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Denver hires search firm to help find a new superintendent

Denver Public Schools’ logo, with “Discover a World of Opportunity” imprinted on glass
The Denver school board hopes to hire a new superintendent by June.
Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat

A search firm founded by a woman of color and focused on equity will lead the search for a new superintendent of Denver Public Schools, district officials announced Friday.

Alma Advisory Group of Chicago will lead both a national search for superintendent candidates and a local process to gather feedback from students, parents, teachers, and community members on what attributes they’d like to see in the next leader of Colorado’s largest district. The Denver school board is aiming to hire a new superintendent by June.

This will be Alma’s first superintendent search, said CEO Monica Santana Rosen. The firm has done searches for other top district positions outside Denver, including for a deputy superintendent in Rhode Island and an assistant superintendent in North Carolina.

“Alma has a track record of finding leaders that are often unknown but effective and ready to meet the requirements of the role,” Rosen said.

The school board selected Alma, in part, because of its focus on diversity and use of a candidate screening process meant to mitigate bias, President Carrie Olson said. The board was also impressed with Alma’s holistic approach to community engagement, which includes support for community members who speak languages other than English.

“We’ve heard how important it is that our next leader share values of equity by incorporating an anti-bias and anti-racist lens,” Olson said. “In order to find that type of leader, it is important that the firm we work with shares that lens, and we found that in Alma.”

Kathleen Shiverdecker, a managing director at Alma, previously worked for Denver Public Schools and neighboring Aurora Public Schools, according to her biography on Alma’s website.

The exact cost of Alma’s contract with Denver Public Schools is still being finalized, but Olson said Alma proposed a cost not to exceed $75,000.

That would be less than the district spent on its last superintendent search. In 2018, the district spent more than $160,000 on a search that resulted in one finalist: Susana Cordova, who was then deputy superintendent of the district. Cordova, a former Denver teacher, led the district for two years before leaving in December to take a job in the Dallas school district.

Olson has said the board is aiming to name multiple finalists this time, an outcome community members have repeatedly asked for. But she said that if applicants drop out in the end, as they did in the last search, the board may have no choice but to name a sole finalist.

Denver is one of four large Colorado districts searching for a superintendent. The others are Jeffco Public Schools, Douglas County School District, and Cherry Creek School District. Asked how Denver would distinguish itself, school board Vice President Jennifer Bacon called the district a “jewel in Colorado” that is “incredibly diverse and multi-faceted.”

“We are going to lean on what differentiates us and identify all of the exciting opportunities,” Bacon said. “We have the best students, the best teachers, and the best staff who are all invested in getting our kids to not only be college and career ready, but for our students to know who they are and their place in this world as leaders.

“I’m not worried on behalf of Denver Public Schools. I think a lot of people will be interested.”

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