The Most Effective Superintendents Lead AND Learn

I’m proud to live in Denver – a city that values the importance of leadership. Last Thursday, I joined the Quarterly Forum’s holiday party to celebrate Colorado’s best emerging community leaders. Members of this organization recognize that to create great communities and schools, leadership matters. And learning matters equally.

We have another example of leadership in Denver superintendent Tom Boasberg, whose next few years in the superintendent seat — which are likely to be his last — may result in a legacy defined by learning as much as it is by leading.

Here’s why: Denver Public Schools (DPS) has ushered in sweeping changes in school choice, teacher evaluation and compensation, and school turnaround that have put Denver on the map as a national leader in “education reform” and have made Boasberg into a lightning rod for controversy among traditionalists here in Denver.

But behind the scenes, Boasberg has made learning and growth as much of a priority for DPS staff as it should be for kids in classrooms. He’s placed a priority on professional learning for teachers and school leaders. And in recent years, the district’s investment in professional learning has been extended to central-office staff. DPS forged a partnership with DaVita, widely regarded for its leadership development programs, to help create a year-round calendar of workshops aimed at fostering leadership skills among all levels of district and school staff.

These investments are symbolic of a growth mindset that has increasingly characterized Boasberg’s legacy. In an interview with Chalkbeat Colorado this summer, Boasberg said:  “We’re all learners, whether it’s learning a language or learning new ideas or new themes. I hope to be able to model … that I’m a learner.”

Education Pioneers has also invested in recruiting and developing leaders at all levels within DPS. Our experience and research tells us individuals who are highly motivated to realize great and rapid progress in education can learn the leadership skills necessary to drive meaningful change. And that a constant desire to learn is a defining characteristic all transformational leaders share. 

While Tom Boasberg may be known for a great many accomplishments, we believe his most significant contribution may be his role as a learner among learners. He’s a leader who is willing to test new theories, take some risks and learn from missteps along the way — and support others in doing the same.

That growth mindset will continue to be critical in this new school year, as Boasberg rebuilds his leadership team after a significant reshuffling of players leading up to and during his absence, just one of many obstacles remaining on the path toward success for every student. We look forward to supporting him and DPS along the way.

Sara Spanier is the Colorado director for Education Pioneers, a national non-profit that recruits, develops and connects professionals from diverse backgrounds to lead transformative change in education organizations. 


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