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Finalists for D-11 superintendent in Colorado Springs face a crowd of questioners

June 1, 2018 Updated: June 2, 2018 at 7:18 am
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D-11 superintendent candidate Joel Boyd. Photo by Debbie Kelley, The Gazette

A top-ranking administrator from Boston Public Schools and another from Minneapolis Public Schools fielded rapid-fire questions Friday night during a public interview of the two finalists competing for the job of superintendent of Colorado Springs School District 11.

Joel Boyd, instructional superintendent for Boston Public Schools and Michael Thomas, chief of academics, leadership and learning for Minneapolis Public Schools, answered the same questions, one at a time, from the seven-member board of education and the community.

Superintendent Nicholas Gledich is retiring June 30, after nine years on the job.

About 75 people were in the audience Friday night, including district employees, parents, students and the public. Questions addressed motivation, student success, discipline, safety, teachers' unions, diversity among staff and students, and other topics.

Both candidates said they advocate for the parents' role in education and the power of teachers as educators.

Boyd, in his introduction, said he struggled with bad behavior and his grades after his father left and his mother raised four children on her own in an economically disadvantaged household.

In high school, he found a mentor in his wrestling coach and went on to become a middle school teacher, because it's where he had the hardest time in school.

He noted four critical issues facing public education.

"Student learning - making sure our students are achieving at a high level and 100 percent of children graduating ready to take on a productive life after high school," he said.

"Opportunity gaps" between diverse populations is the second, followed by funding and, in D-11, declining enrollment and accountability.

"I've heard family members want to see improvement in test scores," he said. "It's not the only way we measure quality education. How do we measure joyful learning? Families want their children to be happy in school."

Boyd has a doctorate and a master's degree from Harvard University and worked for four years as superintendent of schools in Santa Fe, N.M.

He also worked for districts in Miami-Dade County in Florida and Philadelphia, both of which he said were diverse culturally, racially and economically.

"I lead with a teacher's heart and a principal's perspective," he said.

Boyd said he thinks it's the right moment for D-11 to become the best school district in the state and nation.

"I believe the answers to the challenges that exist in D-11 already exist in D-11," he said. "My work has largely been about opening up the process of sharing those ideas, framing those ideas and leading a common vision.

"The ideas are here. It's our responsibility to metabolize this energy and take advantage of this momentum."

Boyd said he starts a job "not by hitting the ground running, but by hitting the ground learning."

"I'm looking forward to being the chief learner and being a part of this team, so every family in the community speaks with pride that their children are attending D-11 schools," he said. "Declining enrollment will be a thing of the past."

One critical issue Thomas identified is innovation in adapting to student learning.

"If we aren't able to adapt our instructional methodology, our students aren't going to get what they need to be successful in life," he said.

He sees embracing technology as a key element of instruction while protecting the primary relationship a teacher has within the student as another critical issue facing public education.

"There are great things happening in D-11, but systemically we're not able to scale that. How do we begin to look at those pockets of success and bring strategies to bring things to scale?"

In his current position, Thomas said principals seeing success share their practices, which are then modified to fit other schools in his district.

Thomas, who is earning a doctoral degree in educational leadership from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, started his career as a community-based social worker.

He also has worked in Minnesota school districts as an elementary and junior high principal and a district administrator coordinating equity and integration efforts.

"For me, it's all about the students," he said. "I'll work hard to support the staff and building leaders in partnering with the community and family members. Everything must be oriented to partnering."

He changed his major to social work in college from pre-veterinary medicine because of his work at a YMCA with a 10-year-old boy, Reggie, who told him he wished he had a dad like Thomas at home.

Thomas said the work of equity is "near and dear" to his life and career and pointed to "how we can be more culturally responsive to our communities" given the changing demographics of D-11, with an increasing Latino population..

He led equity efforts near St. Paul, Minn., using a comprehensive approach that involved hiring, curriculum and professional development.

"Our students tell us every single day what they need to be successful; are we tuning our listening frequency to hearing what they're saying?"

Thomas said what motivates him is success in learning.

"I love being around learning," he said. "I never let Reggie go and he truly inspired me to be my best and to aspire to greatness."

The public also can give feedback to the board through a survey, which will be available until 5 p.m. Sunday at d11.org.

The board is expected to consider naming a new superintendent at a meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

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