dallas is a district that reminds me a lot of the Denver that I grew up in. It’s an incredibly diverse district, serving a large student population, the majority of whom are students of color or low-income, who are students learning English as a second language. There are amazing, innovative things happening in Dallas,” Cordova said. “I never was in a position before in my career where I felt I could step away from Denver. But when this opportunity came up this time, I felt like it was the right thing to do.”

Jennifer Bacon, vice president of the board, did not offer a time line or potential candidates to serve as Cordova’s successor or interim superintendent.

“At our swiftest, we do want to be able to hire a superintendent in a time line that’s most conducive to support the upcoming school year,” Bacon said.

“Opportunity to change the page”

Board member Tay Anderson said a new appointee would help usher in a new era for DPS — something he and many of his constituents are looking forward to.

“A lot of constituents had the criticism when we appointed Susana Cordova that there was a lingering of past administrators. They were right,” Anderson said. “This is our opportunity to change the page from the Boasberg administration and now figure out where Denver Public Schools will go from here.”

Cordova’s resignation comes amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has crippled school operations and ignited fierce debate about how students should be learning. Cordova acknowledged the timing of her impending departure presented a challenge but said she has confidence in the board to “continue to move forward and advance the work that is so critical for our students.”

The pandemic was top of mind for Tiffany Choi, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. In a statement, she thanked Cordova for her service and said the union “will continue to fight for safe, equitable and sustainable learning environments.”

Cordova often garnered criticism for the district’s response to the pandemic. Darren Malia, who has two kids in DPS and is studying to become a teacher, said Friday her departure felt “super drastic.”

“It just seems like to cut out in the middle of the year and in the middle of a pandemic — it seems like she’s cutting and running,” Malia said. “I know she’s had a rough tenure with the strikes and all that, but this is the job she signed up for.”

“She paid the price”

Van Schoales, president of nonprofit education organization A+ Colorado, praised Cordova, calling her a “remarkable leader” who navigated circumstances few others would have.

“Teachers had the largest increase in pay under her leadership,” he said. “There was also an increase in pay for teachers that were working with schools that had high percentages of low-income students. She also has overseen the improvement of traditional schools, particularly in those parts of the city that have been composed of majority Black and brown students, and this happened while she was in charge of the traditional school district schools, neighborhood schools.

“I just think it’s really unfortunate that this board of education has not been supportive of her, and they haven’t been from the start — or at least a number of members haven’t.”

Vernon Jones, executive director of the Northeast Denver Innovation Zone, agreed, saying Cordova helped the district turn a corner after the previous superintendent lost credibility with the community.

“I believe she paid the price for him, which makes me sick, to say the least,” Jones said in a statement. “Knowing her, she would not want this to be about her or the other adult politics that sadly continue to dominate. This is about children that must be served well by our district.”

Denver Post reporter Elizabeth Hernandez contributed to this report. Tiney Ricciardi: cricciardi@denverpost.com or @tineywristwatch

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