School & District Management

Susana Cordova, Educator With Deep Denver Roots, Chosen as Superintendent

By Denisa R. Superville — December 18, 2018 3 min read
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The Denver school board has selected Susana Cordova as its next superintendent.

Cordova, who attended the district’s public schools as a child and started her career there in 1989 as a language arts and English-as-a-second-language teacher, will start her new job early next year once she and the school board hammer out the details of her contract. The school board’s vote was unanimous, 7-0.

She will replace Ron Cabrera, who stepped in as interim superintendent after Tom Boasberg left the job in October.

Cordova, now the district’s deputy superintendent, has served in a number of leadership roles in the 93,000-student district—from principal, director of humanities, executive director of teaching and learning, to chief academic officer and chief of schools.

In a district where the majority of students are Hispanic, Cordova was the first Latina to hold the deputy superintendent’s job.

“Susana is uniquely well-situated to lead our school district effectively and inclusively,” Denver school board president Anne Rowe said. “She brings deep roots in the community, extraordinary depth of knowledge of DPS, educational expertise, and she is widely known and respected by an expansive network of educators, parents and civic, community, philanthropic and business leaders.”

Cordova emerged in late November as the sole finalist for the job, an outcome that made some school board members uncomfortable—not because of Cordova’s qualifications or readiness for the position but because they wanted more than one finalist. Some were also concerned that Cordova’s tenure would be a continuation of Boasberg’s policies, not all of which were warmly received.

While Denver’s English-language learners are outperforming their peers across the state on state tests, the district has huge achievement gaps between its poor and wealthier students. And because Cordova was a key deputy to Boasberg, some critics thought she should shoulder some of the responsibility for failing to make more progress in closing the achievement gap.

Cordova had broad support inside the district. More than 50 principals, assistant principals, and program managers wrote a letter in support of her candidacy, according to Colorado Public Radio.

She also had previous experience running the district—on an interim basis. When Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical in 2015 to travel to Latin America with his family, he left Cordova in charge. And Boasberg expressed confidence to Education Week last year that Cordova would make an excellent superintendent whenever she decided to take that step.

Cordova was featured as one of Education Week’s 2018 Leaders To Learn From, which highlighted the work of innovative district leaders across the country.

She told Education Week that equity was the central theme in her work, and she valued the central role that educators played in her life.

In meetings that were held as part of the superintendent’s search, Denver residents said they wanted a superintendent with both classroom and administrative experience, who would promote a positive climate district-wide, and valued hiring teachers of color. They also wanted an emphasis on closing achievements and opportunity gaps, additional school funding, and access to high-quality schools for all students.

“My school experiences prepared me for a world that my family had never stepped foot in and that I had only read about in books,” Cordova said. “I am committed to ensuring that all students in DPS have caring, knowledgeable adults who will support them as I was supported. Every one of our students has excellence in them, and it’s our job as educators to bring that excellence out.”

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