These posts are the opinions of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the views of A+ Colorado.

From The Principal’s Perspective: A New Superintendent? What We Need Now.

By Guest Blogger: John Youngquist, East High School Principal 

For over a quarter of a century I have served in Denver Public Schools, and beyond, as a teacher, principal, mentor and coach, area superintendent and chief academic officer. As a proud alumnus of a Denver Public School, I have experienced many successes that many of my fellow students did not have the opportunity to attain. Today, many, many thousands more of our students remain significantly underserved in the Denver Public Schools.

While we have come a long way for our students, many beyond the walls of our schools, do not see that our graduation rate remains one of the very lowest of the urban centers in our country. Many do not see that our achievement gaps are some of the widest of the urban centers in our country. Many do not see that our financial inefficiencies and compensation systems are some of the most confusing of the urban centers in our country.

With all of the excitement of being “Denver,” in the world of education, an urban legend has developed and, until we face our harsh realities, celebrating our successes in too loud a fashion rings a hollow ring.  

All of this speaks to the grand opportunity that we have in the hiring of a new superintendent for the Denver Public Schools.

Our last 5 superintendents have more than 1 thing in common. Our last 5 superintendents led from a white male perspective in a majority minority community. They entered as “alternative” voices, never having served in a Colorado public school and never having had a child in a Denver Public School. And, at least the last 3 of them led with a focus on resource development and innovation resulting in some important successes.  

These superintendents proved that innovation matters. From ProComp to the Portfolio model, innovation has been the name of the game and has resulted in areas of growth for our schools.  Along with this, I have wondered, why have these innovations not created a culture of action to propel our students toward the equitable outcomes that they deserve? That question has led me to others.  Has our innovation in Denver been drawn from a deep understanding of our challenges and have the people in our communities been a source of that innovation?

I believe that the answers to these two questions hold 3 vital interests that have, with all of the money and innovating poured into the effort, kept so many of our young people from success.  

From my perspective, there needs to be 3 primary interests held by the DPS Board of Education as they drive toward the selection of our new superintendent.  Our next superintendent must represent:  

  1. The ability to celebrate success while clearly acknowledging and owning our greatest challenges, our deepest faults, and our harsh realities. Then, we may act with integrity to engage strategy and action that matter for our children.

  2. A deep investment in and understanding of our Denver community, and our children, with an interest in schools playing a role in creating community for our students.

  3. A clear commitment to supporting our teachers and principals, deeply respecting the role that each play and committing to provide what these professionals need, when they need it.

With a graduation rate hovering around 65%, we are currently watching over 30,000 of the young people in our city of Denver prepare to drop out of our schools over time. This must stop, as they deserve so much more than we are providing.  

Our DPS Board of Education has the opportunity to select a superintendent that is responsive to the needs of our children, understanding of who we are as a community, and who leads in a way that ensures our innovations and our actions result in the equitable outcomes that our students deserve.  

Our School Board has a choice to make.  Make the choice for what we need now.

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