School & District Management

Denver Superintendent to Step Down After Nearly a Decade. Will the District’s Progress Continue?

By Denisa R. Superville — July 17, 2018 3 min read
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Tom Boasberg, the longtime superintendent of Denver’s public schools, is stepping down after nine years.

In a lengthy letter to the school community on Tuesday, Boasberg highlighted some of the district’s achievements under his team’s leadership, but said that it was time to “fulfill my commitment to my family and pass the torch of leadership.”

Boasberg will stay on as superintendent for the next three months while the school board searches for a replacement.

“Tom’s leadership, in partnership with our educators, has had a profound impact on Denver Public Schools,” Anne Rowe, the school board president, said in a letter to the school community.

“We are in every way a better district than a decade ago, and our students, families and educators have all benefited from his service,” Rowe continued. “We have become a district recognized nationally for innovation, from our emphasis on teachers as leaders in their buildings to our focus on the social and emotional—as well as academic—needs of our kids.”

Rowe said the district had an “exceptional leadership team,” and she was confident that the progress will continue.

Boasberg was the district’s chief operating officer when he was tapped in 2009 to replace Michael Bennet, who had been appointed to fill an open U.S. Senate seat. Before that, Boasberg worked as vice president for corporate development at Level 3 Communications.

In his announcement, Boasberg shared the reasons behind the district’s gains since the first Denver Plan in 2006—before he became superintendent—and ticked off some of the achievements, including a 30 percent increase in the high school graduation rate; more Latino and African-American students enrolling in college; and enrollment growth.

While the district’s third grade students continue to trail the state average in reading proficiency, for example, the gap has narrowed from 25 percentage points in 2005 to three percentage points in 2017. The district’s English-learners outperformed English-learners in the rest of the state in 2017 in reading and math.

Denver, under Boasberg’s leadership, has also received national attention for its focus on building a pipeline for school leaders, teacher-leaders, and principals and breaking down silos between charters and traditional district schools.

Still, the district has stubborn achievement and opportunity gaps, which Boasberg acknowledged in his letter. The graduation rates and test scores of students of color and those in poverty continue to lag their white and more affluent peers.

“While we celebrate our gains, we are also keenly aware of the need to make more progress faster with our students of color,” he wrote. “The legacy of racism and inequality in our country has created barriers to opportunity for too many of our young people. Opportunity gaps in our schools perpetuate opportunity gaps and inequities in our society.”

While the district has taken steps to address those concerns, a lot more work needs to be done, Boasberg wrote.

Among the things to consider to address inequity: allocating more money and district support for high-poverty schools; providing additional compensation for school leaders and teachers who work in high-poverty schools; openly addressing bias and stereotypes and deepening culturally-responsive education; expanding learning time, including summer school, early-childhood education, and tutoring for students in poverty; expanding social-emotional learning; and increasing socio-economic integration so that low-income students are not concentrated in the same schools.

“None of these steps will be easy but all are vital if we wish to realize our shared vision that Every Child Succeeds,” he wrote. “The work of so many DPS educators already testifies to the promise of a just society. It remains our job to fulfill that promise, and I believe we will.”

Photo caption: Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg speaks during a 2017 news conference. --Thomas Peipert/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.