still searching

Three candidates, no new leader: Principal search at Denver’s Manual High to continue

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Denver's Manual High School.

The Denver school district is starting over again as it looks for a new principal for the high-profile Manual High School after its initial search did not end in a hire.

Of the three candidates in the running for the principal job, one was not named a finalist and another took a position in a different school district instead, according to a letter Denver Public Schools sent to Manual families, staff, and community members Friday.

The district offered the Manual job to the third candidate, Jason Maclin, an assistant principal at Denver’s East High School. But “after careful consideration and discussion with his family, he decided not to pursue this opportunity at this time,” the letter says.

Manual is a storied high school in northeast Denver with a host of prominent alumni that has struggled academically in recent years. The last principal, Nick Dawkins, resigned in March after learning the district received complaints about a hostile work environment. District officials later concluded Dawkins violated the district’s policy against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, according to a document obtained by Chalkbeat.

The search committee leading the effort to find a new leader for Manual is recommending the district name an interim principal for the rest of the calendar year “so that we can take the remainder of 2018 to embark on a national search for the right candidate,” the letter says.

Renard Simmons, the principal at a nearby school called the Denver Center for 21st Century Learning, has been filling in at Manual since Dawkins left.

The district announced on May 18 that Lynn Heintzman had been named the next interim principal. Heintzman will start at Manual in July. She is a retired Denver Public Schools principal who is serving as an interim principal at Denver’s Lake Middle School this school year.

Read the full letter below.

May 11, 2018
Dear Manual High School Students, Families, Staff and Community,

We are writing this letter to you to give you an update on the principal selection process for Manual High School. As you are aware, the Manual School Principal Search Advisory Committee (SPSAC) has been diligently working to find a new leader for our school. After an inclusive, thoughtful and thorough process, the SPSAC supported two candidate finalists for the principal position.

After reviewing feedback from the process, including conducting extensive reference checks, DPS offered the role to Mr. Jason Maclin. Mr. Maclin enjoyed engaging in the process with the amazing Manual High School community. After careful consideration and discussion with his family, he decided not to pursue this opportunity at this time but looks forward to continuing to lead and foster a culture of excellence for all students and families he serves throughout his leadership journey. The second candidate finalist informed us that she has accepted a role in another district.

The SPSAC considers selecting a talented leader an essential component of building on the great work that is taking place at Manual High School. To that end, the SPSAC has provided feedback on and is recommending that an interim principal be named so that we can take the remainder of 2018 to embark on a national search for the right candidate. We are confident that, by taking time to vet outstanding local, regional and national candidates in the fall, we will be able to find our next permanent leader who can best meet the needs of the school.

In the meantime, the Council and the SPSAC is confident that our current leadership team can lead us through the end of the school year and continue to lead us into the coming school year.

We look forward to having an update at the end of next week. In the meantime, our focus will be to continue to assist our students and educators as we work to ensure that every student in every classroom at Manual can concentrate on getting the best education possible.

Lastly, we would like to thank the Manual Council and the Manual School Principal Search Advisory Committee for all their hard work and dedication to the search process. We all remain committed to securing the best leader for our students, families, staff and community.


Serina Montoya
Manual Council Co-chair

Scott Esserman
Manual Council Co-chair

Nicole T. Veltzé
Assistant Superintendent, Division of Secondary Education

This story was updated to reflect the naming of the next interim principal.

choosing leaders

Meet one possible successor to departing Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova addresses teachers at an early literacy training session.

As Denver officials wrestle with how to pick a replacement for longtime superintendent Tom Boasberg, one insider stands out as a likely candidate.

Susana Cordova, the district’s deputy superintendent, already held her boss’s job once before, when Boasberg took an extended leave in 2016. She has a long history with the district, including as a student, graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School, and as a bilingual teacher starting her career more than 20 years ago.

When she was selected to sit in for Boasberg for six months, board members at the time cited her hard work and the many good relationships they saw she had with people. This time around, several community members are saying they want a leader who will listen to teachers and the community.

Cordova, 52, told Chalkbeat she’s waiting to see what the board decides about the selection process, but said she wants to be ready, when they are, to talk about her interest in the position.

“DPS has played an incredibly important role in every aspect of my life. I’m very committed to making sure that we continue to make progress as an organization,” Cordova said. “I believe I have both the passion and the track record to help move us forward.”

During her career, she has held positions as a teacher, principal, and first became an administrator, starting in 2002, as the district’s literacy director.

Just before taking on the role of acting superintendent in 2016, Cordova talked to Chalkbeat about how her education, at a time of desegregation, shaped her experience and about her long path to connecting with her culture.

