by Chanel Ward
The Denver Public School (DPS) district has spent $161,375.13 over the four-month superintendent search, sifting through forty-one qualified candidates to replace Tom Baosberg with Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova.
The DPS Board voted for Cordova on December 17th, the Hispanic, Denver native and lifelong DPS alumni, parent, teacher and principal working in the DPS system for nearly 30 years, has demonstrated a passion for the school district and competency to run it.
In fact, DPS has the largest student body district in Colorado, teaching roughly 90,000 students, 205 schools in total, including charters with 165 district-managed schools and eight of those falling under the Innovation Zone; these are schools that fall between public and charter. The previous superintendent, Tom Boasberg ran the district for nearly 10 years up until his resignation in July.
“This is an area that I’m incredibly proud of in Denver. We have over 135 languages that are spoken in our schools. The vast majority of our kids, who speak a language other than English at home, are Spanish speakers.”
Cordova recently sat down with The Weekly Issue/El Semanario to give an exclusive interview after being elected and shared her thoughts on charter versus public, the DPS relationship with students of color and preservation of language as well as explained how the Highest Priority Incentive (HPI) helps at risk schools better perform.
“This is an area that I’m incredibly proud of in Denver,” Cordova said about the preservation of languages in DPS.
“We have over 135 languages that are spoken in our schools. The vast majority of our kids, who speak a language other than English at home, are Spanish speakers. And we have put tremendous emphasis on developing bilingual and biliterate students, and particularly for our kids who come in with another language as an asset, that’s something we want to build on and add to as opposed to take away and that’s something that we think is really important,” Cordova explained.
In addition to the goal of preserving language, Cordova pointed to the Seal of Biliteracy, which promotes bilingualism and bilingual pride, Cordova describes it as a program to students who have, “achieved proficiency in both English and in a second or third language. Over 95% of our students who receive the Seal are Spanish speakers.” Over 850 students graduated with the Seal of Biliteracy last year.
“In some ways the Consent Decree has done a lot of good for our kids, because it by law requires that we promote access to parents,” said the Superintendent.
Cordova agrees that both district-managed and charter schools struggle, but also excel in other areas, “I personally have learned a lot from our highest performing charter schools and frankly I think our highest performing charter schools can learn a lot from us [DPS].”
Cordova pointed to the, “example around language acquisition, that’s a place where our district schools have done a much better job and our charter schools were slower to come to the table, the Consent Decree actually pushed them to have to come to the table around this. For a long time they [charters] didn’t have trained teachers, I would say there was, at one point in time, a belief based on actions that you could be a charter school and only serve some kids. In Denver, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that that’s not the case.”
“The most effective schools that we have, are schools where a really clear educational model and program approach, where teachers are well trained in supporting that; where families are deeply involved in how the school itself works and have a place at the table around significant decisions on budget, staffing and things like that”
Cordova also expressed a hike in minority student success. “We’ve done a tremendous job of increasing the number of Black and Latino students, in particular that are taking and passing rigorous classwork, both AP classes and concurrent enrollment classes,” she explained. “We’ve doubled the number of kids who are applying and being accepted into college, but we are nowhere close to having those be in the same percentages as our white students.”
Cordova went into the importance of multicultural education, “I’m a huge believer in multicultural education, one of the primary areas of focus that I have coming into this job is how do we expand culturally responsive education for our students?”
“We work hard to make sure that there is good representation in both required classes as well as in optional classes,” she said. “We worked so that US history is a required class and you can take African American history, Chicano history to meet the requirement for US history, so we don’t limit it to generic US history.”
As for teacher diversity Cordova said, “for district schools, our overall retention rate has climbed to 86% retention, so we’re really proud of that!” that’s up 6% since just last year.
Cordova also broke down how the percentages are calculated. “We look at both how many people stay in their same schools, how many people don’t stay in their school but do stay in their same teaching job and then we look at how many people stay in the district.”
Cordova gave the percentages for DPS. “86% have stayed in the district, we’re at 77% that stay in their same job, in their same school. So, it’s definitely getting better.”
Cordova also spoke about the work to be done in Intensive Tier Schools. “These are schools that have the highest needs, both academically, economically, across a whole variety of factors, compared to our highest performing schools.”
With a 21% gap in retention between the highest needs and highest performing schools has a big impact.
Incentives are offered to teachers at high need schools, because it is proven that novice teachers tend to move on from these schools more frequently, and tend to be early career teachers rather than more stable teachers in high performing schools, including bonuses for Title I schools and for the 30 neediest schools at high risk factors receive teacher retention bonuses into the next year.
To learn more about the teachers’ union, possible upcoming strike, resolution and statement by Superintendent Cordova please visit GreatTeachers.dpsk12.org.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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