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Opinion: Intervention is required for Colorado’s superintendent disaster – The Denver Submit

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If the four largest companies in Colorado, or the four largest government agencies, were all without a leader at the same time, there would be widespread concern and a sense of urgency to fill those positions and ensure that we never find ourselves in the same situation again. With many of Colorado’s largest school districts without superintendents, the reaction should be no different. And businesses, in particular, should be taking notice and taking action.

Nearly 40% of students in Colorado — or 329,000 kids — are served by Denver Public Schools, Cherry Creek, Douglas County, Jefferson County, and Poudre, and all have lost their CEO. And many rural districts like Durango, Cortez, and Mancos, are currently working to fill open positions. Though superintendent turnover is not new, what is new is that these districts will all be competing for talent at the same time. While we’re feeling the overwhelming impacts of COVID-19 and a community-wide call for racial justice, we need strong education leaders more than ever, not just to deal with the crisis at hand, but to set the stage for something better.

Superintendent turnover directly impacts the success of our students, our communities, and our economy. Our schools are the training grounds for our future workforce and educational attainment is one of the most important ways to ensure our young people will lead meaningful, productive lives. According to Colorado Workforce Development Council’s 2020 Talent Pipeline report, 89% of top jobs in our state require a credential past high school. With COVID-19, we’ve seen learning disrupted and inequities in our system exacerbated. This affects the workforce and talent pipeline, so it’s time for business leaders to do something about it.

Business and education may seem like two separate discussions. However, according to the 2018 “What if Colorado’s Schools were #1?” report by Colorado Succeeds, Common Sense Institute, and partners, 72% of voters said business should play a greater role in efforts to improve the state’s education system, like ensuring students develop relevant skills, have access to work-based learning opportunities, and develop digital literacy. The last year has shown us that we have a lot of work to do on this front, but there’s no better time than the present to change that.

There are several ways that we as business leaders can contribute our expertise and influence to address the superintendent crisis. We can shed light on the qualities and qualifications necessary for successful leaders, offer to be involved in the recruitment and selection process, contact our local school boards and elected officials to ask questions and offer our expertise on plans to retain talent and address future turnover, and help to set a long-term vision. Business leaders have a wealth of experience in building successful organizations and fostering innovation – so why not tap into those assets?

Further, being a superintendent is an incredibly difficult job, especially during COVID-19. We should demand that school boards support strong leaders during a time of tough decisions to build them up and remain focused on what is best for students and their families, even in the face of extreme division.

Granted, business involvement is no silver bullet. But for an issue that impacts business so greatly, it’s clear that we should be part of the conversation.

“The local business community is a critical stakeholder and partner in successful school districts,” said Chris Gdowski, the superintendent at Adams 12 Five Star Schools. “In the past, feedback from these leaders – who are often also parents – has been invaluable in setting our goals and developing the strategic plans to achieve them.”

In the face of unprecedented challenges, we need strong, innovative leadership to address the education system’s immediate needs, while building strategy to come back stronger than ever. The future of our kids, our businesses, and our state depend on it. Business leaders: join me in taking action to get us there.

Tom Brinegar is the Chief Financial Officer for PEAK Resources, Inc. and serves on the board of directors for the Public Education & Business Coalition (PEBC) and Colorado Succeeds.

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