Superintendent Sustainability: A Call to Action for Colorado Leaders

December 14, 2023

Message From CEI President and CEO Rebecca Holmes

From CEI’s December 2023 Newsletter

CEI President and CEO Rebecca Holmes

In 2021, a trusted friend asked what was keeping me up at night. As the leader of an organization with a close-up view into dozens of Colorado’s systems, and as a former system leader who knows how hard that job is in the best of times, I shared my most honest answer: What happens if great superintendents stop wanting to lead our K-12 school systems?

The last few years brought heightened attention to the impact of negative political rhetoric on schools and local communities — the tensions of which don’t go away regardless of the results of any one election. Leading school systems may be harder now than it has ever been but at its core is the same promise — a promise to love everyone’s kids equally. School and school system leaders listen as families sometimes take opposite sides from one another on a variety of issues and then show up in the morning and ensure that the children of all those families have rich learning experiences and feel like they belong at school. What our state’s best education leaders model every time they do this is something so many Coloradans say we don’t have enough of — centrist leadership. 

Great school leaders don’t get to lead from ideology and, more than that, they lead their communities beyond moments of ideological division and back to common purpose and common ground. I can’t imagine what group of leaders our state and country need more in this moment, and what those leaders have told us is that they need school boards and state education leaders of all kinds to join them in that effort. 

Over the past 18 months, CEI led several engagements with superintendent partners to deeply explore the issue of superintendent sustainability in Colorado. We consistently heard about the importance of effective school board and state leadership and what this looks like, of elevating a positive narrative as part of restoring trust in K-12 education, and of building new approaches to state policy and support that rely on deep partnership with superintendents. Superintendents have a critical voice in policy not only because they can “hold the middle” on so many issues, but also because of their unique proximity to common challenges that require new solutions.

This input from Colorado’s most innovative and equity-minded school district leaders informed CEI’s work to:

2024 is right ahead of us. Colorado’s state Commissioner of Education and local school boards reflect new leadership and new opportunity. Conditions are evolving for school funding and there is notable activity in the state legislature related to student learning, wellbeing, and school accountability. The potential for significant change in Colorado’s education systems will require strong and steady leadership by our state’s best school superintendents.

I will ring in the coming new year with immense gratitude for leaders who lead with dedication to their community and to the wellbeing of every child. Together, let us recognize the value of place-based leadership and partner to create lasting impact for Colorado’s young people in 2024 and beyond.