After nearly a decade as Superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Tom Boasberg announced on Tuesday, July 17th that he is stepping down. His departure will bring to closure one of the country’s longest terms for big city superintendents. Boasberg will remain in his role for the next three months while the 7-member Board of Education pursues the hiring of another leader.
In his media advisory announcing his decision, Boasberg said, “After much reflection, I have decided it is time for me to step down to fulfill my commitment to my family and pass the torch of leadership.” He added, “Serving as DPS’ leader has been the honor of a lifetime for me. The talent and commitment of our students and our educators never cease to inspire me.”
After his decision, reaction from the education allies was swift and complimentary. Teach for America Executive Director, Damion LeeNatali released a media advisory saying, “The urgency of education demands that adults put children first, and for the past nine years, Tom has led in this way.”
DPS Foundation President and CEO, Veronica Figoli sent a press release complimenting Boasberg’s time at the district, “I have had the privilege of working for and alongside Tom since 2012. I can humbly say that I have never had a boss, mentor and friend who has been as committed to our students as Tom. He will be remembered for his high-fives, his incredible analytical skills, his remarkable ability to anticipate needs and, most importantly, his genuine drive to make things better for our students for generations to come. In every decision, Tom’s first and final focus was putting Students First.”
In his media advisory, Boasberg cited gains made since the first Denver Plan (the district’s education vision) implemented in 2006, “During this time, we have nearly doubled the number of Latino and African-American seniors graduating every year.” He also noted that African American and Latino student college enrollment rates doubled during his time as superintendent.
This year, the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) selected Boasberg as the national Hispanic-Serving School District Superintendent of the Year for Latino student progress during his tenure. Besides increased graduation rates and improved college attendance numbers for Latinos, district progress for English language learners was cited. DPS’ media office sent statistics to La Voz noting, “English language learners in DPS have moved from trailing their peers statewide to outperforming them. In 2005, these Denver students were 11 percentage points below their peers statewide in reading, 9 points behind in writing and 10 points below in math. In 2017, DPS English language learners outperformed their peers statewide by 5 points in reading and writing, and 3 points in math.”
Reaction from many local educators and community activists of color was much more skeptical. On his weekly radio show, Brother Jeff Fard hosted educator Vernon Jones Jr. to give a view from the African American community. Fard questioned claims of progress for students of color under Boasberg’s watch. When Jones cited DPS figures of 20 percent improved graduation rates for African American children, Fard responded, “If you stab me and pull the knife out halfway, you say that’s progress.” Jones questioned, “Only one third of black middle school students are reading at grade level?” He later added, “The fight that we have for excellence has to continue.” Instead of stepping down, Fard lamented that he wanted Boasberg “to step up, as it relates to black kids.”
DPS Board President Anne Rowe will lead the process to select a new superintendent. In her letter explaining her reaction and outlining next steps, she said, “… while I am personally saddened by his decision, I also understand and respect it,” adding, “Tom’s leadership, in partnership with our educators, has had a profound impact on Denver Public Schools. We are in every way a better district than a decade ago, and our students, families and educators have all benefited from his service.”
Rowe said that the board will make “a public announcement about the process for selecting our next superintendent.”
Education non-profit A+ director, Van Schoales wrote about the board’s challenge in a media release, “Over the next few months, the DPS Board will be tasked with an incredible responsibility. While Denver Public Schools has improved significantly over the last decade, there is still massive work to be done. The district continues to have yawning opportunity gaps, inequitable access to quality schools, and disagreement about the most effective district strategies. Today’s school board will select a superintendent who can set a new course that will accelerate achievement and a joy for learning in all of our schools.”