EDITORIAL: APS board looking for a new superintendent just like the last one

Rico Munn, superintendent of Aurora, Colo., Public Schools, makes a point during a news conference about the increase in COVID-19 cases and how parents need to enroll their children in school during the pandemic Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

It’s irresistible to point out that the person the community wants to run Aurora Public Schools is the person the school board just lost.

APS is now paying a recruitment firm more than $40,000 to find someone to replace former APS Superintendent Rico Munn.

After more than nine years, Munn stepped down as district chief in January and will leave the school district entirely at the end of the school year.

While all sides have been tight-lipped on the details of Munn’s departure amid myriad changes and challenges in the district, it’s clear Munn was pushed out for the very reasons he was successful.

He is a lawyer with a vast world of experiences that included insights into the state education system, higher education, and a variety of state agencies. Munn is credited with helping markedly reduce the district’s dropout rate and boost economic gains, especially among minority and immigrant students.

Tabbed in 2019 as Colorado Superintendent of the Year, his achievements were rightfully noted. 

His candid, sober pragmatism delivered what is often unwelcome news for APS.

The school district’s enrollment has dwindled for years, especially in areas where students need more, not less, resources.

While substantial student achievement gains were made across the district, during Munn’s tenure, students struggling as English language learners, economically disadvantaged or living without even tentative support systems have long weighed down the district.

Munn has never shied away from the vast and mounting challenges at APS, and he’s never allowed the school boards directing him to sidestep the always hard and harder decisions needed to face those challenges. 

One of the most difficult challenges facing Aurora Public Schools is the cost of staffing schools where fewer students go each year, creating an untenable economic picture that hurts every student in every school in the district. 

Aurora is far from alone in this quagmire. School districts across the region, and across the country, are faced with long-term sliding enrollment.

Denver’s foray into deciding which neighborhood schools must be closed — and there is no alternative to closing schools in these situations — has been a political and educational disaster.

Munn led the Aurora district through a complicated and cumbersome Blueprint APS process, allowing every possible stakeholder to weigh just about every conceivable possibility for how to remake the shrinking school system. He was adamant that there were many options available, but the criteria on making those decisions must be steadfast.

Shirking that reality is what led to Denver’s current school closure chaos.

Reports make it clear that the APS board was anything but as cohesive as Munn was resolved.

“There’s questions in the community around the seven of you, and a feeling that at times you are divisive amongst each other and with leadership,” recruitment consultant Scott Siegfried told APS school board members recently.

With little fanfare, Munn and the school board agreed to part ways, and now the district is searching for someone to lead schools to safe harbor.

A survey of teachers and community members say the next superintend needs these qualities:

• A clear understanding of, appreciation and plan for diversity, a clear strength in APS

• Understanding the need for students to be physically and emotionally safe at school

• A strong proponent of public education

• The ability to lead the district in the face of controversy and tough challenges

The Aurora Public Schools board enjoyed those traits with Munn leading the district. Their job, now, is to recognize them in the next superintendent and capitalize on them, not rebuff them.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Nate Madson Dion
Nate Madson Dion
12 days ago

The Sentinel Board publishes some silly takes now and then, but I’ve never seen anything this wildly ignorant. How many APS teachers did you speak to before you wrote this? How many community members whose communities were crushed by Rico’s political maneuvers? The APS community enjoyed literally none of those things you claim at the end of the piece during Rico’s tenure. Every one of those characteristics is what the community is asking for *because there were glaringly absent in the last ten years*.

Ronald Hoffman
Ronald Hoffman
11 days ago

Let’s get real. Munn was fired. The board did not renew his contract.
“Wildly ignorant.” How many APS teachers have received generous salary increases over the last few years. “Communities crushed” – what are you talking about? If it’s school closings, Rico closed schools exactly in accordance with the policy set by the School Board. When he asked them if they wanted to change the policy, they did nothing, so he returned with the same closings. I have been incredibly impressed with the ability of APS to provide meals to those in need throughout the entire year while other districts shut down or curtailed programs. The qualities at the end of the article are absolutely exemplified by Munn. The Board fired Munn because he did not have their vision. Has anyone seen that vision? Can the Board explain to candidate how Munn did NOT agree with their vision?

Factory Working Orphan
Factory Working Orphan
10 days ago
Reply to  Ronald Hoffman

I have been incredibly impressed with the ability of APS to provide meals to those in need throughout the entire year while other districts shut down or curtailed programs.”

Do you think it’s acceptable for parents to not feed their kids and to slough that responsibility on to others , Ronald? Your post is chock-full of glittering generalities, without actually addressing the actual performance of APS. Graduating students isn’t hard–you just push through whomever bothers to show up.

What neither you nor the article address is how many students actually exit the schools with even the most basic capabilities–and by that metric, Munn is an absolute failure, with APS ranking below the 10th percentile of all Colorado schools for Munn’s entire tenure. Only about 25% of APS third-graders can even perform to grade level in reading. That you and the Sentinel staff want more of the same is highly indicative that your concern here is political, not educational.