Dismayed Latinos Demand Role in DPS Superintendent Search

Susan Cordova, Superintendent, Denver Public Schools. Photo Courtesy Denver Public Schools (Facebook)

Eleven leaders of Latino community organizations sent a letter to the Denver Board of Education last night demanding community participation in the search to replace Superintendent Susana Cordova who resigned last month. Citing persistently low graduation rates by Latino students at DPS, the group urged the board to address “division within the school board,” and to “dispel the impression of discord and dysfunction” that critics say led Cordova to leave.

The majority of DPS students are Latino. “Latino students, their families, and Latino communities will be among those negatively impacted by her departure,” the letter said. See letter below:

Dr. Carrie Olson, President P.O. Box 17932
Ms. Jennifer Bacon, Vice-President Denver, CO 80217-0932
Mr. Tay Anderson, Secretary
Ms. Angela Cobián, Treasurer 2 December 2020
Mr. Scott Baldermann
Rev. Bradley Laurvick
Ms. Barbara O’Brien

Denver Board of Education
1860 Lincoln Street
Denver, CO 80203

Dear Board Members:

As people with extensive leadership experience in Denver’s Latino community, we are deeply concerned
and dismayed by the unexpected departure of Ms. Susana Cordova after less than two years as
Superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Latino students, their families, and Latino communities will be
among those most negatively impacted by her departure. We demand meaningful representation of
Denver’s Latino community in the search for her replacement.

The majority of DPS students are Latino (CDE, 2020a). Too many of them are losing their struggle to
succeed. In 2010, most Latino high school students at DPS did not graduate (CDE, 2013). Latino high
school graduation rates are rising too slowly. By 2019, the number of Latinos graduating after four years
of high school had increased to only 68 percent (CDE, 2020b). Latino and Native American students
continue to have the lowest high school graduation rates in Denver.

Susana Cordova superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Evan Semón Photographer, Westword

Susana Cordova superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Evan Semón Photographer, Westword


Superintendent Cordova was the unanimous choice of the previously elected Board. She was
exceptionally well qualified to address Denver Latinos’ demands for education equity. As a life-long
Denver resident and the first in her family to graduate college, she began her 31-year career at DPS in
1989 as a bilingual language arts and social studies teacher. She was promoted repeatedly to higher level
teaching and administrative positions, including appointment as Deputy Superintendent in 2016
(Cordova, 2018).

The previous Board’s choice of Cordova for superintendent reflected community engagement in the
search process. Participants included “District employees, non-profits, faith-based groups, youth, parents,
and education advocacy stakeholders” (Dimension Strategies, 2018, p 4). The resulting community
engagement report presented a wide range of community concerns, including one that Denver’s Latino
parents and teachers had been trying to raise since 1964:

Families who are English Language Learners (ELL) are particularly interested in the
District providing more expansive resources for immigrants and their families. Because
several schools have an underlying issue of being unable to communicate effectively with
refugee, immigrant, and non-English speaking families, these parents find it much more
difficult to support their children and participate in their child’s educational plans
(Dimension Strategies, 2018, p 6).

Language differences and inadequate engagement of Latino parents are two of many reasons for Latinos’
low high school graduation rates. Numerous related concerns were raised during the community
engagement process, including the following.
“We need people with different backgrounds to be teachers. We need to attract teachers
who look like the community they teach. Additionally, the curriculum needs to be more
diverse and culturally relevant” (p. 12).
Some expressed their desire for a leader who is a good listener, a good communicator,
and who is dedicated not only to closing the achievement gap, but also to taking care of
the “whole child” (p. 13).
“Teaching experience is important; however, the Superintendent’s philosophy and vision
for the district is most imperative” (p. 13).
“School choice is not a solution to failing schools. Low-income families have difficulty
accessing choice schools. Their first choice should be the ability to walk to quality
neighborhood schools” (p. 14).

“The Superintendent needs to be an educator who has been in a classroom, understands
educational philosophy, developmentally appropriate teaching, and is transparent” (p.
14).
Many community members expressed a strong preference for a Superintendent who will
“work with the community rather than for them.” They said that the Superintendent must
be willing to communicate with the community “at all levels” – including students and
teachers – in an authentic manner to unite divided communities (p. 20).
To reiterate, we are deeply concerned that the loss of Superintendent Cordova reflects a division within
the school board that has been cited by many. As the search begins for a new superintendent, it is
imperative that the DPS Board do everything it can to dispel the impression of discord and dysfunction.
As our elected representatives, each of you have a duty to represent the interests of all parents, students
and educators. To that end, we strongly urge the board to support a public process that is transparent,
inclusive, and reflective of the needs of all DPS students no matter where they live, where they are from,
what language they speak. A public engagement process must be designed by a diverse community group,
including representatives from the Latino community, that gives credence to all DPS stakeholders that it
will be open and transparent. We also seek assurance that there is full endorsement and participation by
all school board members.

We have learned that Dwight Jones will be appointed as the interim superintendent and appreciate his
willingness to step into this position. However, we will continue to look to the board for answers to our
demands.
Our organizations have long reflected and voiced the interests, concerns and needs of DPS’ Latino students.
We stand ready to assist you in developing an open process for the selection of the next superintendent. We
will advocate for a superintendent who meets or exceeds Superintendent Cordova’s outstanding and
demonstrated ability to implement the Colorado Academic Standards for culturally and linguistically diverse
speakers. DPS has a long path ahead toward achieving education equity for Latinos. Our organizations hope to
work with you to assure that both the process and the selection of the next superintendent meets those
expectations.
Sincerely,
Elsa Bañuelos, Executive Director
Padres y Jóvenes Unidos
Mario M. Carerra
Jim Chávez, Executive Director
Latin American Education Foundation (LAEF)
Mike Cortés, Executive Director
Colorado Latino Leadership, Advocacy, & Research Organization (CLLARO)
Dr. Kathy Escamilla, Professor Emerita
School of Education, University of Colorado, Boulder
Anthony J. García
Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center
Jorge García, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Colorado Association for Bilingual Education (CO-CABE)
Nita Gonzáles
Nuevo Amanacer, LLC
Rudy Gonzáles, Executive Director
Servicios de la Raza
Rosemary Rodríguez
Esther Romero, President
Congress of Hispanic Educators (CHE)
Sources
CDE. (2013). Graduation Data for the Class of 2009-10. Colorado Department of Education.
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/rv2010GradLinks .
CDE. (2020). Graduation Statistics. Colorado Dept. of Education.
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/gradratecurrent .
CDE. (2020). 2019-2020 PK-12 Pupil Membership Race/Ethnicity and Percent Minority by County and
District. Colorado Department of Education. http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdereval/pupilcurrent .
Cordova, S. (2018, Oct. 1). Cover Letter and Personal Statement. https://superintendent.dpsk12.org/wpcontent/uploads/sites/89/Cordova-Cover-Letter-and-PersonalStatement.pdf .
Dimension Strategies. (2018). Denver Public Schools Board of Education Superintendent Search:
Community Engagement Report.
https://www.boarddocs.com/co/dpsk12/Board.nsf/files/B5VPKN61A82F/%24file/Final_DS_DPS%20Sea
rch_Final%20Community%20Report_Web.pdf .
DPS. (2015). Denver Plan 2020: Every Child Succeeds. Denver Public Schools.
https://www.dpsk12.org/wp-content/uploads/Denver_Plan_2020_English.pdf .