Two members of Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova’s cabinet are leaving too

Denver Public Schools headquarters.
Two of outgoing Superintendent Susana Cordova’s cabinet members are leaving their jobs at district headquarters. (Melanie Asmar / Chalkbeat)

Just days after Denver Superintendent Susana Cordova announced she is resigning, two members of her leadership team announced they are leaving too.

Mark Ferrandino, the deputy superintendent of operations, and Jennifer Holladay, the associate chief of portfolio management, sent emails to their colleagues Wednesday with the news. 

Ferrandino, a former Democratic lawmaker, will join Gov. Jared Polis’s administration next month as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue. Holladay did not reveal her next steps. Her last day will be in early January.

Ferrandino and Holladay each said in separate emails that they made their decisions independent of Cordova’s. “I know the timing with Susana leaving is very unfortunate and was not something planned or coordinated,” Ferrandino wrote.

Cordova said the same in her own email about the two departures.

“I want to assure you all that these changes are not the result of my decision to pursue a new opportunity,” she wrote. “Team DPS remains resilient and strong across the city because of the dedication, the talent, and the enormous heart of our people.”

Ferrandino and Holladay’s departures leave the district without leaders over some of its most high-profile and controversial work. Ferrandino is in charge of departments including finance, school choice, safety, food services, and transportation. Holladay’s department oversees independent charter schools and district-run autonomous innovation schools. More than half of Denver’s 206 schools are either charter or innovation schools.

Holladay is one of several people in her department leaving for “meaningful personal and professional reasons,” she wrote in her email.

A majority of members on the Denver school board, which sets policy for the district, campaigned on a desire to limit the growth of charter schools. The board also recently voted to pause new requests for schools seeking innovation status and the autonomy that comes with it.

Chris Gibbons, CEO of STRIVE Prep, one of Denver’s biggest charter school networks, said it’s too early to tell what the departures, including Cordova’s, signal for the district. He said the district is undergoing “immense change” due to both the pandemic and what “some would characterize as shifting priorities in schools.”

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“I believe we can all agree that all students’ needs matter more than ever in this moment, and all students and governance models of schools need support in this transition,” Gibbons said.

In her email, Holladay shared this comment from school board President Carrie Olson: “Please let the charter and innovation zone schools know that I am committed to ensuring that they are seen, heard, and well supported through these transitions and beyond. The 30,000 DPS students in our charters and zone schools are members of Team DPS and will not be forgotten.”

Cordova thanked Ferrandino and Holladay for their work. She noted that Ferrandino spearheaded two successful campaigns asking Denver voters for tax revenue to pay for school construction, raises for the district’s hourly wage workers, and more. 

Ferrandino, who joined the district six years ago, has been “instrumental in ensuring that students had access to food, technology, and the internet” during the pandemic, Cordova wrote. 

In his email, Ferrandino wrote, “When I came to DPS, I thought I knew a lot about the work of a school district, but looking back I was so naïve in what I thought. As a district we are like a medium-size city that feeds, transports, protects, cleans, and maintains buildings, supports 10K-plus employees and oversees over a $1.5 billion operation. 

“Every day, amazing work is happening in our district, and that is thanks to all of you.”

Holladay has worked at Denver Public Schools since 2013. Cordova praised Holladay’s integrity and said she has a long track record of ensuring that “our most marginalized students have the support they need to access opportunity” in the district’s charter and innovation schools.

She also cited Holladay’s efforts to revise the district’s policy for intervening in low-performing schools and her work leading a community process to rethink how Denver rates its schools

Holladay said the job has been “among the most profound honors of my life.”

“I am humbled to have played a small part in building and sustaining, so far, what is uniquely Denver’s ‘family of schools,’” she wrote.

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