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Denver School Board Picks Acting Superintendent

The Denver school board has chosen Susana Cordova, the district's chief of schools, to run the school system for the next six months while its current superintendent takes a sabbatical.

Cordova, a graduate of the school district who started there as a bilingual teacher, was chosen by the board in a special meeting on Tuesday. She will receive an additional $1,666.66 monthly stipend, the Denver Post reported.

In a statement after the meeting, Board President Anne Rowe said that Cordova was a "strong leader" who will continue the district's progress. Cordova takes over the new responsibilities on Jan. 1.

"She is deeply respected both locally and nationally for her leadership," Rowe said. "Over the past decade, Susana has been a key architect of our Denver Plan reforms. The result is thousands more students are attending high-performing schools and becoming proud DPS graduates. And, as all of you who know her can attest to, she is a values-based leader who has helped lead our work around our shared core values to strengthen our DPS culture."

The superintendent, Tom Boasberg, made the unusual announcement last month that he was taking a six-month unpaid family leave to travel and live in Latin America with his wife and children.

The arrangement drew mixed reactions. The Council of the Great City Schools, which represents nearly 70 of the nation's largest school districts, saw the sabbatical as an opportunity for a superintendent who has been lauded for improving the state's largest school system to take a much-needed break. The council's own report in 2014 showed that urban school superintendents tended to have short tenures, with an average of 3.2 years on the job.

Boasberg has been superintendent for seven years.

The Denver Post, on the other hand, argued in an editorial that while Boasberg's desire to spend time with his family was understandable, he should have resigned if he wanted to spend so much time away. The district, the paper said, was facing tough decisions over the next six months, including working on a new teachers' union contract and planning for a bond and mill levy in November. Much of the planning for the bond question would have to be done in the six months that Boasberg is expected to be away. 

But Boasberg has the support of the board, which approved the time off and noted the improvements in the district during his tenure. 

As chief of schools, Cordova oversees all the district-run schools and innovation schools—schools with more flexibility than traditional district schools. She told the Denver Post that she was looking forward to implementing some lessons learned from the innovation schools. 

Boasberg told the Post that the district will be guided by the master plan during his absence. The announcement of his sabbatical came after the November election. All seven board members are supporters of Boasberg's school reform agenda.

"People need to stay on the gas pedal," the paper quotes him as saying. "It's our job working together to go full steam ahead as we look toward these next six months."

According to Rowe's statement, the district will focus on leadership development, training teachers in providing early literacy supports, and planning for the bond and mill levy election in November 2016. It will also be preparing for state budget cuts next year.

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