Administrators Corporate Reform Corporate Reformers Democrats for Education Reform Denver DFER Education Reform superintendents

Denver: Turmoil Over Superintendent’s Exit

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The superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova, resigned abruptly, and her departure was followed by finger pointing. Denver has been a hot spot for “reformers,” and it’s school board elections attract DFER, “Education Reform Now,” and other big-money donors from out of state.

I asked Jeanne Kaplan, a former DPS board member, to explain what’s going on. She sent me her comments and a statement released by the Colorado Latino Forum.

Kaplan writes:

In spite of the cacophony of adulation from education reformers there is no evidence that Susana Cordova has been pushed out by the Board of Education. Susana Cordova left in the middle of the school year in the middle of a pandemic because Susana Cordova wanted to leave for reasons unknown. (Ms. Cordova has been silent so far except for her initial letter of resignation). Was the Board at odds with her and her reformer staffers? At times, yes, but that should be expected when education reformers consistently sought to thwart the decision of the people and the mandate to the Board through two election cycles. In fact an argument can be made that these education reformers are in fact the reason for Ms. Cordova’s exit, for it is they who have sewn chaos and dissent within the District.  

Since Ms. Cordova’s announcement reformers have gone into a full court press to push a story line that says, “Mean board pushed out a local woman of color superintendent. Bad Board would not work with superintendent” with a clear undercurrent message: “ board needs to be replaced.”  Letters of support and social media postings for Cordova have poured in from a former and the current mayor (both of whom it should be noted are strong education reformers),  education reformer extraordinaire, Arne Duncan (former Secretary of Education), 14 former DPS women school board members, historically reform oriented organizations like Donnell-Kaye, A+ Colorado, and a myriad of other smaller reform organizations. Again, with no evidence the “superintendent pushed out by the board” storyline has become the storyline.  But is this case? Or is this just a last ditch effort for education reform to continue to push to be the driving philosophy in Denver? Or, are one or more of these scenarios possible? Is this

o   An attempt for mayoral control of Denver’s public Schools?

o   An attempt to lay the groundwork for a no holds barred school board election cycle in 2021 where the current board is blamed for the chaos?

o   An attempt to blame teachers for her exit?

o   An attempt to blame Susana for the failures of Michael Bennet and Tom Boasberg?

o   A subtle attempt to undermine Denver’s women school leaders, since the Superintendent, Board president and Board vice president are women? And finally,

o   Did Susana’s departure lead to the departures of her education reformer staffers, Mark Ferrandino and Jen Holladay, or did their impending departures lead to Susana’s departure? The Colorado Latino Forum, whose mission is to increase the political, social, educational and economic strength of Latinas and Latinos, just released a statement regarding the current situation.  CLF has documented the situation and speaks for many of us.  Thank you to the Board of Directors for the honesty and bravery.

Statement Regarding Resignation of Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova

The sudden resignation of DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova has sparked a small but politically powerful group, led by Mayor Michael Hancock, to decry Cordova’s resignation as a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy — a charge so outrageous that it can not go unchallenged. Therefore, the CLF Board is compelled to set the record straight with several facts omitted by the Mayor in his campaign to smear duly elected Board of Education members, who, unlike Mayor Hancock and his wealthy allies, are unpaid public servants.

First, Superintendent Susanna Cordova resigned last week of her own accord. According to her public announcement, she is taking a high-level position at a school district in the Dallas, Texas area. Ms. Cordova will benefit from a hefty pension from the DPS budget that will allow her to comfortably transition into a presumably well-paying new salary. However, unlike Ms. Cordova, many under-paid teachers and their students will continue to languish during a pandemic without adequate resources, such as basic internet access for remote learning. Further, their parents will continue to financially struggle to secure adequate childcare, and to make ends meet. It is disappointing that the Mayor does not express the same level of outrage for these teachers, students and their families.

Second, when selecting former superintendent Tom Boasberg’s replacement, Board members with close ties to the Hancock administration ensured that Cordova, as Boasberg’s protege, was the sole finalist after an expensive and superficial national search process. However, these same political insiders are now demanding an “independent” community engagement process — an opportunity that they denied to public education advocates during a succession of politically-connected superintendents dating back to over fifteen years. It is worth noting that neither Boasberg nor Bennet had education backgrounds, but were selected anyway over strong community objections.

