The Colorado Association of School Executives has named Aurora Public Schools superintendent Rico Munn as the Colorado Superintendent of the Year for 2019. Munn was selected by a committee of former award winners and superintendents. He will represent Colorado in the 2019 American Association of School Administrators (AASA)’s National Superintendent of the Year program.
Munn, who has been with APS since 2013, represents one of the largest and most diverse school districts in the state, where 70 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. He came on board during a time of urgency, shortly after the district was identified as one of the lowest-performing in the state, with fewer than half of students graduating high school within four years. Munn created the “Communities Organized to Reach Excellence” (CORE) reform framework, focusing on developing the district’s capacity to be innovative and effective, and establishing an improvement timeline to keep things on track. His work paid off—graduation rates have increased 15 percent over the past four years, and the dropout rate is at a 12-year low at 2.5 percent.
“This award is a testament to the incredible work of our students, staff members, families and community,” Munn said. “Aurora Public Schools is a truly unique and dynamic school district where I am honored to serve as superintendent every day. I share this honor with the entire APS family that works relentlessly for student success.”
Munn’s hard work earned 27 of the district’s schools “Performance” ratings, the highest possible rating in Colorado’s accountability system, and the district itself won a “District of Distinction” award, a national annual recognition program created by District Administration magazine.
One of Munn’s goals in reforming APS was to implement a restorative justice system, in an attempt to decrease and improve discipline rates. Since 2013, the district’s expulsion rates have fallen by 53 percent, and suspensions by 28 percent.
“Every measurable indicator shows that we are a district with momentum,” he said. “APS is changing outcomes for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or gender.”
He looks forward to continuing to build off of that momentum with his strategic plan, “APS 2020: Shaping the Future.” Along with a 14-member strategic planning team, consisting of parents, staff members, Board of Education members, teachers, and community leaders, he is hoping to focus on three key goals for every APS student: a plan for the future, a set of skills to implement that plan, and credentials that will open doors.
“Having worked for and with Rico over the past several years, I can say that I’ve never met a more courageous and principled leader. He does what is right for kids even if that’s the unpopular or difficult decision, and is remarkably mindful in his approach to leading the school district,” said CASE Executive Director, Lisa Escárcega. “Rico is the last to seek credit for his work and accomplishments; he prefers to keep the focus on the priorities that staff and teachers are pursuing to improve student achievement. He is most deserving of this honor, and Colorado is so fortunate to benefit from his public education leadership.”
Munn, who is the first person of color to serve as APS superintendent, has had a successful leadership career for years prior to entering this position. With a background as a successful attorney, Munn was appointed in 2012 to the Board of Governors for the Colorado State University System by Governor John Hickenlooper, and he continues to serve as chair of that board. He’s also been a member of Governor Bill Ritter’s Cabinet as executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, and the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.