Until July 1, responsibility for overseeing Denver Public Schools‘ (DPS) 185 schools and 87,398 students will be in the hands of CU Denver alumna Susana Cordova. Cordova brings strong ties to her role as acting superintendent of DPS, having experienced the district as a student, teacher, advisor, principal and administrator.
A first-generation college graduate majoring in English, Cordova did not originally plan on a career in education. That changed after she read a literary journal featuring Latino poets. It was the first time she had seen poets published who represented her culture, and that contradicted an education that suggested that to be successful she would have to leave her heritage behind.
“I realized that you can embrace your culture and be well educated,” Cordova said. “But that only happens if we make that clear to kids at the very youngest of ages. Unfortunately that was not an experience I had growing up in DPS.”
From teacher to administrator
Cordova decided to become an agent of change and became a teacher. She taught English as a second language, Spanish as a second language, and other language arts courses at the middle school and high school levels in DPS. Her commitment to ensuring students have equal opportunities and experiences led her to pursue her principal licensure and then an M.Ed. in educational, instructional and curriculum supervision at CU Denver.
“What was so great for me was that the program at CU Denver was tailored to work that I was going to be doing in Denver Public Schools,” Cordova said. “I’ve also always appreciated the real focus on social justice and equity, particularly for a program that is in the heart of the city and serves people who are attending from the metro area. That’s not something you see in every program.”
Cordova’s experiences in the classroom have been highly influential since taking on administrative roles such as executive director of teaching and learning and chief academic officer for DPS. She makes it her mission to learn from models of leadership she has experienced and then work to create opportunities for equitable access for students, so the responsibility does not fall entirely on the shoulders of teachers.
“I am incredibly grateful to have been a teacher in the district and found it to be some of the most rewarding work I have ever done,” Cordova said. “I take a lot of inspiration from that. It has shown how important it is for us to be making the job of our teachers easier.”
The next six months
Cordova will serve as acting superintendent until DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg returns from leave on July 1. The time is likely to go by quickly for Cordova, who will have her hands full managing the district and furthering the work laid out by the board of education in The Denver Plan 2020.
“We’re getting close to end of second year of the plan, and it lays out a very ambitious agenda,” Cordova said. “The next several months will be focused on continuing the work around developing school leaders and teacher leaders. It is critical that classroom teachers have the feedback and support they need. One principal can’t do that alone, so we are expanding teacher leadership to ensure that we have the support we need to grow.”
Choice is another keyword for Cordova, who wants to make sure that schools can actively make decisions around assessment, curriculum and program design. In addition she plans to kick off discussions on the budget—all while looking to graduate the next generation of DPS alumni.
“My heart is in the Denver Public Schools,” Cordova said. “I would do anything to ensure we’re on the right track. My mom is a DPS grad. My father attended DPS. I am married to a DPS grad. One of my children is a DPS grad and the other is in high school. I’m really committed to the Denver Public Schools. I believe so strongly in the work that we do and the difference it makes in the lives of all kids.“