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  • Writer's pictureAlex Sánchez

Our students deserve the most qualified leader

With the second half of the academic calendar now underway, we eagerly await seeing how the new Roaring Fork School District board will take on the longstanding inequity and poor performance issues in a minority-majority school district.

That work begins with the daunting duty of hiring an experienced superintendent with a track record of turning around a district that has fallen short of meeting the academic needs of students of color. Hiring a superintendent is one of the most important decisions that any elected school board can make. And as the district sets out to fill this position for the second time in less than two years, the stakes could not be higher for the Roaring Fork Valley. We simply cannot afford to settle for the status quo. 

In a district where nearly 60% of students are Latino and most are two to three grades behind their white peers, we need the best, most qualified person to step up to the challenge of what is likely to be one of the hardest jobs in their career. When it comes to job qualifications, the next leader must be able to “demonstrate proven, tangible success in improving student achievement,” as the job posting states. 

It is mission-critical for the new superintendent to have extensive, real-life experience as an instructional leader, because she or he is expected to become that kind of leader for the school district. This means having years of experience in a K-12 classroom, as a school principal, as well as having served in the role of chief academic leader or another similar academic role in a school district. Lastly, the new leader needs to be a seasoned superintendent, with the confidence, maturity and knowledge that can only be acquired through experience as the leader of another school system. 

Yes, the next superintendent must be able to demonstrate past success engaging Latino parents, and not in a superficial way, but through genuine and effective engagement using best practices in a minority-majority school district. She or he should also be licensed as a superintendent, principal and K-12 teacher in the state of Colorado. More importantly, the next leader must already have experience and expertise leading and turning around schools and a school district with large achievement gaps between Latino and white students. 

When Latino student academic outcomes are as low as they are in the RFSD, we need someone who can rely on years of experience from day one. We cannot afford another three, five or 10 years for someone to learn on the job. Latino students deserve a superintendent with a demonstrated record of success in dramatically improving student outcomes in a comparable school district. Their learning and growth should not be compromised for any reason, least of all for the sake of career development. 

I hope the board gets it right this time. Because if they don’t, we will continue this legacy of experimenting at the expense of Latino students who continue to be left behind due to the lack of political courage by the school board and lack of expertise by administrators to execute the bold, transformative work that is required to address the district’s chronic under-achievement problems. It cannot take centuries — or even decades — to eliminate the gap, which is what will happen if we continue at this pace of progress, celebrating a percentage point or two of growth.

Every student in the RFSD — including Latino students — deserves the best possible opportunity to learn, grow and thrive in our community. It is incumbent upon the school board to provide that opportunity by hiring the best possible superintendent for the district. We look forward to working with them throughout the process, however long it takes.

Alex Sánchez graduated from Basalt High School and spent almost 10 years working as an administrator in three different minority-majority school districts. He now serves as the CEO of Voces Unidas, a local advocacy nonprofit that organizes Latino parents in the RFV and central mountain region. 


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