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Why Advocacy Groups Want a DPS Superintendent Search Do-Over

Alex Marrero (left), Stephanie Soliven and Andre Wright are finalists for the position of Denver Public Schools superintendent.EXPAND
Alex Marrero (left), Stephanie Soliven and Andre Wright are finalists for the position of Denver Public Schools superintendent.
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Until 5 p.m. today, May 17, members of the public have a chance to weigh in on the three finalists to replace former Denver Public Schools superintendent Susana Cordova. But three major advocacy organizations for students of color have already done so, and if DPS officials thought that offering a diverse slate of hopefuls would result in a complaint-free process, they were wrong.

The Colorado Association for Bilingual Education (CO-CABE) and the affiliated Congress of Hispanic Educators, as well as the Colorado Black Round Table, have different concerns about the three superintendent candidates left standing: Dr. Alex Marrero, Dr. Stephanie Soliven and Andre Wright. But all three groups want to either expand the selection process or start it over entirely.

Here are the DPS mini-profiles of each finalist:

Alex Marrero: Dr. Marrero joined the City School District of New Rochelle in January 2020 as the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. He became the first Latinx head of the city’s school system in September, serving as acting and then interim superintendent. Prior to that, as Assistant Superintendent at the East Ramapo Central School District in New York, Alex supported schools into Good Standing and increased graduation rates. He has earned numerous awards for education, including being honored as an outstanding administrator by the Latino Caucus of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators and inducted into the New York Academy of Public Education. Alex has earned degrees from Fordham University, Manhattan College and Sage Colleges where he was the recipient of the Outstanding Student Award.

Stephanie Soliven: Dr. Soliven is the Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Leading and Learning for the School District of Brevard County in Florida. Under her leadership, the district has increased graduation rates and participation, and success in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge (AICE), Career and Technical Education, and Early College programs. Prior to that, as a Principal for 8 years, Stephanie championed programs that enhanced equitable access to social-emotional development and college and career readiness programs and increased academic achievement. She has earned numerous awards for education, including having been honored nationally as a Milken Foundation educator, selected by the state of Florida Assistant Principal of the Year, and chosen as an NAACP Unsung Hero. Stephanie earned her doctorate in education (Curriculum and Instruction) from the University of Central Florida where she also earned her masters and bachelor’s degrees.

Andre Wright: Andre Wright currently serves as the Chief Academic Officer of Aurora Public Schools (APS), where, over the past four years, he has produced consistent academic achievement increases for scholars. Prior to joining APS, he served in his home state of Georgia as Area Executive Director for the Northeast Learning Community in the Fulton County School System (FCS), an urban Atlanta-area school district with nearly 100,000 students, 100 schools, and 14,000 staff and support personnel. Andre also served FCS as Principal and Instructional Leader, leading his school to a Distinguished Title I school status every year under his direction. He was also an Assistant Principal in the Fulton County School System and in the Dekalb County School System. Andre began his teaching career as a middle school language arts teacher.

CO-CABE shared its concerns in a May 15 letter to the Denver Board of Education under the signature of Dr. Tania Hogan, its co-chair and advocacy director. Hogan urges the board to "expand the superintendent search to find candidates that meet the recommendations that were given during the community input sessions." Specifically, she states, "CO-CABE has concerns given that none of the finalists have held the position of superintendent for a large district like DPS and that we have not been able to find data that shows that any of
them have experience in designing, implementing, and monitoring programs for emerging bilinguals."

Hogan notes that "only one of the candidates is bilingual, which was disappointing to find out, and for two of them we have not been able to find clear data that shows their impact with bilingual education in their previous roles.... Our request is to have the search be extended to find candidates that DO have experience with bilingual education programs, are bilingual and have data to show the impact of their actions in serving emerging bilinguals. We do not want the momentum in the district in serving our emerging bilinguals to diminish or slow down. It must be enriched and enhanced to promote an equitable, just, and humanizing education."

In a May 14 letter to the board (published as an op-ed on westword.com), Kathy Escamilla, senior education advisor for the Congress of Hispanic Educators, hits many of the same points. On behalf of the CHE, Escamilla asks "that Interim Superintendent Dwight Jones remain the acting superintendent, at least through the end of the 2021-22 school year, until the reopened and expanded search is completed."

In her letter, Escamilla points out that "Denver Public Schools currently serve over 90,000 students who are linguistically, culturally and economically diverse. None of the three finalists has been a Superintendent of a large urban district. One finalist has been an interim Superintendent of a 10,000 student school district. The other two candidates have not served in the position of Superintendent."

For his part, John Bailey, director of the Colorado Black Round Table, stresses in what's termed a "community education announcement" issued on May 16 that the candidates are "qualified, experienced and passionate about education." However, he continues, "There is still so much unfinished business to be implemented in Denver Public Schools. We have experienced a significant loss of in-person learning, and a great number of DPS students and teachers struggled this year. The critical question for us is, 'Are any of these candidates the right fit' for Denver in our district's current situation?"

Bailey urges the board "to re-open the DPS Superintendent search process for up to a year. The education shelf life for a superintendent is usually 3-5 years before change, renewal or adjustments are in order. Therefore, we/you have to 'get this right.'" To that end, the CBRT suggests that interim superintendent Jones remain in his position "for at least the upcoming school year while the DPS Board of Education and the search firm do an additional search for the right fit for DPS."

In the meantime, DPS is holding a virtual public-comment event about the superintendent finalists at 6:30 p.m. today, May 17. Concerned parties can weigh in through 5 p.m. at this link, where videos of the candidates are also available; click here to watch the event itself. The next regular meeting of the DPS board is on Thursday, May 20, and an offer is expected to be made to the top choice in early June, pending a successful formal background check.

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