Mayors blame “dysfunctional” board for Denver Public superintendent’s resignation

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and former Mayor Federico Peña say the Denver Public Schools Board of Education is to blame for the departure of district Superintendent Susana Cordova and are calling for an independent committee to lead the search process for finding her replacement.

In a scathing letter sent Monday, the mayors said the board undermined Cordova, “which caused her to take her many talents to Dallas.”

“They mistreated her at public board meetings and interfered in the day-to-day management of the school system, rather than collaboratively establishing policies and direction for the district,” Hancock and Peña wrote, adding the board has yet to establish its own vision for the future of DPS beyond the 2020 plan.

The mayors suggested several steps the board should take “to regain some semblance of credibility among the broader community,” including having a committee of residents take the lead on recruiting, screening and recommending potential candidates to fill the superintendent role in addition to a search firm. They also recommended the board immediately develop a strategic plan for the future of DPS to help inform potential candidates for the district’s top job.

“We do not believe that this dysfunctional board can now attract a more capable superintendent than Susana Cordova, the leader who has worked her entire adult career for the students of Denver and for our city,” the letter said.

The letter drew a quick response from school board member Tay Anderson, who called it an overreach of mayoral power in a series of tweets.

“We are duly elected School Board Directors and NOT once have you come to us to support, but issue statements that undermine the will of the voters,” Anderson wrote.

Cordova resigned Nov. 13, after a tumultuous two-year tenure as superintendent bookended by a historic teachers strike and the extraordinary challenge of educating students during a global pandemic. She is one of three local superintendents to resign since July. Jason Glass of Jeffco Public Schools and Thomas Tucker of Douglas County School District also recently resigned.

Hancock and Peña expressed concern specifically about the teachers strike, saying it’s “troubling” that past superintendents, who were white men, were never opposed with such actions.

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. The mayors suggested some board members came in intent on firing Cordova.

Their letter praised Cordova, the district’s first Latina leader, as “arguably the most qualified and community focused superintendent in decades,” adding that all the progress made in the district toward equity, improved test scores and graduation rates is now at risk of being lost with her departure.

“We cannot remain silent over this mistreatment of a hard-working and committed superintendent. We care too deeply for the future of our students and our city, and we urge other residents to also become informed about the precarious condition of DPS,” the mayors wrote.

“The board must take action to restore the confidence of the broader community, especially the
Latino, African American and other communities of color, and reassure Denver residents that they will act responsibly and only in the best interests of students,” Hancock and Peña said. “It’s time to put aside personal political agendas and work collaboratively as a board should.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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