Douglas County School Board starts process of searching for a new superintendent

Eli Imadali for CPR News
Students cheer during a walkout at Highlands Ranch High School on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022 to protest the firing of former Douglas County School District Superintendent Corey Wise and other recent decisions made by the conservative-majority school board.

After weeks of turbulence marked by the firing of a popular superintendent, a large community protest, student walkout and threats to publish the names of teachers who participated in the protest, the Douglas County school board met Wednesday night to discuss how it will select a new superintendent.  

The meeting was the first chance members of the public had to voice their thoughts on the events of the last month. It amounted to a public lashing of the board’s conservative majority, which was overwhelmingly elected to power last November.

At the meeting's height, 2,800 people were tuned into the virtual proceedings.

The Wednesday night meeting was the board's first since it fired Corey Wise as the district's superintendent, and it was meant as a chance to work up job qualifications for a new district leader. The meeting stretched more than six hours and ended at 12:06 a.m. Thursday.

Board members discussed a timeline for identifying a new superintendent and called for a vote on finalists by Feb. 24. It also called for a job description to be posted internally through Monday.

Board member Kaylee Winegar supported a fast timeline because “it’s good to get someone in there to provide stability.” Board member Christy Williams said she’s worried about having the position vacant.

But others were concerned about moving so fast.

Susan Meek and David Ray said before they talk about the process of finding a superintendent, they need to understand the vision for the district.

Douglas County School District
A screen capture of the Douglas County Board of Education meeting on Feb. 4, 2022.

 “There is not clarity about what that leader is supposed to accomplish,” said Ray.

After discussion, the board decided to open up the position externally, post it starting Thursday for a full week, discuss applicants on March 1 and possibly vote on superintendent finalists two days later. They agreed to finalize and vote on that plan during next Tuesday’s board meeting. Some members said the time frame was still “woefully inadequate,” and not “as inclusive as it should be.”

Board member Elizabeth Hanson pushed for honesty when board members declared they were open to considering all candidates who apply. Erin Kane, the executive director of the Douglas County charter school American Academy, is widely rumored to be in the running. She served as interim superintendent of the district several years ago.

Hanson told board members to say outright whether Kane is the preferred candidate. 

“If she's your person, you are going to have more respect on the other side of this process if you just own that right now, before we ask our staff to go through another process,” Hanson said. “I genuinely believe that honesty and integrity in that process is going to earn us as a board, some much needed points in the trust department that we genuinely need right now.”

Williams, who has three children attending the American Academy, said she is open to all candidates.

“Have I called her and offered her a position to be superintendent? No. Do I hope she applies? Yes I do,” she said.

Board president Mike Peterson said he called Kane a couple of weeks ago and asked about her willingness to apply. He said she was willing, and he thinks she would be a good candidate. 

Content Douglas County school board controversy: A timeline of what led to the firing of the superintendent Item

Meek said she found it unethical that Peterson met with Kane about considering a superintendent job and “never once have expressed concern around the performance of the sitting superintendent (Wise) with the entire board.”

Board members said they will be open to all candidates, but several expressed a desire to have someone who knows Douglas County. 

“I have a hard time imagining someone coming from outside this district and being able to understand it at a deep level of the history of where we are, of where we're going, especially in the current climate,” said Peterson.

No disclosure of teacher’s names at this time

At the outset of the meeting, the board quickly entered into an executive session to discuss the possible public release of the names and other information of teachers who requested an absence on Feb. 3 and may have attended a rally outside of district headquarters. They also discussed “specialized security” issues.

When they emerged from the closed-door session, Peterson said the district, at this time, will not be releasing teachers’ names.  The district confirmed that the person requesting teachers names withdrew their CORA request.  

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, several high schools reported flyers had been left on teachers’ cars telling them to leave the district.

Peterson said the district security team is looking into the issue, which he called very upsetting. 

“This is no way to move forward as a district. Our teachers should be respected and supported for the work they do for our students every day and we hope the community can come together in support of our teachers,” he said.

Deputy superintendent Andy Abner said the district will not tolerate harassment, intimidation or threatening behavior.

The first public comment session since the removal of Wise as the superintendent was critical of board majority

 Speakers, who turned out overwhelmingly to criticize members of the board’s majority – Peterson, Williams, Becky Meyers and Winegar – told them they need to practice the qualities they ran on during their campaigns.

“You owe this community transparency into the direction you want to take this district,” said resident Marie Kay. “You owe us transparency, communication and respect when it comes to the selection of a new superintendent. You owe teachers trust as professionals and you owe us all the chance to have our voices heard.”

Most speakers disapproved of the antagonistic comments several board members have made on national TV about teachers’ unions. Many accused the board majority of blaming teachers for turbulence in the district and sowing division.

Each person was given 90 seconds to speak, and they were muted in the Zoom call if they went over their time. People were most upset that Wise was fired without a performance review or public comment. Many expressed concern about pushing through a quick hiring of a new superintendent.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Supporters of Douglas County Schools Superintendent Corey Wise rally in front of the department’s headquarters in Castle Rock on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. Wise’s supporters say he is being forced out of his job by a new conservative majority on the board accused of meeting in secret to make the move - a violation of the Colorado’s open meetings laws.

 Tina Stroman, a 29-year veteran teacher, who said she was not a member of a union, was dismayed that no evidence was presented to show that Wise’s performance was lacking in some way.

“You pushed through the firing of Mr. Wise and now you are pushing through the hiring of his replacement," she said.

Many, including students who testified, accused the board majority of making politically motivated decisions.

“Your responsibility is to lead the board of education and to serve the students and staff in our district not to make rash decisions to terminate dedicated, qualified and experienced leaders just because you disagree with them," said Josh Lederman, co-president of a student district advisory group.

“You had the opportunity to postpone the vote until public opinions were heard but you made the conscious decision to proceed without meticulous review.  As a result of your actions, there are consequences, we are losing our most exceptional teachers because of your malicious intentions.”

They asked for student representatives to sit on the interview panel for a new superintendent.

Dozens of speakers were concerned about the proposed plan to sign off on a new superintendent in less than two weeks.

“Slow down,” said Julie Bateman. “You need to go slow to go fast.  Your CEO job requires that you take time to do it right. A candidate who knows and values public schools.”

Many expressed suspicions that the board majority has already selected a candidate. One woman who spoke in support of the board majority’s actions appeared to know about the possibility of Kane becoming the new superintendent.

"We have a woman who served as an interim superintendent with a proven track record of academic success in our district,” said resident Brandy Bradley, advocating for a speedy selection process.

Bradley supported the board’s removal of Wise. She was disturbed that Wise, as leader of the district, was part of a lawsuit with nine families to bring masks back into the school. 

"Mike, Becky, Kaylee and Christy, you won by a landslide and we support any decision you make,” she told the board majority.

Bobbi Hillard said she agrees with the board's decision to fire Wise.

 “I look forward to a new superintendent and I hope that's as soon as possible, that can bridge, if not unify, the separation between the parents and teachers."

Board agreed to some job descriptions

A summary of the job description states that the superintendent should display "high integrity, dynamic leadership and community engagement that is focused on providing a high-quality educational foundation that empowers students to reach their individual potential."

 Some of the qualities include someone who "who understands the culture, the current climate, and the direction the district is moving to."

 The board has yet to have a public discussion about the new direction of the district.

 It also calls for a leader who is fully transparent, values diversity among students, parents, and outside groups, and someone with "an unwavering moral compass."

 The annual salary is expected to range from $220,000 to $270,000.

Previous coverage of the Douglas County School District controversies: