Acting Super

Susana Cordova named acting superintendent of Denver Public Schools

Susana Cordova will serve as interim superintendent of Denver Public Schools (Joe Amon, The Denver Post).

Susana Cordova, a former teacher and principal who currently works as one of Denver Public Schools’ senior administrators, will be acting superintendent from January to July, when top boss Tom Boasberg is on a six-month unpaid leave.

Cordova currently serves as chief of schools. In that role, she’s in charge of traditional district-run schools and innovation schools, which have more autonomy when it comes to things such as hiring teachers and setting the school calendar. (Another administrator, Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, is in charge of charter schools.) Cordova oversees the leaders of district-run and innovation schools, including the principals, and helps put policy into practice.

The seven-member school board voted unanimously on Tuesday to appoint her acting superintendent.

“She’s an extraordinary leader,” Boasberg said, “and she truly represents the best of the Denver Public Schools. She is so thoughtful and innovative and courageous and caring and passionate.”

“I’ve been so impressed in the time that I’ve been on this board with Susana’s knowledge of everything that goes on in this district at every level,” said board member Mike Johnson. “She’s so incredibly hardworking. She’s so honest and she’s patient and gets along with people extremely well.”

Cordova said she is humbled and excited.

“This is not a chance for us to pause,” she said. DPS students only have one shot at the grade they’re in, Cordova added. “It’s full speed ahead.”

Cordova is expected to lead the district through several big issues next year, including teacher contract negotiations, contentious decisions about which schools to close and which to open, and preparations for asking voters in November to approve tax increases, in the form of a bond and mill levy, to improve school buildings and pay for additional programming.

Cordova and Boasberg mentioned other priorities as well, including continuing to work on teacher training and early literacy efforts and continuing to provide individual schools more flexibility when it comes to decisions such as which curriculum and tests to use.

Boasberg announced last month that he plans to take six months off to live and travel in Latin America with his wife Carin and three kids: Nola, 15; Ella,13; and Calvin, 11.

In a letter to DPS staff on November 16, he explained that his family hopes “to learn to speak Spanish well, to learn about different cultures and to spend a lot more time together as a family than I have been able to spend over these years as superintendent.” The family lives in Boulder.

The board voted on Tuesday to amend Boasberg’s contract to allow him to take the unpaid leave. The contract amendment says Boasberg will be gone from January 4 through no later than July 15, and that he won’t receive compensation during that time. His contract goes through 2017.

The board also approved a contract for Cordova. It says she will be paid an additional $1,666.66 for every month she serves as acting superintendent. Cordova’s current annual salary is $196,000.

In addition, the board members elected Anne Rowe to serve as board president. Rowe was previously vice president.

“We all have a role to play,” Rowe said, “and I am surrounded by leaders.”

Rowe will take over from Happy Haynes, who was president for the past two years. Haynes narrowly won re-election last month, edging out a competitor critical of the district’s direction to hold on to her at-large board seat.

Before the election, the Denver Board of Ethics recommended that if Haynes were re-elected, she abstain from continuing to serve as an officer. Haynes sought the ethics board’s opinion after Mayor Michael Hancock appointed her head of the city’s parks and recreation department in September.

“The demands on your time and energies in your dual roles…would appear to make this a prudent choice that you are in the best position to ultimately evaluate,” the board opined.

However, on Tuesday, Haynes was elected secretary of the board. Board member Rosemary Rodriguez was also nominated but she declined, explaining that the next year would be busy for her.

Board member Barbara O’Brien, who served as lieutenant governor from 2007 to 2011 before being elected to the DPS board in 2013, was chosen as vice president. Johnson was elected board treasurer.

Rowe, who represents southeast Denver, easily won her re-election campaign last month. New board member Lisa Flores also won an open seat to represent west and northwest Denver.

Their victories ensured that all seven board seats are occupied by members who are supportive of Boasberg’s efforts to reform DPS. Under Boasberg, the district’s strategies have included closing underperforming schools, paying teachers based partly on how their students do on tests, and authorizing a mix of new charter schools and traditional district-run schools.

