In its search for a new district superintendent, the Denver Board of Education conducted an intensive community visioning and engagement process, summarized in a report released online today and discussed by the board in a special public meeting this afternoon.
This superintendent search was designed as a three-stage process, beginning with community engagement, conducted from early September through mid-October. The engagement resulted in more than 2,000 people in large- and small-group meetings and netted nearly 3,000 responses to an online survey, with more than 4,500 individuals participating in the process. Finalist(s) will be announced Nov. 26 and the new superintendent will be appointed Dec. 10.
An external consultant, Dimension Strategies, was hired to facilitate community meetings and to produce an online survey, as well as collecting and analyzing the resulting data. The report issued today is the product of the firm’s analysis. It summarizes common themes from both the survey and the meetings about the community’s hopes and dreams for our next district leader.
Large Regional Community Forums
Nine large, regional community forums were held throughout the city, with parents (84%), students (3%), educators (18%), advocates and community leaders discussing issues they identified as being most important for consideration by the board in the superintendent selection process. Participants were primarily white and female. The meetings included a brief survey to identify topics of discussion, facilitated small group discussions, an in-forum survey and the opportunity to speak publicly. You can see the results broken out by forum location in the full report.
At all nine of the forums, participants identified the same three priorities as themes for discussion: prioritization of issues, diversity and inclusion, and teacher and administrative experience
Observations from the small group discussion on these three areas included:
- The new superintendent should have demonstrable experience with diversity and inclusion, in a large city like Denver. Participants are looking for a superintendent who understands the growing diversity of student populations, including English language learners, socio-economic differences, sexual orientation, various learning styles, religion, race/ethnicity and immigration status – and who will prioritize diversity being reflected in the district’s leadership, staff, educators and programs.
- In the area of prioritization of issues, closing the achievement gap was raised as a significant concern, as was the need for trauma-informed practices in schools. Participants also voiced the importance of having authentic community engagement and communication; and that community outreach does not equate to engagement. Participants said they want great schools, regardless of whether they are neighborhood or charter schools, and that they have concerns about the School Performance Framework’s ability to accurately reflect school performance.
Participants also voiced distrust for the district, fearing the decision had already been made and that the outgoing superintendent had significantly influenced the selection. Further, they voiced that the process was too fast and rushed, not allowing for adequate input and discussion. However, participants expressed gratitude that the community forum process was facilitated by a neutral third party, calling it “imperative.” They also said they were grateful that board members were not allowed to say anything or interfere with the process during the forums.
Community Forum Surveys
The large forums included real-time surveys with attendees to identify the issues of greatest importance, as well as characteristics, qualities and competencies participants most desired to see in the next superintendent. Using smartphones and tablets, attendees were asked to respond to a survey designed to supplement the qualitative data gathered through small group discussions with additional supporting quantitative data.
Additional Large Forums
In addition to the analysis completed for the nine large forums conducted by Dimension Strategies, the report also includes analysis of two additional community meetings, held at Abraham Lincoln High School and John F. Kennedy High School and facilitated by Board Member Angela Cobian and district staff. These meetings were included in the report despite different methodology because they add important insight to the issues and concerns in Southwest Denver. More detailed analysis is available in the full report. The themes at these meetings were similar to the other large forums:
- Equity and the opportunity gap were very important to many people
- SchoolChoice and governance type was a strong theme of discussion and disagreement
- Safe schools was a priority, including the need for more mental health counselors (as opposed to police) and additional resources and training around bullying and restorative justice practices
- Participants want the next superintendent to be a person of color, ideally bilingual; an educator or teacher; and a value for transparency and engaging the community
Small Group, Community Stakeholder Meetings
The report also includes notes and limited analysis from more than 50 small stakeholder meetings that were organized, facilitated and held by the board and district staff. These meetings were comprised of participants from a variety of stakeholder groups, such as district employees, non-profits, faith-based groups, youth, parents, and education advocacy stakeholders. Some of these groups were identified by the board as stakeholders whose insights would be valuable to the superintendent selection process. Some of these meetings were held in response to the board’s willingness to engage with anyone who invited them to a stakeholder meeting. More than 1,177 individuals participated in 55 of these small group, stakeholder meetings. Key themes are summarized in the full report, and generally reflect the larger forums and survey.
