The weeks since Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova announced her resignation have brought a flurry of debate about her relationship with the district’s board of education and whether its members are responsible for her departure.
On Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and former Mayor Federico Peña published an open letter lambasting the board as “dysfunctional” and alleging they mistreated Cordova, which caused her to leave the Colorado’s largest school district. An editorial in Westword this week echoed that sentiment, saying board members created a “hostile work environment” and were “painfully disrespectful” to her.
Not everyone agrees. In a recorded video statement, DPS Board Vice President Jennifer Bacon acknowledged that Cordova stepped into her role during a challenging time. She succeeded Tom Boasberg, who had held the title for a decade, and spent her first days on the job in early 2019 trying to navigate a once-in-a-quarter-century teacher strike in the name of pay equity. The activism helped usher in a new era for the district. That November, Denverites voted in three new members backed by the teachers union.
“That meant there were challenging situations to manage with new points of view on the board,” Bacon said. “When we hired her, we recognized she had the skills and the passion to work with DPS.”
To Tiffany Choi, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, Hancock’s and Peña’s characterization of the teacher strike was unfair. The mayors suggested that educators organized because Cordova is a woman of color — none of her white, male predecessors experienced a strike, they wrote.
But DCTA had been negotiating the terms of its ProComp Agreement since 2017, when Boasberg was superintendent, Choi said.
“It had nothing to do with her race or gender, it was just bad timing,” said Choi. “It’s kind of startling to me because for us, this whole strike was about educators who were under-compensated and therefore leading to very high turnover rates of people all over the district, but especially in an area like Northeast Denver where we have the largest population of minority students.”
The Colorado Latino Forum was harsher in its criticism of the mayors’ letter, saying Tuesday that it perpetuated “a far-fetched racist and sexist conspiracy.” The group accused Hancock and his allies of opposing teacher raises while simultaneously funneling resources to charter schools.
“For more than a decade, the Boasberg-Hancock-Cordova alliance forced overworked teachers to take a backseat to multimillion-dollar construction projects, while a corporate-backed board siphoned an increasing share of the $1.4 billion dollar school district budget to expand charter schools while destabilizing our public education system,” said CLF, a political organization representing the interests of the Latinx community. “To blame teachers for hastening Cordova’s departure is irresponsible and mean spirited.”
In response to the mayors’ accusations, Bacon said the board always welcomes constructive feedback from city leaders, former board members and other community leaders, but ultimately called the letter a distraction.
“Any time we spend discussing external claims takes us away from our priorities, which are placed on focusing (on) a safe and healthy return to schools in January and placing an interim superintendent to help guide us through the transition and pandemic,” Bacon said.
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