Eugene Gutierrez is not an educator, but he says that would make him a good superintendent for Denver schools.

Sidney “Chip” Zullinger is not a top-down leader, but he says that would make him a good DPS superintendent.

Gutierrez and Zullinger, two of the four finalists for the Denver superintendent job, made their cases for the vacant post Thursday night at another packed meeting at the Denver Public Schools administration building.

The other two finalists, James Harris of the Buffalo, N.Y., school district and Robert Schiller, who was interim superintendent in Baltimore, addressed the public Wednesday night. The Denver school board hopes to name a successor to Irv Moskowitz within two weeks.

Gutierrez has spent most of his career in education on the financial side, most recently in the Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, school districts.

He said that gives him an edge over other candidates. He said he understands how educational programs are financed and what it takes to get those resources into the schools. He vowed if hired to get as much money as possible into the classroom to help students.

“One of the most critical roles I would have is lobbying the state
Legislature and state agencies for more resources,” Gutierrez said.

Zullinger said he is a big supporter of site-based management, where decisions are made at the school level instead of by administrators.

He said, though, that his philosophy got him in trouble. His is on paid administrative leave from his job as superintendent of the Charleston, S.C., school district because a new school board wanted to take away local control of schools, he said.

“Schools have become isolated from the community,” Zullinger said. “Systems should be built from parents and teachers and the community.”

One of the biggest issues facing Denver Public Schools is implementation of the new, bilingual education program.

Zullinger said he doesn’t have much experience dealing with English-language learners, but added that the “success of children depends on how well they know English.” DPS’ bilingual program calls for Spanish-speaking students to be mainstreamed into English classes as soon as they are ready, a philosophy Zullinger said he agreed with.

Gutierrez’s work with the two Texas school districts has given him plenty of exposure to bilingual education, which he favors.

“Anybody with multilingual capabilities has a tremendous advantage over his or her competition,” Gutierrez said.

One of the questions from the 100 or so people in attendance dealt with supporting health programs in the schools. Zullinger noted that, while in Charleston, the number of school nurses in that district increased each of the three years he was superintendent.

Both candidates said they favor increasing the amount of training teachers receive to deal with Denver’s diverse student population. And both said that if hired they would reach out to the community, whether by holding community meetings or by spending a lot of time in the schools.

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