Denver Public Schools board confirms Dr. Alex Marrero as district's next superintendent

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-04 01:40:30-04

DENVER – The Denver Public Schools Board of Education voted 6-1 Thursday afternoon to confirm the appointment of Dr. Alex Marrero as the district’s next superintendent.

Marrero’s appointment will be effective July 6 and his contract will run to June 30, 2023 unless he is fired, or his contract is extended beforehand. He will make $260,000 a year as superintendent and would be eligible for raises every Aug. 1.

Marrero, 38, who comes to Denver from New Rochelle, N.Y., was announced as the board’s pick on May 26 and received praise from the board president and vice president at the time, touting his experience as a multi-lingual learner and someone who has done several jobs within school districts.

"Never would I have imagined that the son of an immigrant mother, refugee father, who was expected to be another statistic in the quest for the American dream, can now lead a national top performing school district," Marrero said following his appointment.

Several of the board members spoke ahead of the vote on why they would support Marrero, saying they were impressed with him in the interview process and his commitment to students and to bringing district schools together – to “operate as a school district and not as a district of schools,” said board member Scott Baldermann.

District Board Director Tay Anderson, who said he will step back from his role on the board after the vote because of sexual assault allegations, pledged to vote for Marrero and said the vote would be “one of my last votes for the foreseeable future.”

He said he supported Marrero because of the students and for Denver’s students of color.

Jennifer Bacon, the vice president of the board, said she understood others’ concerns, but said she supported the board’s decision and that she believed Marrero would be a good fit after going through the interview process.

Board member Angela Cobián said she saw some of her school experience in what Marrero pledged to do – lead through his lived and professional experience.

“My vote for you tonight represents the fact I believe you are the right person I can entrust my former students’ future with you,” she said.

Board member Barbara O’Brien was the lone vote against Marrero’s appointment. She said she worried that Marrero did not have the necessary experience as a school official or in the American West.

“His learning curve on both fronts and this culture change are going to meant that Denver students and families will experience a superintendent with a huge learning curve ahead of him,” she said.

O'Brien also was the lone board member to vote against approving Marrero's contract.

Marrero pledged after his appointment was approved to closing gender, racial and other learning gaps and said he was looking forward to collaborating with the board members and district students, staff and parents to lead the district forward. He pledged to support and celebrate teachers but also to hold them to high standards to ensure that district students can graduate and have support moving into their next steps in life.

Marrero said he planned to make DPS the nation's "model school district."

Marrero was selected over two other finalists: Andre Wright, the chief academic officer for Aurora Public Schools, and Stephanie Soliven, an assistant superintendent from Brevard County in Florida. The three were chosen from a pool of 85 applicants.

Marrero said upon his introduction last month that he would strive to be sure no student “gets lost in the system” and that DPS was an equitable district for all students. He also said he was committed to removing performance gaps in DPS and give students a louder voice in district decision-making.

The Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the union for Denver teachers, also issued a statement the day he was announced as the board’s pick saying they were supportive of the decision.

Two days later, the former medical director of Marrero’s former district in New York filed a lawsuit against him and other district members alleging she was left out of key COVID-19 response discussions and retaliated against for raising concerns.

It also alleges that Marrero was responsible for a plan to get all school staff vaccinated despite them not being eligible yet – a plan that was scrapped after the state and county health departments were notified.

After the lawsuit was filed Board President Carrie Olson and Vice President Jennifer Bacon released a statement saying they had “full confidence” in Marrero and stood behind their choice.

Since then, Hispanic and Latino organizations from the area, including the Congress for Hispanic Educators, asked the DPS board to stop the confirmation process for Marrero “pending a more thorough investigation into this lawsuit.” The same group had previously voiced concerns about Marrero and the other two finalists.

On Wednesday, the group again called for a stop to the process pending further investigation and because of new sex assault allegations levied against Anderson.

“Now is not the time for the Denver School Board to be making the most important decision of its tenure, the selection of the next superintendent,” the consortium wrote in a letter to Olson and other board members. “This decision will impact our children for years to come and we urge the board to await further information about the allegations against Dr. Marrero and Mr. Anderson. In the meantime, the board can continue its search for additional superintendent candidates while Interim Superintendent Jones continues his work on behalf of our students.”

Olson and Bacon further said in a statement they continued to stand behind Marrero after reviewing the lawsuit.

“Based on that review, the Board is assured that the primary concerns about medical guidance were directed at the former superintendent of New Rochelle and other employees of the New Rochelle leadership team – who were also named in the lawsuit,” the two said in the statement. “…Based on this thorough review of the situation, we have full confidence in Dr. Marrero, and we stand behind our choice for superintendent. We have worked closely with our health officials to make decisions in Denver, and the Board and Dr. Marrero will continue to do so.”

Dwight Jones, the senior deputy superintendent for equity, was named interim superintendent in December and took over for Susana Cordova, who left for a deputy superintendent job within the Dallas Independent School District after 31 years with DPS.