Sheridan picks new superintendent after deadlocking on previous finalists

Two high school students sit at a table next to a bookshelf in the school library.
The school board for the Sheridan school district bordering Denver has a vacant seat, leaving four members that were split on previous applicants. (Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post)

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Sheridan’s school board voted this month to select its next superintendent: Gionni Thompson was approved in a 3-1 vote.

It was the board’s third attempt over the past year at selecting a new leader for the small school district bordering Denver.

The Sheridan school board is supposed to have five members but has had a vacant seat for more than a year now. Throughout the superintendent search process, the four sitting board members have been evenly split.

First, the district was considering appointing the sole internal candidate recommended by the outgoing superintendent. But two board members wanted to open up a national search.

Headshot of man in dark suit and light patterned tie with dark hair.
The Sheridan school board voted 3-1 to select Gionni Thompson, seen here in a screenshot from his applicant video, as the next superintendent. (Screen capture from applicant video)

After launching the search and ending up with three finalists earlier this spring, the board was unable to agree to a majority vote on any candidate. So it came up with a new list of finalists.

Out of fewer than 40 survey responses the district received in this round, mostly from district staff, Thompson had the fewest points in favor.

Board President Daniel Stange and Karla Najera, who was the lone vote against Thompson, believe that the Sheridan district needs a Latino leader, perhaps one who speaks Spanish, who can advocate for Spanish-speaking parents who often feel left out. The other two board members have disagreed on the importance of that kind of representation. Thompson is not Latino.

The issue goes back to the selection of the outgoing superintendent, Pat Sandos. There again, the community was split, with many interested in another candidate they thought could be a better advocate for Spanish-speaking families.

Stange said Thompson wasn’t his first pick, but he voted for him to avoid another stalemate.

“I had heard some good recommendations for him,” Stange said. “He seems to be very knowledgeable.”

Thompson, most recently an executive director overseeing 16 schools in the Boulder Valley School District, presented himself as an experienced educator who got into the field of education after seeing the disparities. He got his doctorate of education from the University of Colorado in Denver in 2020.

Thompson described himself as the “the fifth of six kids born in Colorado to an Italian immigrant mother and an African American father.”

“As a child, I witnessed firsthand the barriers my family faced in accessing a formal education. Seeing this, I developed my commitment to ensuring that every individual, regardless of their background, has access to the life-changing power of education and the ability to fulfill their aspirations and dreams,” Thompson wrote in his materials to the board.

In his application, he boasted about improvements he helped lead among schools in the Boulder district as well as in his time as principal of Lester Arnold, an alternative high school in Adams 14.

Thompson said if selected, he would listen to the community before developing a plan.

Sheridan, a tiny district bordering Denver, enrolled just over 1,000 students this year, of which more than 77% are Hispanic and about a third are learning English as a new language. Last year’s enrollment was 1,125. The district also has a high proportion of students experiencing homelessness, this year at about 14%.

The Sheridan district must now negotiate a contract with Thompson and then vote on that.

Stange said the board hopes Thompson can start soon. Sandos’ current contract, which was described as a transition year after his retirement, goes through the end of May.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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