While every year brings farewells and new faces to the institutions that shape public education in Colorado, 2016 was like a revolving door spinning in a blur.
The year began with Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg going on a six-month unpaid sabbatical to Argentina with his family, an unusual perk made possible by Boasberg’s long tenure and the district’s relative stability.
His absence gave Susana Cordova the opportunity to step into the role of acting superintendent. Cordova was an intriguing pick — a Denver native who attended school during desegregation, and became a teacher, principal and high-ranking administrator.
Boasberg returned in July with improved Spanish and greater appreciation for “the extraordinary resources we have here,” while Cordova took the new title of deputy superintendent.
A couple of DPS alums ventured into new territory this year. Former principal and assistant superintendent Antwan Wilson was tapped to take over the top job in Washington, D.C., while former Boasberg lieutenant Alyssa Whitehead-Bust launched a new consulting firm.
The state’s most significant departure of the year came in May, when Colorado Education Commissioner Rich Crandall announced his resignation after just four-and-a-half months, citing family reasons and the demands of the job. Later, it emerged that Crandall and the board had met privately — violating Colorado open meetings law — in an unsuccessful effort to better define the then-commissioner’s priorities.
Katy Anthes was named interim commissioner. The well-liked former department chief of staff was appointed to the role on a permanent basis last week.
A former state government colleague of Anthes, meantime, is stepping into a different role. Rebecca Holmes, a former associate education commissioner, is set to take over as president and CEO of the Colorado Education Initiative, another organization that has seen recent turnover at the top.
The nonprofit education community saw other notable comings and goings: Kelly Causey was named new president and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, replacing Chris Watney; and Nora Flood announced she was leaving the Colorado League of Charter Schools to lead a new Walton Family Foundation program. (The Walton Foundation also supports Chalkbeat.)
Finally, a few suburban Denver school districts have experienced some leadership upheaval this year.
In May, Adams 14 School District Superintendent Pat Sanchez was hired for the top job at the Newark Unified School District in the Bay Area, leaving the Commerce City district as it was about to run out of time to right itself or face state sanctions.
As a replacement, the school board chose Javier Abrego, a longtime administrator who pledged to bring along English language learners quickly. Abrego now has the task of overseeing the 7,500-student district as it does, indeed, face repercussions from the state for persistent low academic performance.
Douglas County Superintendent Liz Fagen announced later in May she was leaving to become superintendent of a smaller school district outside of Houston. Fagen’s tenure included a controversial market-based pay system for teachers and a private school voucher program that drew national attention and legal challenges. Erin Kane is serving as Dougco’s interim superintendent.
The fate of another high-profile district leader — one with a history in Douglas County — will be decided early in 2017.
The Jefferson County school board has met twice in executive session to discuss the contract of Superintendent Dan McMinimee, a former Dougco assistant superintendent. McMinimee was hired by conservative school board members who were recalled in November 2015. The Jeffco board is expected to revisit the issue in January.