Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn resigning at end of school year

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Rico Munn, the superintendent of Aurora Public Schools, at Hinkley High School Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. School systems in Aurora, Denver and Cherry Creek are working with Gary Community Investments to offer free virus testing for school teachers and staff ahead of the start of the academic year.

Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn plans to resign at the end of this school year and assume a less active role in leading one of the state’s most diverse districts starting in January.

Aurora Public Schools announced the change in a letter from school board President Debbie Gerkin Friday afternoon.

The Aurora school board plans to vote on a transition agreement and plan at its Tuesday meeting. Munn’s contract expires at the end of this school year. This fall, the board and superintendent had been in conversations about Munn’s evaluation and contract.

Munn “will begin transitioning to a support role” for the remainder of the school year, with a modified schedule, the announcement says. The board plans to hire an acting superintendent for the rest of this school year.

The district will launch the search for its next permanent superintendent later this month. Munn has agreed to help the new superintendent adjust to their job during the first semester of the 2023-24 school year.

“I am incredibly proud of the difficult and crucially important work that we have done together to accelerate learning for every APS student every day,” Munn said in the announcement. “I thank the community for allowing me to serve our diverse and dynamic students.”

Gerkin thanked Munn for his years of service and dedication to the community.

Aurora Public Schools serves more than 38,000 students in the southeast Denver suburbs. The district is the state’s fifth largest and one of its most diverse, with students coming from 130 countries and speaking 160 languages. 

Munn was the 2019 Colorado superintendent of the year. His more than nine years at the helm of the district have been marked by significant improvements as well as challenges — and an often tense relationship with the school board.

Munn oversaw a substantial increase in the district’s graduation rate, including the largest increase in Hispanic graduation rates in the state, as well as decreases in the dropout rate, expulsions, and referrals to law enforcement. 

Aurora is losing students in parts of the district closer to Denver, where many low-income families find themselves priced out, and gaining students on its eastern edge, where new subdivisions are sprouting from the plains. Munn led the development of Blueprint APS, the plan to adapt to shifting enrollment patterns, close some schools, and reimagine others.

But the decision to close schools has upset parents and community members and even school board members, some of whom rejected his recommendations before ultimately approving them.

Several Aurora schools are under state intervention orders due to low academic performance. Munn has fought to maintain district autonomy and shape these schools’ improvement plans. 

His relationship with the Aurora school board has been marked by a push and pull over who gets to make key decisions. At various points, the board has overridden his decisions about when to open schools during the pandemic and whether to lay off employees due to budget pressures.

Few superintendents serve for as long as Munn has led Aurora Public Schools. Denver’s Tom Boasberg led the state’s largest district for 10 years before departing in 2018. Among the state’s five largest districts, Munn is the only superintendent still serving who was in office before the arrival of COVID.

Across the state, dozens of superintendents have left their jobs or been fired in the last two years. Some lost their jobs after the election of new school boards with differing philosophies. Some pursued other opportunities. Others said they were just tired.

Bureau Chief Erica Meltzer covers education policy and politics and oversees Chalkbeat Colorado’s education coverage. Contact Erica at [email protected].