In an eleventh-hour plea, Denver’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday demanded that the city school board resume its search for a superintendent instead of hiring someone without any experience with Hispanic students.
“They’ve painted themselves in a corner in settling for less than a quality candidate,” said Scott Flores, chairman of the Hispanic chamber. “We’re asking them to go back to the drawing board and search. If it takes three to four months, so be it.”
The school board is poised to hire Chip Zullinger, currently on paid administrative leave from the Charleston, S.C., school district, as superintendent of the 69,000-student Denver Public Schools. An announcement could be made as soon as today.
But Zullinger’s lack of experience with bilingual education – he doesn’t have any – and with school districts with large Hispanic student populations – his current district is mostly black and some white – has drawn criticism from some in the Hispanic community in Denver.
About 49 percent of DPS’ students are Hispanic, and the district is implementing a new, bilingual education program this fall.
Since The Denver Post reported Sunday that Zullinger was the favorite for the job, several Hispanic organizations and activists have come out publicly against Zullinger, urging the district to slow down and find a better superintendent. Among them: the Latin American Research and Service Agency, or LARASA; Padres Unidos; and the Latino Education Campaign.
They aren’t necessarily asking for a Hispanic to lead DPS, just someone who is sensitive to their concerns, or at least has experience with Hispanic issues. LARASA, however, has pledged to work with Zullinger if he is the final choice.
Rita Montero, the lone Hispanic on the school board, has said she will not vote for Zullinger, though she said her concerns center more on problems he has had in Charleston, where he has clashed repeatedly with a recently elected school board.
Flores said if the search resumes, the Hispanic chamber also wants more of a say in the selection process, possibly to help to develop criteria for a new superintendent.
But Sue Edwards, president of the Denver school board, said the public has had plenty of chances and time to chime in. Now, she said, it’s up to the board.
“We’ve had a great deal of opportunity for public input on this process,” Edwards said. “We’ve listened to all the voices from the community. It’s our responsibility to select a superintendent who will best lead this district. And that’s what we’re in the process of doing.”
In a telephone interview this week, Zullinger said he would work hard to gain the confidence and support of the Hispanic community in Denver by reaching out to it and all other ethnic groups that make up DPS.
“Having high expectations for children and their ability to be successful cuts across racial lines and communities,” Zullinger said. “I want to listen, and I want them to know I’m there to help and assist them.”
Zullinger was one of four finalists for the DPS superintendent position, and questions surrounded the school careers of all four. The lone Hispanic finalist, Eugene Gutierrez of Fort Worth, Texas, is retired and was a financial specialist with little educational experience.
“I want someone with vast experience in bilingual education and dealing with Latino issues,” Flores said. “I would prefer a Latino to be that person.”
Meanwhile, the school board is negotiating with Zullinger on a contract. The seven-member board met behind closed doors Wednesday but came out without an announcement.
Former Superintendent Irv Moskowitz stepped down June 30. Assistant Superintendent Sharon Johnson is running the district until Moskowitz’ successor is hired. She will then retire.
Carlos Illescas’ e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org