Harrison School District 2 superintendent finalists

Harrison School District 2 superintendent finalists are (from left): Wendy Birhanzel, Elizabeth Domangue, John Rogerson, Ron Wagner and Mark Wilsey. Photo by Debbie Kelley

What will be done to retain teachers and staff? How will two leaders be better than one? What will help students do better in school?

Five candidates fielded such questions Tuesday night from more than 150 parents, residents and staff of Harrison School District 2.

Three of the finalists work for the district, one is a former employee and another is from out of state. Two will be chosen to fill the state’s first “dual superintendent” model.

Harrison D-2 is the Pikes Peak region’s fourth-largest school district, with 11,708 students, 75 percent of them from low-income homes and 75 percent minorities.

Wendy Birhanzel and John Rogerson have been the interim co-chief operating officers for the past nine months, since former Superintendent Andre Spencer resigned. Birhanzel formerly was the D-2 curriculum, instruction and assessment officer; Rogerson was principal of Fox Meadow Middle School.

Birhanzel said

every student can succeed with caring teachers and rigorous academics. “I have a passion to create equity and students not being defined by ZIP code,” she said.

Rogerson said Harrison’s students can have the same opportunities as any others. “I see longing in their eyes to be recognized for the value they have,” he said, and the $180 million bond approved by voters in November will allow leaders to turn the district “into a shining opportunity.”

Elizabeth Domangue, an assistant professor at the University of Northern Colorado, worked for Harrison D-2 for eight years before leaving as Panorama Middle School principal last fall.

“There’s no excuse for poor quality instruction, and I believe there’s no excuse for poor quality leadership,” she said.d, and she will be “courageous every day for every student” because “public education matters.”

Ron Wagner, an associate superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools with 32 years in education, said he has experience accelerating student achievement and closing the achievement gap.

“I believe in creating a collaborative environment where all are seen and all voices are visible,” said Wagner, who worked under Michael Thomas, new superintendent of Colorado Springs School District 11.

Candidates identified teacher and staff retention as a top priority.

More than 200 teachers left D-2 last school year, Rogerson said. “What matters is our actions as leaders, making sure they are supported in the classrooms and they’re paid a living wage.”

Teachers want to stay when they have strong leadership and feel supported and connected, Domanque said.

Wagner said leaders need to be in classrooms and ensure the safe and inclusive social and emotional well-being of students and staff.

Wilsey said staff must be valued and properly compensated. “People’s happiness is more than pay; it’s the culture and the environment.”

Birhanzel said, “Let’s pay them well and treat them well, and they’ll stay.”

Birhanzel and Rogerson said their nine months in the dual superintendents model shows that it works.

The two new superintendents will divide the work as they wish, said district spokeswoman Christine O’Brien.

“The dual model allows us to unpack what each person brings to the table,” Birhanzel said. “Not everyone knows everything.”

The other candidates said they like the idea of working collaboratively and contributing their strengths to the job.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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