Opposing groups call for all sides to play nice in Denver schools superintendent search

Two groups that often disagree about the direction of the Denver school district have issued an unusual joint statement calling for “responsible discourse” in the selection of Denver’s next superintendent.

“In an age of hot-take vitriol, social media bullying, and fake news, we must do better here in Denver,” said the statement, which was signed by Henry Roman, president of the Denver teachers union, and Van Schoales, CEO of the pro-reform advocacy group A Plus Colorado.

The statement did not identify any specific incident that crossed a line, but it quickly prompted a backlash on social media from community members who have been critical of the district.

One Denver parent and activist who is often on the same side as the union in disputes over district policy tweeted in response that the Denver Classroom Teachers Association needs to “get your house in order by any means necessary.”

“This is what betrayal of the working class looks like!” tweeted Hasira “H-Soul” Ashemu.

A group of teachers within the Denver union, called the Caucus of Today’s Teachers, that is focused on social justice also denounced the joint statement, saying Roman had “spoken well out of turn.”

“To the students, families and stakeholders of DPS, let us apologize for this undemocratic and oppressive mistake in our name,” the caucus said in a statement of its own. “We stand behind you, we stand with you, and will fight together.”

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg announced last month that he will step down in October after nearly 10 years at the helm. On Monday, the school board laid out a tight timeline for finding his replacement, but promised robust opportunities for public input.

The debate over who should lead Denver Public Schools has already become heated, in part because there is sharp disagreement over whether its strategies, such as closing struggling schools or collaborating with independent charter schools, are helping or hurting. Those who want the district to change course have been vocal in their demands about the next superintendent.

One parent, Brandon Pryor, posted a video Monday night on Facebook Live in which he walks up to Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova, a likely internal candidate, and tells her, “Before you go, I want to tell you to your face that we don’t want you as superintendent,” and “we are going to see to it that you don’t get that job.” On Wednesday, in response to the joint statement, Pryor posted again on Facebook, saying, “You will never silence us.”

Asked what prompted the joint statement, Schoales did not point to a specific incident.

“We’ve heard stuff on social media or seen people just being completely disrespectful and nasty in regard to who should lead the district and who shouldn’t lead the district,” he said.

“Regardless of where we may stand,” Schoales added, “most people would agree we need a process and a level of engagement that is high and respectful of everybody.”

Roman said the Denver Classroom Teachers Association felt the need to call for civility because of the “intense dialogue around the potential next superintendent,” which he said is heightened by the short timeline. The board intends to name finalists by Oct. 15.

“There are strong feelings,” Roman said. “It’s important to get civil dialogue.”

Schoales said the two groups working together to issue a statement was meant to catch people’s attention. “We each thought it would be thought-provoking and maybe interesting, or people might pay attention, if it was two groups like A Plus and DCTA that said this,” he said.

A Plus has supported many of the district’s school improvement strategies, including replacing low-performing schools with those deemed more likely to succeed. The union has not.

Read the entire statement below.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association and A+ Colorado join together to support respectful and open processes for choosing the next Denver Superintendent This week, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education began its discussion around how the Board chooses the next superintendent. The opportunity to select a new superintendent should be a moment in our community to bring us together and create a dialogue for what is possible. We all must consider what it will take to ensure the success of every child in Denver. Early in the conversation, the Board identified the values of such a process: Students First, Inclusivity, Stewardship, All Voices, Deep Listening. These values should be embedded in our discourse in this critical time. The Board has an enormous responsibility over the next two and half months, a very quick timetable to: engage stakeholders, recruit talented applicants, vet these applicants, name finalists, and eventually select the person to lead our school system. Our organizations have sometimes represented different sides of policy and practice regarding education in our city. Sometimes we have agreed and worked together. In this moment, we come together again to call for responsible discourse in this incredibly important moment in our community. In an age of hot-take vitriol, social media bullying, and fake news we must do better here in Denver. This does not mean that it won’t get passionate or we won’t disagree on key issues. We will not seek false agreement for the sake of getting along. What it does mean is that we must all be committed to the open, free, and fair exchange of ideas. We must be committed to the core values that the Denver Board proposed along with a process that would make our kids proud. We ask that all organizations and individuals commit to a responsible public dialogue. We believe that we have a collective responsibility to steward our community and school system. We believe that we benefit when all voices are included and when we deeply listen to each other. We can put students first by modeling a conversation for the future of our kids that we can be proud of: a search for an amazing leader that can bring our community together, not tear it apart. Henry Roman, DCTA President Van Schoales, CEO A+ Colorado