One highlight presented to the board today was that students really want to be heard. They asked that the new superintendent be willing to listen to students and their concerns, especially students of color, students with disabilities and LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Plus) students.
Board Member Lisa Flores said there were “very rich conversations” with a broad, diverse, expansive number of community groups throughout the city, many about valuable issues in the district that in some cases tangential to the superintendent search.
General Community Survey
A district-wide electronic general community survey was designed in collaboration with the board and administration leaders, which aligned with the issues and topics discussed in the large, regional community forums. The general community survey was designed by Latino Decisions and Dimension Strategies to involve the broader community and engage community input beyond the voices of those who attended the large regional community forums. The survey questions were similar to those asked at those forums, but differed in that they enabled the research team to explore topics in more depth.
Survey respondents were primarily white and female; however, there were few statistically significant differences between respondents based on race/ethnicity or gender. Respondents said they were looking for a superintendent who had educational experience; values diversity, inclusion and equity; is focused on closing the academic achievement and opportunity gap; and who values community engagement. Highlights include:
- Most survey respondent (63%) said they believe the district is headed in the right direction.
- The top priority for survey respondents was for closing academic achievement and opportunity gaps (45%); this received twice the votes as investing in teachers and service to students (22%), including among teachers themselves.
- Respondents said they most value both extensive teaching experience and administrative skills (33%) — though they prioritized teaching over administrative by a 2-to-1 margin, particularly among respondents who were teachers or students. The community does not believe someone can be a great superintendent without teaching experience.
- Secondarily, respondents value experience working with diverse stakeholders and someone who values community engagement (15%). Surveys identified that the next superintendent should have experience with similar student demographics to DPS, as well as someone who will work toward ensuring DPS teachers and leadership reflects the demographics of the community. Knowledge of Denver’s diverse communities was valued highly across constituency groups; however, people of color responded more strongly in favor of the commitment to diversity compared with White respondents.
- Respondents said the most important quality in the new superintendent is ensuring access to high quality education regardless of race, ethnicity or income is a top policy priority for the community (37%). This was particularly important to Spanish-speaking families (49%) and all people of color compared to White families.
- Families’ ability to select an innovation or charter school regardless of where they live was less important (4%) than their ability to select a quality school in their neighborhood, regardless of where they live (13%). (Dimension Strategies clarified for the board that, anecdotally, many forum participants voiced that they could not get their students to the schools they want their children to attend because they are too far away or can’t access transportation.)
The survey also highlighted issues that respondents did not feel were as important when compared with other issues in considering the next district leader, including:
- A budgeting process that gives opportunity for community engagement (3%)
- Access to early childhood education programs (6%)
Dimension Strategies noted that efforts were made to ensure outreach and inclusion of the district’s families who speak other languages, but that the participation by these communities was significantly lacking. There were too few Vietnamese-speaking attendees/respondents to break out in the data, and no Arabic-speaking community members responded or attended (these are the next two most common languages next to English and Spanish in DPS). Board Member Angela Cobian noted that the eight elementary school meetings she attended in her region were conducted entirely in Spanish, and Board Member Jennifer Bacon said that was true for several schools in Montbello, as well. Bacon also acknowledged the work of EDUCA radio and newspaper, and our community navigators and the Family and Community Engagement team, who are out working with our non-English speaking and immigrant communities.
The board is leading candidate interviews between now and Nov. 26, when finalist(s) will be publicly announced. On Dec. 10, the board will select and announce the new superintendent. To sign up for regular updates on the superintendent search, visit supersearch.dpsk12.org
If you have questions or comments regarding the community engagement report, please email SuperSearch@dpsk12.org
. Read the full report here