Alex Marrero is Denver’s next superintendent after the school board voted 6 to 1 to confirm the 38-year-old bilingual educator from New York.

“My vote for Dr. Marrero is a vote for all the priorities we heard as we created a forum for our community to raise their hopes and fears for our schools,” said board chair Carrie Olson . “Dr. Marrero, I believe in your ability to inspire people and to reinvest in a public school system where every child is seen and able to reach their full potential.

Marrero will begin on July 6, taking the helm of Colorado’s largest school district as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and entering a new era of declining enrollment and new approaches to monitoring schools.

Under contract approved Thursday, Marrero will be paid $ 260,000 a year to start. That’s the same salary the former superintendent, Susana Cordova earned, and more than the $ 242,125 Tom Boasberg earned when he left Denver public schools in 2018.

Marrero said the job is a dream come true for the child of a Cuban refugee and Dominican Republic immigrant who seemed destined to be another statistic.

“I look forward to collaborating and removing all barriers for students,” he said. “Unbeknownst to little Alexi, my own life experience prepared me to lead this incredible neighborhood. ”

Barbara O’Brien, extraordinary member of the board of directors, voted against the nomination and the contract. She said she didn’t like it at all and that she would do whatever she could to help Marrero succeed.

But she thinks Denver needs a more experienced leader.

“I don’t think our process produced the kind of stellar candidates for the superintendent of Denver public schools that we expected to get,” she said. “I think we should have someone with a lot more experience. To add the culture shift he’ll be navigating, coupled with the relative inexperience in running a district, I’m concerned that students and families in Denver will know a superintendent with a huge learning curve.

Denver, Colorado’s largest school district with 90,000 students, is going through a period of transition. In addition to addressing the fallout from the pandemic and changing demographics, the school board is changing its approach to improving schools. The school board, which sets policy for the district, has moved away from past education reform strategies such as closing schools with poor test scores, and asked tough questions of independent charter schools in the district. .

Board members said they expect Marrero to take a collaborative rather than competitive approach to running schools in the district and tackle long-standing opportunity gaps between students of color and their white peers.

Marrero served as the acting superintendent of the New Rochelle City School District, which has 10,400 students, for the past eight months after the previous superintendent’s resignation. New Rochelle has a similar demographics to Denver but is much smaller. Marrero was previously Assistant Superintendent for Programs and Education in New Rochelle and prior to that Assistant Superintendent in East Ramapo, New York.

Marrero started his career as a guidance counselor and said reducing the pipeline from school to prison was a priority. He said he would keep all students to high standards and work to earn the trust of the community. He pledged to begin his term with a listening tour and to include students and teachers in his decisions.

Explaining her yes vote, board member Angela Cobián spoke of a time when a guidance counselor helped her avoid a fight after being labeled an ethnic insult. It helped her feel safe at school and avoid derailing her college career.

“When I think of the fact that a guidance counselor turned superintendent will lead our district, I think of the power that you are going to bring to our district, the power of compassion and the power of lived experiences,” she said.

A long list of Latino community groups has repeatedly called on the school board to delay the vote. Even before Marrero was named the preferred candidate among three finalists, groups had raised concerns about the search process and the candidates’ level of experience.

Other community leaders have shown their support for Marrero, with Ron Cabrera, a longtime Hispanic educator and former acting superintendent of Denver, highlighting his experience working with Marrero in the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents.

“I know the importance, supported by research, of finding a champion for our underserved students, a leader who can be a role model for all of our students, parents and fellow teachers,” Cabrera said last week. “I believe Dr Alex Marrero is that champion for us.”

Those who were concerned said they became more concerned when Marrero was named in a lawsuit in his former district of New Rochelle, New York, two days after Denver officials announced plans to hire him. In the lawsuit in federal court, the former medical director accused a number of administrators and a school board member of sidelining her and retaliating against her over the handling of the pandemic of COVID-19. The New Rochelle neighborhood has denied any wrongdoing.

Marrero was also a finalist for the position of superintendent in New Rochelle, but that district chose a different candidate.

On Tuesday and again Thursday, leaders of the Latino community sent letters to the Denver school board asking for a delay and a review of the process. They said they were concerned that no one in Denver would know about the lawsuit before it was filed, that the allegations had not been fully investigated and that Marrero could be distracted by the handling of the lawsuit.

In Thursday’s letter, community leaders also raised concerns about an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against board member Tay Anderson. Anderson is stepping down from many board positions during the investigation. He voted in favor of Marrero, a decision he says will be the last until the end of the investigation.

Community leaders said the council’s handling of the two issues had eroded community confidence.

“Now is not the time for the Denver School Board to make the most important decision of its term, the selection of the next superintendent,” they wrote. “This decision will have an impact on our children for years to come and we urge the Board of Directors to await further information on the allegations against Dr. Marrero and Mr. Anderson.”

The meeting to vote on the hiring of Marrero was a working session with no public comment. The Superintendent’s vote was an added action item on the agenda.

School board members said they had gone through a rigorous process with multiple opportunities for public comment, and called on the community to embrace Marrero and work with him as the district tackles disrupted learning and many other challenges.

“I am grateful to Dr. Marrero for going through our process,” said Jennifer Bacon, Board Member. “It’s not for the faint of heart. It took a lot of time, courage and commitment to get through it, but this is what our community owes. And now it’s time to move on.

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