40% of students in Colorado attend a district looking for a new superintendent

The four largest school districts in the state area search for Superintendent

Almost 40% of students in Colorado are served by a school district currently hiring a new superintendent. Approximately 329,000 students attend schools in the districts of Denver Public Schools, Cherry Creek, Dougco, Jeffco, and Poudre. According to 2020 October Count data, 883,199 students attend k-12 school in Colorado. Those five districts – the four in the Denver metro area which are the four largest school districts in Colorado are all vying for a new top leader at the same time. 

This means that all of the major Denver Metro area districts and the largest Northern Colorado district serving Fort Collins are under extreme pressure to find the right leader before the next school year starts – all during the pandemic. 

The decision to find the right leader for each district is monumental – A high stakes, expensive operation that heavily impacts virtually all the students and families in the Denver metro area. 

Here are some quick information about the districts that are hiring new superintendents – and how many students they serve: 

Jeffco Public Schools 

Jefferson County School District (also known as Jeffco) serves over 84,000 students and is the second largest school district in the state. Jason Glass served in the role for three years, and left to serve as Kentucky’s state commissioner of education. Kristopher Schuh, who has been at Jeffco for 20 years and an educator for 28, is the current interim superintendent.

See the full announcement and hiring process for Jeffco here. 

Cherry Creek School District 

More than 55,000 students attend Cherry Creek Schools. Superintendent Scott Siegfried will retire at the end of the school year, after a long career at the district which started in 1995 as a science teacher. His tenure as superintendent began in 2018.

Read the full announcement here.

Douglas County School District 

Douglas County School District (also known as DougCo) serves approximately 67,000 students and is the third largest district in Colorado. Superintendent Thomas Tucker resigned from his role during an investigation for workplace discriminiation, in which the School Board has since determined “that former Superintendent Dr. Thomas Tucker did not violate the district’s nondiscrimination/equal opportunity policy.” He has since accepted a position with the Kentucky Department of Education as the Chief Equity Officer. Corey Wise, who has been at the district for 25 years, was named interim superintendent

Denver Public Schools 

The largest school district in the state, DPS serves over 93,000 families. Dwight Jones, previously Colorado’s Commissioner of Education, became interim superintendent after Susana Cordova resigned from her role as superintendent in November to work at the Dallas Independent School District as their Deputy Superintendent. 

Cordova leaves a legacy of being the first Latina female superintendent in DPS as well as being the first Hispanic superintendent.  She has been praised for a “vision that  was set in equity,”  and creating a “space where we can truly try to dismantle” systems of oppression. Cordova’s departure was filled with turmoil amid allegations of a forced resignation. She instead announced her departure was a career decision and that she holds a “a debt of gratitude” to the district. 

Poudre School District 

Poudre School District is the largest school district in Northern Colorado, serving Fort Collins. Approximately 30,000 students attend the district. Sandra Smyser, who has been Superintendent since 2013, announced an early retirement this year. Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Todd Lambert, was announced as interim superintendent for the remainder of the school year. 

Of note, all five school districts announced they have a goal of having a new Superintendent in place in the summer of 2021, to be in place by the start of the 2021-22 school year. 

A community-centered process

In 2018, DPS spent over $160,000 in its search for a new superintendent, which eventually led to the hiring of Susana Cordova. Around $130,000 of that was paid to firms that helped navigate the search and for consulting services. The firms assisted the district with organizing 11 meetings with members of the community – which were to engage various stakeholders – ranging from students, parents, to teachers and city residents. The end result was a compilation of qualifications and characteristics outlined by the community in the desired candidate. During this process community members asked for time and patience, urging the district to take their time in selecting the next superintendent. 

Historically, out of all the districts, DPS has spent the most money on the superintendent search. The district also received pushback as Cordova was the only finalist that was named instead of having multiple finalists announced. 

DPS has continued to emphasize and focus on community engagement throughout the various superintendent transitions. Two years ago, Tom Boasberg stepped down as DPS superintendent. District officials quickly scheduled a series of meetings to discuss his replacement. The vision was to speak to students, educators, community organizations, nonprofits, and even faith based and business leaders for feedback and input, resulting in 8 meetings open to the public. Community members were also allowed to request time to speak in any of the regularly scheduled board meetings.

During the last DPS superintendent search in 2018, Chalkbeat compiled characteristics of what Denver students, families, and teachers want in a new superintendent. They gathered this information from a series of meetings they hosted and other community meetings helped by the district. You can see the full list of public comments here. 

Some of the desired qualities named were: 

  • Former educator with majority of experience teaching in a classroom 
  • Reflects the student demographic served by DPS which at the time was 77% students of color, 67% low-income and 37% English Language Learners
  • Should live in Denver and if has children, students should attend DPS school
  • Values universal schoice system for enrollment ( SchoolChoice)
  • Wants to strengthen traditional schools 
  • Engages and acts on community feedback
  • Builds bridges between factions 
  • Addresses the achievement gap

What’s next for the districts?

We emphasize the history of Denver Public Schools’ superintendent search because it demonstrates just how significant and strenuous the endeavor can be.  Looking ahead to the spring, the A+ Colorado team wondered – how will all three school districts search for a replacement at the same time?

Here’s the hiring process that DPS and Jeffco have outlined. We will update this guide when we know more.

Currently, DPS has launched a superintendent search website and has pushed for public comment – including special meetings. DPS is committed to enhancing public input through community surveys, interview questions from the community, focused groups and 1-on-1 meetings. 

A glance at DPS’ hiring timeline:

Phase 1

December: January: Drafting narrative, job description, and firm selection to find candidates. In early February, DPS announced that Alma Advisory Group has been selected as their search firm. They will use a competency-based screening process to mitigate bias and ensure a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Phase 2

Feb. – April: Board will begin accepting applications, will set interviews for candidates, and will proceed with interw process.

Phase 3

May:  Finalists will be announced (non-finalist candidates will remain confidential).

Phase 4

June: New superintendent is unveiled.

A link to the announcement can be found here

A glance at Jeffco’s hiring timeline: 

August: The Board of Education announced a search for a superintendent to begin work as of July 1, 2021 and appointed interim superintendent on August 11, 2020.

October: Jeffco HR coordinates search firm selection to assist in superintendent search.

November: List of qualifications, overview, and timeline provided to the board by HR.

December: Search firm is selected and developed a plan for activities for search/ 

January: HR and search form a present plan of activities. 

February: HR and search firm present online survey, Leadership Profile Report, and draft of candidate Desired Characteristics. The application deadline for the Superintendent position is February 15, 2021 and on February 23, 2021 the Board of Education will review application and resume materials for candidates. 

March:  Board of Education conducts initial candidate interviews.

April: Board of Education potentially conducts second-round of candidate interviews. 

While the districts have different timelines and priorities, a couple of key phases for both are: creating a list of desired qualifications and naming the search firm who will lead the hiring of the new superintendent.

Last week, Denver Public Schools announced Alma Advisory Group as the search firm selected to lead the superintendent search in Denver. The Chicago-based firm promises transparency and a community-centered approach.

Cherry Creek & Douglas County has not yet announced their superintendent search timeline but we will provide this information when it becomes available.

We commend DPS’ vision for the superintendent search process, one that is collective with voices of community members, teacher, admin and students. This is a critical step in leadership and we value it. We hope that Cherry Creek and JeffCo school districts follow suit and implement similar practices in making the decision for their respective communities.