But those reforms have produced mixed results. Enrollment has grown to more than 90,000 students and those kids are showing improvement on state tests compared to their peers

However, scores from tests taken in the spring of 2014 showed that just 60 percent of DPS third-graders were proficient in reading and math. And achievement gaps between white and minority students are large and widening. While black and Latino students are making gains, white students are improving at a faster rate. District- and school-level results from new standardized tests taken in the spring of 2015 are due to be released later this month.

Cordova is a Denver native and a graduate of Lincoln High School. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Denver and has a master’s degree in education administration, and curriculum and instruction, from the University of Colorado.

She started her teaching career at Horace Mann Middle School in northwest Denver, where she taught English and Spanish in a dual-language program. She went on to teach English and English as a Second Language at West High School and eventually became the principal of the now-shuttered Remington Elementary School, also in northwest Denver.

Her biography on the DPS website notes that students at Remington made gains on state reading tests during her tenure, which ended in 2002. The school was closed in 2008 due to low enrollment and performance. The academic programs at West and Horace Mann have since been reinvented for similar reasons.

Cordova joined the DPS administration in 2002, first serving as the district’s literacy director. Over the past 13 years, she has worked on several key projects, including the design of ProComp, the pay-for-performance program for teachers; the creation of LEAP and LEAD, the systems that measure the effectiveness of teachers and principals; and the redevelopment of the district’s approach to educating English language learners.

She began her current position, as chief of schools, in 2014. Cordova said her duties will likely be split between other staff members while she’s serving as acting superintendent.

Editor’s note: DPS board president Anne Rowe is married to Frank Rowe, Chalkbeat’s director of sponsorships. Frank Rowe’s position is not part of Chalkbeat’s news operation.

Who's In Charge

Who’s in charge of rethinking Manual High School’s ‘offensive’ mascot?

PHOTO: Scott Elliott/Chalkbeat
Manual High School is one of three Indianapolis schools managed by Charter Schools USA.

As other schools in Indiana and across the nation have renounced controversial team names and mascots in recent years, Emmerich Manual High School in Indianapolis has held onto the Redskins.

One of the reasons why the school hasn’t given it up, officials said during a state board of education meeting this week, is because it’s unclear whose responsibility it would be to change the disparaging name.

Is it the obligation of the district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which owns the building and granted the nickname more than 100 years ago?

Is it the duty of the charter operator, Charter Schools USA, which currently runs the school?

Or is it the responsibility of the state, which took Manual out of the district’s hands in 2011, assuming control after years of failing grades?

“I don’t care who’s responsible for it,” said Indiana State Board of Education member Gordon Hendry, as he acknowledged the uncertainty. “I think it’s high time that that mascot be retired.”

The mascot debate resurfaced Wednesday as state officials considered the future of Manual and Howe high schools, which are approaching the end of their state takeover. Charter School USA’s contracts to run the schools, in addition to Emma Donnan Middle School, are slated to expire in 2020, so the schools could return to IPS, become charter schools, or close.

Manual is only one of two Indiana schools still holding onto the Redskins name, a slur against Native Americans. In recent years, Goshen High School and North Side High School in Fort Wayne have changed their mascots in painful processes in which some people pushed back against getting rid of a name that they felt was integral to the identity of their communities.

Knox Community High School in northern Indiana also still bears the Redskins name and logo.

“The term Redskins can be absolutely offensive,” said Jon Hage, president and CEO of Charter Schools USA. “We’ve had no power or authority to do anything about that.”

He suggested that the state board needs to start the process, and that the community should have input on the decision.

An Indianapolis Public Schools official told Chalkbeat the district didn’t have clear answers yet on its role in addressing the issue.

Even if the state board initiates conversations, however, member Steve Yager emphasized that he does not want the state to make the decision on the mascot.

“We don’t have to weigh in on that,” Yager said. “I feel like that’s a local decision.”


