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Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Michael Giles talks about his vision for the district

Giles was named the new Superintendent of APS in April; Start July 1st
Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Michael Giles.jpg
Posted at 10:23 AM, Jun 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-06 12:23:08-04

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education selected Michael Giles as the next Superintendent and approved a contract with a salary of $285,000 per year beginning July 1st. Giles previously worked in the Cherry Creek School District, most recently as Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Culture and Community Engagement. He has lived in Aurora for 25 years.

Nicole Brady: What do you imagine you'll be doing over the next couple of months to get ready for your new position?

Michael Giles: A lot of learning and listening, getting to know the district getting to know the community better than I already do. I've been in the community for a long time, but not as a community leader of the school district. I'm getting people to know me in this position, finding out also just what's taking place within the district with regards to educating our children what's working, where we are experiencing some success, and then where there are some areas or opportunities for either change or growth.

NB: You’ve spent 21 years with the Cherry Creek School District. You worked as a counselor, and in juvenile corrections. How do you think that past experience applies?

MG: I think my experience as a counselor has basically given me a foundation to really understand or be available to the needs of students, to listen, to really draw out what is it that they need. We know right now mental health or behavioral health is a large part of that. And so being able to ask those questions, being able to gauge students helps me to provide the supports and the structures necessary to give them what they need to thrive in school.

NB: Have you worked with kids who have gotten into some trouble and have struggled maybe in that school environment?

MG: Absolutely, and for many different reasons. It could be something that a child is going through at the moment. It could be a child not necessarily feeling fully engaged, because they're not seeing themselves in the curriculum, or seeing opportunities for themselves. There are a myriad of reasons why sometimes students make choices that do not lend themselves well to succeeding in school. So as an adult in their life, as a district leader, my job is to try to figure out opportunities to unearth or unpack what it is that's at play that's causing them to make search certain decisions, and then offer them an alternative so that they can thrive and do well and find their passions and become fully engaged in their own learning experience.

NB: In Cherry Creek Schools, what was your priority as Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Culture and Community Engagement?

MG: So the priority is always advancing the outcomes for all students, but under the umbrella of equity, and in particular students who have often times been marginalized within the system. Looking at whatever systems or structures that we might have in place that are serving as barriers for students to thrive, identifying those and then dismantling them if necessarily, or changing them so that students can actually find success and those systems and structures don't serve as barriers. That's a large part of the work. The other part of the work is really being explicit when we talk about race, we talk about culture, we talk about language and identity and how that impacts a child's experience or a family's experience with the institution. And by naming that, and giving language and tools to have those kinds of conversations, we create opportunities for students to thrive regardless of their race, regardless of their language, regardless of their culture.

NB: Are there any success stories you can share from your time at Cherry Creek or some result of your work that you felt proud of?

MG: We have what we call SOAR, Students Organized Against Racism, I’m really proud of that work that we're doing in the district. And it's comprised of high school students that come together on a monthly basis. And they brilliantly take the lead on engaging in conversations around race, conversations around culture and language and its impact, and how they as students can be leaders not only across the district, but within their own home schools, to create better spaces for the students that they go to school with every day. I can't tell you how moving it is when they say that they feel empowered, they feel seen. They feel like they have some agency in their own experience now. And that's exactly what we want for our students. I would offer also some of the work that we've done with parents in the community bringing parents in and giving them a voice and asking what is your experience with our institution? What's working for you? What is not? How can we better serve you? How can we better help you support your students? And again, the same response from many of the parents that I've worked with over time is just really feeling seen feeling heard from.

MG: The other thing I would throw out there is that the standardized assessments, they are an important measure, but they don't tell the whole story of a child's experience. There are many other ways to demonstrate student learning. And so I want to get into the district and work with educators around how we provide an opportunities for our students to demonstrate that they truly are learning and that they're thriving in schools. And there are many ways to do that.

NB: How much does student safety weigh on your mind? What will you be looking for in terms of security in Aurora Public Schools and anything that needs to change?

MG: One of the things that I mentioned when I went through the process of interviewing is convening a task force of sorts. And the taskforce would be comprised of not only our internal security, our counselors, our Deans, our building administrators, maybe some students, some parents, and then our external law enforcement, as well as our mental health providers internally and some in the community. And the purpose of bringing everyone together is to wrap our arms around what does it mean to create a safe learning environment for students, physical safety, as well as emotional, psychological wellbeing. And I think if we place too much emphasis on one and not the other, than we won't necessarily create the kind of environment that we want for our students to thrive and to be safe in our schools. So that's high on my list. And I don't say that to to indicate that APS hasn't done anything already. I'm sure that they're doing a lot already with regard to safety, because this has been a concern for all of us around the districts for some time now. But my job is to find out what has been done, make sure what voices are at the table or maybe haven't been at the table, and then make sure that we have a very solid plan that meets all the needs that I just named. And it doesn't stop with just the plan, this is something that has to be ongoing, it has to be revisited because as you know, society changes, needs change, the threats change, and we have to be responsive.

NB: Are you supportive of school resource officers and a relationship with the Aurora Police Department?

I appreciate the work that Aurora Police Department has done with Cherry Creek and I appreciate the relationship that I've been able to develop with the Aurora Police Department. I do believe that when done well SROs are a very useful resource in our schools. When they're a part of the school environment, they know the school, they know the students, they know the community, the community knows them. I think that can be extremely successful.

NB: On the subject of superintendent salaries, what do you think it says about education priorities that we have the school districts competing with each other to pay their top leaders so much? How does that fit in with the discussion about salaries for teachers?

MG: I would say in Colorado, we really wrestle with education funding period.That's something that we really need to continue to take a look at. And I know the Governor has been doing that. With regard to the salaries of the superintendents, I applaud the superintendents for the contracts that they've gotten. When you're running a district of 90,000 kids, it's a huge responsibility. To the teacher level, I am extremely concerned and very attentive to the need for us to better compensate our educators. And I say educator because it's not just those that stand in the front of the classroom and teach, but I'm talking about para educators, I'm talking about our classified staff, our bus drivers, we have to do a better job in compensating those who are providing the experiences for our students.

NB: I’m curious about what your philosophy is about students entering college and or the workforce. What is your responsibility in terms of creating pathways for students after high school?

MG: I appreciate what APS is doing with the Blueprint to create more pathways for students upon graduation. And I definitely want to expand upon that work. What we know right now is not every student has to or desires to go directly to college after graduating from high school. Now, I believe every child should be prepared to if they want to, they should have the skills, the knowledge. But if they choose to do something else I also want to make sure that there's an opportunity for that to go into the industry, to go into an apprenticeship, the military, the armed services.

NB: APS had one superintendent (Rico Munn) for almost a decade. Is it a credit to the culture and the families are and the work that was being done at APS that they were able to keep a superintendent long enough?

MG: I credit the previous superintendent and APS for for his tenure and the things that he was able to do in the time he was there. As I went through the process to come into this position, I also heard loudly from the community, that there was a desire for something new in leadership to and I don't take that as a knock on anyone else. I think there's just a desire for something new. And fortunately, I feel like I'm able to deliver and provide what it is that they're asking for. So just being out in the community, being visible, being transparent. engaging our students in the way that I've been able to do over the tenure of my career are things that I heard that they're asking for.

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