Aurora names 3 local administrators as superintendent finalists

First graders eat their lunch at Laredo Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)
Aurora Public Schools is Colorado’s fifth largest school district and one of its most diverse.

This story first appeared in Sentinel Colorado and is republished with permission.

Candidates from across the country applied for the role of the next Aurora Public Schools superintendent, but the three final candidates are all current or former leaders in Aurora’s two school districts.

The school board announced the three finalists at a special meeting Tuesday evening, after deliberating in closed session for about two hours. The finalists are:

  • Nia Campbell, Aurora Public Schools’ current chief academic officer
  • Michael Giles, Cherry Creek Schools’ assistant superintendent of equity, culture and community engagement
  • Andre Wright, senior vice president at consulting firm MGT and former Aurora Public Schools’ chief academic officer
From left, Aurora Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Nia Campbell, former Aurora Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Andre Wright and Cherry Creek School District Assistant Superintendent Michael Giles are finalists to fill the vacant APS superintendent position. (Courtesy Aurora Public Schools, Cherry Creek School District. Triptych by Philip B. Poston / Sentinel Colorado)

The school board voted 6-1 to announce the selected finalists, with board member Michael Carter the sole no vote. Carter declined to comment on his vote after the meeting.

The board began the process of searching for a new leader after former Superintendent Rico Munn announced in December that he would not be seeking to renew his current contract, which expires in July, and would step down a semester early. Munn said his departure was prompted by a “conflict of vision” with the school board, which he has clashed with at times.

The school board contracted with the firm HYA, an education-focused search firm which has worked with a number of other metro districts, to lead the search. The firm held a series of community meetings and focus groups in February to solicit feedback on the process, finding that people wanted the new superintendent to have a background in public education, a track record with diversity and experience in a large school district.

Overall, the district received 28 applications for the positions. At Tuesday’s meeting, board president Debbie Gerkin said that 17 applicants were men and 11 were women. Eight candidates were from Colorado, seven were from Texas and three were from California, with the other 10 from states across the country, including Alaska.

Six were selected by HYA with the approval of the board to move on to further interviews. The semifinalists, who were not named, were selected based on the community feedback gathered by HYA.

The board met in closed session on Sunday and Monday to interview the candidates, one of whom ended up dropping out of the process for undisclosed reasons, according to APS.

The final candidates are scheduled to visit the district in person the week of April 10, where each will spend a full day touring schools and meeting with APS students, employees and community members. 

The board will then hold additional interviews on April 17 and anticipates naming a designee in late April or early May for an anticipated start date of July 1, Gerkin said.

Both the search firm and Gerkin have previously said that the district had a strong candidate pool to draw from, and on Tuesday Gerkin said she was “extremely pleased” by the number and quality of applicants the search received.

The three candidates, all of whom are people of color, match the criteria that the community told the search firm that it wanted. All of them have worked in two of Colorado’s largest school districts and have years of experience in public education.

A Georgia native and the son of educators, Wright worked in the Dekalb County School District for six years and the Fulton County Schools for seven years in a variety of administrative positions. In 2014 he joined Aurora Public Schools as the director of learning for community schools, and then was promoted to chief academic officer in 2017. He served in that role until 2021, when he left to join MGT as a senior vice president for educational transformation.

MGT is the consulting firm that was selected to work with the beleaguered Adams 14 school district after the State Board of Education stripped the district of most of its authority. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Wright said his philosophy centered around putting children first.

“It does not mean I won’t make decisions that may not be as popular with adults, but I’m doing it from a student perspective of what’s best for our children, what’s best for our families. That’s priority one for me,” he said.

Wright was also one of three finalists for the 2021 superintendent search in Denver Public Schools, which he lost out to current superintendent Alex Marrero.

Giles has worked in Cherry Creek Schools since 2002, serving in a number of roles in schools before joining the administrative team in 2014. He became assistant superintendent of performance improvement in 2018 before assuming his current role in 2021.

In a Cherry Creek news release from when he joined the cabinet, Giles said he initially had no aspiration to being an administrator.

“I always feared the political game of administration, but the more I started to travel down that path, the more I saw an ability to have a systemic impact and to have more leverage to create access and opportunity for all students,” he said.

As the head of Cherry Creek’s Department of Equity, Culture and Community Engagement, which was formed several years ago, Giles has been at the forefront of the district’s attempts to boost achievement for students of color, which historically has lagged behind the academic performance of white students. The district has become more focused in recent years about its diversity efforts.

Campbell is new to APS, having joined the district as chief academic officer in July after a long educational career in Florida. She worked in Hillsborough County Public Schools in a variety of roles for over 12 years, was a principal in the School District of Osceola County for three years and was assistant superintendent for secondary education in the Highlands County school district from December 2020 until joining Aurora Public Schools.

Munn had been with APS for almost a decade when he stepped down, making him the longest-serving current superintendent among the state’s five largest districts. During that time APS improved its graduation rates and narrowed the achievement gaps between white students and students of color, but also dealt with the educational fallout of the pandemic and a decline in enrollment. The latter issue led the district to implement a new long-term facilities plan that included closing a number of district schools, which prompted backlash from families and teachers.

The new superintendent will face a number of challenges, including navigating a divided school board, boosting student achievement post-pandemic and addressing social issues such as a rise in youth violence and mental health concerns. The superintendent will also be tasked with trying to rebuild trust in the organization, something that was highlighted as a challenge in HYA’s report.

“The superintendent is the leader who sets the tone for everybody else in the organization,” Gerkin said in an earlier interview.

Carina Julig is a reporter for Sentinel Colorado covering education in Aurora. Contact Carina at cjulig@sentinelcolorado.com.

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