Tennesseans reflect on Candice McQueen’s legacy leading the state’s schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen speaks with Arlington High School students during a school visit Tuesday that kicked off a statewide tour focused on student voices.

As Candice McQueen prepares to leave her role as Tennessee education commissioner in January, education leaders, advocates, and parents are weighing in on her impact on the state’s schools.

McQueen 44, will become the CEO of National Institute for Excellence in Teaching in mid-January after about four years under the outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam administration.

Her tenure has been highlighted by overhauling the state’s requirements for student learning, increasing transparency about how Tennessee students are doing, and launching a major initiative to improve reading skills in a state that struggles with literacy. But much of the good work has been overshadowed by repeated technical failures in Tennessee’s switch to a computerized standardized test — even forcing McQueen to cancel testing for most students in her second year at the helm. The assessment program continued to struggle this spring, marred by days of technical glitches.

Here are reactions from education leaders and thinkers across the state:

Gini Pupo-Walker, senior director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas:

“It was her commitment to transparency, equity, and strong accountability that helped create a nationally recognized framework that places students at its center. Commissioner McQueen’s commitment to inclusion and engagement meant that our partners across the state had the opportunity to weigh in, share their experiences, and to ask hard questions and conduct real conversations with policymakers. Tennessee continues to lead the nation in innovation and improvement in K-12 education, and that is due in no small part to Commissioner McQueen’s leadership.”

Shawn Joseph, superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools, who in August co-penned a letter declaring “no confidence” in state testing:

“Since joining MNPS just over two years ago, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with Commissioner McQueen and her team. She has been a strong advocate for Tennessee’s children, and I especially want to thank her for her support of the work that is taking place in Nashville. We send her our very best wishes — and our hearty congratulations for accepting her new role.”

JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee:

“Commissioner Candice McQueen is one of the most visible members of the Haslam Administration. She took over the department during a dark period in public education, and she made a significant difference within the department, particularly in the infrastructure. Those changes are not readily noticeable, as they include systems, processes and human capital. There are some exceptional people within the Department of Education working to make public education a success in our state. It is unfortunate that online testing continues to be a point of contention, but the state is moving in a positive direction. The next Commissioner of Education and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly will need to make adjustments in student assessment as we move forward.   We will always be grateful to Commissioner McQueen for her unwavering support of increasing teacher salaries and commitment to student literacy.”

Sharon Griffin, leader of the state-run Achievement School District:

“I have truly appreciated Dr. McQueen’s leadership and vision for the Department of Education.  From a distance and even closer in recent months, I have clearly seen the integrity and passion she brings to the work of improving student outcomes.  We have absolutely connected around our shared belief in how what’s in the best interest of students should guide our work.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of SCORE:

“Tennessee students have been served very well by the steady and strong leadership of Commissioner McQueen. Her priorities have been the right ones for our children: improving student achievement, with a specific focus on reading skills; advocating for great teaching and supporting teachers to deliver high-quality instruction; and emphasizing that students and schools with the greatest needs must receive targeted focus and support in order to improve.”

Sarah Carpenter, executive director of parent advocacy group Memphis Lift:

“Memphis parents want decision makers to be accessible, and we appreciate that Commissioner McQueen made a point to build relationships and hear concerns from the entire community. Hopefully, the next education commissioner will bring parents to the table for conversations about our kids’ education.”

Mendell Grinter, leader of Memphis student advocacy group Campaign for School Equity:

“In our collaborative work and position in the educational landscape, we have witnessed firsthand how Commissioner McQueen has served as a tireless advocate for students and families in Tennessee. Over the past two years her leadership has inspired school leaders, and teachers alike to recognize the sense of urgency for improving school equity and academic outcomes for more students.”

Andy Spears, author of Tennessee Education Report and vocal critic of state test, TNReady:

“After what can charitably be called a rocky tenure at the helm of the Tennessee Department of Education, Candice McQueen has miraculously landed another high-level job. This time, she’ll take over as CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, an organization apparently not at all concerned about the track record of new hires or accountability.”

Beth Brown, president of Tennessee Education Association:

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”