Denver school superintendent Irv Moskowitz resigned Friday after leading the district through five years of strife and success.
Moskowitz said he’s accomplished his primary goal of steering Denver Public Schools toward higher student achievement.
”I think people have rallied around that,” said Moskowitz, who turns 64 Monday.
”Everybody knows how to continue on that path. This district is not dependent on one person.”
Moskowitz will stay at his $130,000-a-year job until June 30, when he will begin working on urban education training issues for the University of Northern Colorado.
The school board plans to launch a national search for his replacement.
Moskowitz was praised Friday for his leadership as the district left behind court-ordered busing and returned to neighborhood schools.
Problems remain, but the city is better off, supporters said.
”We were fortunate to have him during what I think was truly the critical transition period for the district,” said the Rev. Aaron Gray, former president of the school board and a member when Moskowitz was hired in 1994.
Others criticized Moskowitz for not pushing achievement higher, especially for minority students.
”It was five years of high expectations,” said the Rev. Gill Ford, who is active in schools in northeast Denver. ”The expectations weren’t met. You can give him credit for trying. That’s about it. ”
Denver Manager of Safety Butch Montoya, who is active in education issues, said Moskowitz has tried to help Hispanics, who make up half of the district’s 66,000 students.
But relations need to improve, Montoya said.
”Unfortunately there is a strong perception in the Hispanic community that Irv was not real open,” Montoya said.
Moskowitz said he is especially proud of a recent agreement with federal agencies to offer a new bilingual program that’s primarily aimed at Spanish speakers.
”It’s an important cap for the district and certainly for me,” he said.
Along with a sense of satisfaction, the resignation was motivated by the fresh opportunity with UNC, Moskowitz said.
He will work to establish a new type of center for UNC’s education school, training students and administrators in how to teach students in urban schools.
The resignation stunned school board members and others, even though rumors had floated for several months that Moskowitz might leave the job.
But the move makes sense, said Elaine Berman, a board member.
He is close to retirement, and more than five years in charge of a big city district tempts burnout.
”It’s an incredible opportunity that he’d be crazy to pass up,” she said. ”It’s a good opportunity to leave on an incredible high.”
The hallmark of the Moskowitz years is the new sense of purpose he instilled. He sharply focused the district’s attention and dollars on fundamentals such as reading and writing well.
On the Moskowitz watch, the graduation rate improved about five percentage points to 65 percent. The state average is 80 percent. The annual dropout rate went down from 10 percent to 6.2 percent.
Test scores have gradually risen the past three years. He also helped win more money for the growing district with a successful $322 million bond issue and mill levy election in November.
”The real judgment was that election,” said pollster Floyd Ciruli, who has been active in DPS over the years. ”It was a reflection that people sense the district, for all its problems, is moving in the right direction and has leadership.
”Irv leaves the district in better shape than he found it and he can feel good about what he accomplished.”
Moskowitz was superintendent in Pomana, Calif. for five years before coming to DPS. Before that he was a superintendent near Cleveland for three years. He worked in various administrative jobs in DPS for 13 years before his job in Ohio.
His tenure as DPS superintendent got off to a rough start. Immediately after Moskowitz took over in the fall of 1994, turmoil hit. Teachers went on strike for five days and Hispanic students staged a walkout.
But labor relations have improved under Moskowitz. Teachers have enjoyed decent raises for three years.
”I think we’ve certainly made steps forward,” said Andrea Giunta, president of the teachers union.
By the end of that year, Moskowitz riled many parents and the public by disciplining middle school assistant principal Ruben Perez for not following procedures after he tried to suspend 97 disruptive students in one day.
The next autumn busing ended. The board and Moskowitz struggled to bring back neighborhood schools after 25 years. Voters also sent a message with their rejection of a $30 million tax hike.
Moskowitz more than earned his salary, board members said.
”This district was starved for leadership,” said board president Sue Edwards. ”He has brought a focus and a direction to DPS.”
While scores have improved the past three years, the district still falls below the national average on many standardized tests. In particular the longstanding gap in achievement between minority and white students remains wide.
Equal treatment of schools was a key issue when busing ended. Some neighborhoods feared that predominantly minority schools would suffer from lack of money and good teachers.
Moskowitz kept the board focused on ensuring that didn’t happen.
”He is a real champion of equal opportunity,” said Laura Lefkowits, a board member. ”I think his legacy will be his relentless pursuit of equal education for all kids.”
Staff writer Shelley Gonzales contributed to this story.