Senior leadership exodus continues at DPS

Five days after Superintendent Susana Cordova announced her resignation from Denver Public Schools, two members of her senior leadership team are following her out the door.

Jennifer Holladay, associate chief of portfolio management, and Mark Ferrandino, deputy superintendent of operations, announced their departures Wednesday. Ferrandino is joining the cabinet of Colorado Governor Jared Polis as director of the Colorado Department of Revenue. There was no immediate word about Holladay’s plans.

Jennifer Holladay

According to the DPS website, Holladay had been with DPS since 2013, serving as director of school development and support and leading authorizing practices for new charter and district-managed schools. Prior to DPS, she spent nearly 15 years at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization, where she was director of the award-winning multicultural education program, Teaching Tolerance.

Mark Ferrandino

Ferrandino came to DPS in 2014, serving first as chief financial officer. Previously, he served in the Colorado House of Representatives,, including a stint as Speaker of the House in 2013-14.

As the district bleeds talent during the COVID-19 pandemic, social media is ablaze with finger-pointing. Political commentator Eric Sondermann had this to say on Facebook regarding Cordova’s departure:

“It is said that a clear, organized manner of writing is indicative of a clear, organized mind. We can only pray that is not the case with respect to Denver Public Schools. If this bit of utter gobbledygook in the form of a statement from the DPS Board to Channel 7 represents in any way the Board’s clarity of thinking (or lack thereof), the district is in a world of hurt.”

It is worth reproducing here the board’s full statement:

Just last Thursday, our Superintendent resigned. While she has had time to plan for this change, the Board of Education has not. We ask for a grace period as we organize ourselves, determine immediate next steps, and continue to manage the many pressing priorities of the district. These issues include rising COVID closures, issues at our schools, and long term district planning. We want to remind people that the way our students experience Denver Public Schools is through all the incredible people they interact with every day. This will not change. Students remain our top priority.

The Board is grateful for our neighbors across the city who are not shy in sharing their thoughts. We each represent thousands of voters who put us in these seats. These voters expressed their values and interests through their votes. The delicate interplay of managing the district with a Superintendent includes capturing the demands of the community, building vision from the Board of Education, and masterfully executing strategy led by the expertise of our chief executive and senior leadership team. Superintendents are incredible servants to the public, and the public is allowed to fluidly express itself in the interest of supporting the community’s children. While we represent a majority of voters, we must also, and will also, be attentive to all of our neighbors as we search for our next leader.

As is seen in our national climate, Denver too, as a community, deserves to focus on how we walk together through change. It is the intention of the Board of Education to do our part to also end divisiveness and bridge divides in our community. Our Superintendent accepted her position as the Denver community was looking for change. The last two years have been marked not only by expressions of frustrations, but also of hope. This Board has been proud to be open and to support, not suppress, voices. We are teachers, parents and community advocates.

A uniting theme of this Board is that we believe it is necessary for our communities to experience and confront honesty as we begin to grapple with determining what is next for Denver Public Schools. Managing change from ten years of a particular focus and infrastructure is hard. Still, we do know that all of the children matter. All of them deserve to be educated and cared for. Denver citizens have always been supportive of our children and schools. We must be bold now more than ever in prioritizing their needs. We must be collaborative on our road to greatness. There are more opportunities to exchange ideas when we work in partnership rather than in silos. We have learned what works and what does not in our landscape that we must accept and move forward in a new direction.

Partnership throughout this process will be our priority. Partners share goals and outcomes. They communicate with each other, even if there are criticisms. In addition, partnership requires respect and commitments from all parties, and that all involved are committed to work with, not against, each other. The Board makes this commitment and asks that all who would like to engage do so as well. For what we can control, we commit to being positive and to remain focused on our priorities. We will work to be proactive and, over the last two years, we have gathered an incredible amount of community insights (from our last Superintendent search, to those gathered while redefining school performance).

As we have updates and begin planning next steps, we will share more. Our vision is to hold regular press conferences to which all media will be invited. In addition, our intention is to partner through this process with individuals and groups across the city. This means that we hope to end the divisiveness that does not best serve our shared goal of educating our students. By doing so, these young people can thrive and grow to meet their educational dreams by creating strong public schools.

Following the Wednesday announcement of Ferrandino and Holladay’s departures, Sondermann had this to say:

“Can’t wait to read whatever jumble of words the DPS board crafts to explain this. And, of course, to assure us that everything is going forward just swimmingly.”