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Aurora board taps Munn for superintendent

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education has chosen D. Rico Munn, the former director of the Department of Higher Education and a former Colorado Board of Education member, as the district’s next superintendent.

D. Rico Munn (left), former director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, talks to Jim Lyons (right), cochair of a strategic plan study panel.<em> EdNews</em> file photo
D. Rico Munn (left), former director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, talks to Jim Lyons (right), cochair of a strategic plan study panel. EdNews file photo

The board made the decision, which is contingent upon successful contract negotiations, in a 6-to-1 vote after about 30 minutes of deliberation Monday evening. Munn was one of four finalists named on March 25 and who interviewed with board members over the weekend. He is currently a partner at the law firm of Baker and Hostetler and adjunct law professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Much of the board’s deliberations focused on both Munn’s ties to the Aurora community – he says he has children enrolled in Aurora Public Schools – as well as his deep connections to the state’s education policy establishment. He serves on the Colorado State University System’s Board of Governors and has formerly served as executive director of the Department of Regulatory Agencies and executive director of the Department of Higher Education. He also spent four years on the Colorado State Board of Education.

“I had a concern about picking a nontraditional superintendent,” said board member Mary Lewis.

But Lewis said she came around after Munn’s interview.

“He has a strong commitment to Aurora. He knows Aurora, which I had no idea until Saturday,” Lewis explained. “He knows the state, he knows the [Colorado Department of Education,] he knows the legislature, and he knows what he doesn’t know and is willing to listen.”

Several board members expressed concern about Munn’s lack of traditional education administrative or classroom experience. The board’s lone dissenting vote, Dan Jorgensen, preferred Tracy Dorland, who is currently Denver Public Schools’ deputy chief academic officer for teaching and learning.

“I may love Aurora, but that doesn’t qualify me to be mayor of Aurora,” Jorgensen said.

But the board majority expressed confidence that Munn would learn quickly and that his weaknesses were outweighed by his connections to the community and state education officials.

“I think his fairness and savvy in policy and connection with our leaders in the state will serve us well,” board President JulieMarie Shepherd said. “He recognizes where he may not have strengths and I think he will be very intentional about how to compensate for that.”

During an interview with reporters on Friday, Munn said he would not do “a turnaround job” on the school system if selected, but rather “accelerate the pace of change.” He also focused on ways to improve communication and build bridges between the district and parents and community members.

Assuming contract negotiations are successful, Munn will replace retiring Superintendent John Barry on July 1. Board members, including dissenting voter Jorgensen, pledged support to get Munn quickly on his feet in the new position.

“At least as a matter of record, I want everyone to know that Rico Munn will have my strongest support,” Jorgensen said.

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