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Barry says departure “very difficult”

John Barry, the retired Air Force major general who took over Aurora Public Schools in 2006, has announced he will leave the metro district’s top job at the end of June.

“When I started in APS in 2006, I gave my word to the board of education that I would serve as superintendent for at least five years,” he said in an email sent late Monday to staff and community members. “This year, I will complete my seventh year.”

Barry said his decision is based partly on the fact that a majority of seats on the district’s seven-member governing board will be up election next November. Three of the people serving in those four seats are term-limited.

“There will be at least three and maybe four new BOE members elected next year,” Barry said. “Even though my contract was out to 2014, I would like the current experienced board to have the opportunity to select my successor.”

Barry became head of Colorado’s sixth-largest district, enrolling nearly 40,000 students, as part of a national trend to seek school system leaders from outside education circles. Many were popular, perhaps exemplified by retired U.S. Army Major General John Stanford of Seattle Public Schools, but others were less successful.

Barry’s tenure would seem to place him in the former group. Though he fought at times with union leadership and the district’s state test scores remain stubbornly low, more students are graduating from APS and fewer are dropping out.

In his email, Barry cites a number of accomplishments, including:

  • Aurora students have surpassed state increases in achievement rates for reading, writing, math and science every year since 2006
  • Aurora students have met or exceeded the state’s Median Growth Percentile in all subjects since 2006
  • District voters approved ballot measures for more money for schools in 2008 and earlier this month

In addition, Barry won accolades from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for the district’s reaction to the Aurora theater shooting in July. By the district’s estimate, 150 former and current Aurora students, parents and staff were in the Century Aurora 16 theater when a heavily-armed lone gunman opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 58 others.

Barry’s military background, which included service as a fighter pilot, leading the independent investigation into the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy and being in the Pentagon on 9/11, undoubtedly helped in formulating the district’s quick and detailed response plan.

“You may recall that I encourage staff to leave APS better than they found it,” Barry wrote to staff. “Although my decision has been a very difficult one to make, I want you to know I am proud of what our team has accomplished over these many years. I have been honored to serve as your superintendent … ”

The email doesn’t indicate Barry’s future plans, though he notes that he and his family will continue to live in Aurora – “after 26 moves in 30 years in the USAF, my goal is to never pack another box again” – and attend APS events, games and performances.

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