“I didn’t grow up bilingual. I learned Spanish after I graduated from college,” Cordova, said at the time. “I grew up at a point in time where I found it more difficult to embrace my Latino culture, academically. There were, I would say, probably some negative messages around what it meant to be Latino at that point of time.”

She said she went through introspection during her senior year of college and realized that many students in her neighborhood bought into the negative messages and had not been successful.

“I didn’t want our schools to be places like that,” she said.

In her time as acting superintendent, she oversaw teacher contract negotiations and preparations for asking voters for a bond that they ultimately approved that fall. Cordova’s deputy superintendent position was created for her after Boasberg returned.

But it’s much of Cordova’s work with students of color that has earned her national recognition.

In December, Education Week, an education publication, named her a “Leader to Learn From,” pointing to her role in the district’s work on equity, specifically with English language learners, and in her advocacy to protect students under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Cordova was also named a Latino Educator Champion of Change by President Barack Obama in 2014. Locally, in 2016, the University of Denver’s Latino Leadership Institute inducted Cordova into its hall of fame.

The Denver school board met Tuesday morning, and again on Wednesday to discuss the superintendent position.

Take a look back at a Q & A Chalkbeat did with Cordova in 2016, and one in 2014.

Super Search

Denver community has lots of advice on picking a new superintendent – who will the board heed?

PHOTO: Denver Post file
DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg guest teaches an Advanced Placement history class at Lincoln High in 2009.

Denver teacher Carla Cariño hopes the district’s next superintendent is a bilingual person of color. Ariel Taylor Smith, a former Denver teacher and now an education advocate, wants a leader who tackles school improvement with a sense of urgency. Collinus Newsome, a leader at the Denver Foundation, hopes the search process includes community voices that have been silenced in the past.

These are just a few of the desires community members have expressed in the wake of Tuesday’s news that Tom Boasberg will step down after nearly a decade as superintendent of Colorado’s largest school district.

While the district has released few details about the process for selecting the next schools chief, board President Anne Rowe said Tuesday it’s the board’s most important role and that it will soon schedule a meeting to discuss the process publicly.

The 92,600-student district won’t be without a superintendent immediately. Boasberg‘s contract requires him to serve for another 90 days.

Randy Black, who coordinates superintendent search services for the Colorado Association of School Boards, said large urban districts like Denver typically launch comprehensive national searches to fill superintendent vacancies. On average, such searches take two to three months, but the length can vary based on district circumstances, he said.

“DPS is royally set up to do this,” Black said, using the district’s acronym. “They’ve done great strategic work in an extremely complex environment.”

The suburban Douglas County district, the state’s third largest, picked a new superintendent in April after a national search that drew more than 1,000 inquiries and culminated with three finalists. Thomas Tucker, previously superintendent of Princeton City Schools in Cincinnati, Ohio, is the new schools chief there.

While national searches are the norm for large districts, that’s not what happened when Boasberg was unanimously selected by the board in January 2009, a few weeks after his predecessor Michael Bennet was appointed to a vacant U.S. Senate seat. Boasberg was the district’s chief operating officer at the time and the sole finalist for the position.

Susana Cordova, currently the district’s deputy superintendent, is one likely internal candidate this time around. A graduate of Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School and a longtime district administrator, she served as acting superintendent in 2016 when Boasberg took a six-month sabbatical to live abroad.

“Most urban and suburban boards will wrestle with how do you honor internals at the same time you open the door to potential matchups outside the district,” Black said. “That’s a fairly common dilemma.”

With news of Boasberg’s departure, one of the biggest questions on the minds of Denver parents and educators is how the public can weigh in on the superintendent selection.

Cariño, a teacher at North High School, responded to Chalkbeat’s online survey, wondering how the district plans to involve teachers and community members in the process.

She also wrote, “While being the superintendent of a large urban district is no easy task, the gains made under Boasberg for students of color were minimal. The fact of the matter is there is still a significant amount of work to be done so our students of color can better access and complete [a] four-year college … Our new superintendent should be a bilingual person of color who understands our communities and can make the needle move out of a genuine need to see progress for our students versus a political career.”

Ricardo Martinez, president of the parent advocacy group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, said Wednesday he would like to see an open process where students, parents, and the community have some opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback.

He said parents he works with didn’t feel left out when Boasberg was selected because they understood the district had a short timeframe to find a replacement, and they had already worked with Boasberg and knew he supported the work they were doing together.

Now, Martinez said, parents are looking for a leader who understands and listens to the community, and who can take stock of what’s working and what’s not and use that information to find solutions.

“But making sure everyone is aware of that logic — That’s been extremely lacking with the administration. It’s about letting the community know so it’s not just an internal debrief,” he said.