Third, to blame teachers for hastening Cordova’s departure is irresponsible and mean spirited. Last November, the remaining Hancock-aligned board members opposed the teacher’s strike. These politically connected insiders also opposed raises and better working conditions for teachers while funneling increased resources to charter schools. For more than a decade, the Boasberg-Hancock-Cordova alliance forced overworked teachers to take a backseat to multimillion-dollar construction projects, while a corporate-backed board siphoned an increasing share of the $1.4 billion dollar school district budget to expand charter schools while destabilizing our public education system.

Fourth, Hancock — like most career politicians — is facing the end of his political reign due to term limits. The influence he once had to control DPS through mayoral appointees who held dual positions on the school board and within city government is coming to an end. It explains his outrageous Trumpian letter that mirrors some of the dysfunction in Washington politics. We wish to state unequivocally that Denver taxpayers would be better served if Mayor Hancock focused on managing the unprecedented crises facing

the City of Denver including the pandemic, racial unrest, economic recession and deepening housing crisis rather than interfering with the business of the DPS board.

Fifth, CLF dispels the myth that there is a monolithic Latino group that speaks for the interests of all Latinos in Denver, including the signatories of recent letters to the media from the same small circle of usual suspects. Given that, we strongly object to the Mayor weaponizing race and gender to smear volunteer school board members composed, in part, of dedicated people of color. Screaming “racism” and “sexism” by politically connected wealthy insiders hurts the movement for racial, social and education justice. If the Mayor wishes to go there, CLF reminds him that the staff of outgoing superintendent Cordova t​ hreatened striking teachers​, who were disproportionately Latinas, with deportation.

Further, we remind the Mayor that an inequitable system of economic disparities and institutional racism continues despite having a Latina superintendent according to statistics from the DPS and the Colorado Department of Education websites: 

  • ●  Only 38% of DPS students attend a ‘Blue’ or ‘Green’ school (SPF labels), compared to the goal of 80% by 2020.
  • ●  Only 68% of Black and Latino and 49% of Native students graduated high school in 4 years last year compared to the 81% of white students that graduated high school in 4 years. This is only 1800 out of 6200 seniors actually graduating from a DPS high school on time.
  • ●  Latino students continue to be under-enrolled in AP courses. Latinos make up more than 54% of the student population but they receive only 39% of AP credits. This percentage has decreased in the last 4 years. Meanwhile, White students receive 43% of AP credits, but only make up 25% of the student population.
  • ●  Approximately 1 in 5 teachers and principals left DPS. It is almost double the turnover rates of Adams-12 and Jefferson County districts.
  • ●  Reports of unfair, inequitable HR practices leading to disproportionate pushout of Black and Latino teachers have increased.
  • ●  There has been a 0% increase of Latino/Chicano teacher representation in the past 5 years — and only a 1% increase in Black teacher representation. Latino teachers only make up 17% of teaching staff in 2019-2020, and this percentage holds from five years ago. Black teachers make up 5% of the teaching population, only 1% higher than five years ago.
  • ●  The percentage of Latino principals has decreased by 1% in the past 5 years (from 19% to 18%); Black principals have not increased at all from 12%.These disparities occurred during Ms. Cordova’s tenure as Deputy Superintendent and Superintendent. The reinforcement of oppression of teachers, students and parents of color is inexcusable. It is a disservice to DPS teachers, students and families to mischaracterize her lucrative departure as the result of racist and sexist victimization. Instead of the Mayor tearing down members of a duly elected seven-member Board of Education, he should be encouraging the community to come together and engage in a search for a nationally-acclaimed superintendent of the highest caliber. We do not need another back-door, handpicked crony by opportunistic and meddling politicians who should stay in their lanes.Denver deserves top-notch candidates who can steer the billion-dollar DPS behemoth on a course of independent governance that takes our students to their highest educational and social potential. Let’s stop calling racism when millionaires don’t get their way. Instead, let’s get on with the business of supporting the Denver School Board’s search for an equity-driven, pro-public education candidate for this critical position. 
  • Signed,
    CLF BOARD of DIRECTORS

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