- Expertise: Equity for All Students
- Position: Deputy Superintendent
- District: Denver Public Schools, Denver
Susana Cordova was a junior at the University of Denver when she laid eyes on an anthology of Chicano poetry that she says put her on the path to becoming an educator. As the child of Mexican-American parents in the American Southwest, she’d grown up wrestling with the feeling that she had to choose between her heritage and culture or assimilating to get ahead. The poems, she said, captured lives and experiences much like her own.
“It was such a pivotal moment for me to think you can be authentic to who you are as a person, and be educated, and make a difference, and get acclaim,” said Cordova, now the deputy superintendent in Denver’s public schools.
That epiphany has driven Cordova in her two-decades-plus career in Denver, where she began as a bilingual language arts teacher and rose through the ranks to become the first Latina to hold the No. 2 job in the 92,000-student district. Cordova’s unwavering commitment to equity is apparent in her track record on English-language-learner education—including making sure that all school staff be trained in strategies to work with English-learners—and her forceful advocacy to preserve a federal policy that shields undocumented immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children from deportation.
Cordova’s main message to Denver’s students—nearly half of whom are English-learners: “You belong here, you are smart, you are capable, and our job is to help you succeed.”
Lessons from the Leader
- Confront Major Challenges: The most important work we can do is often the hardest, so lean into the difficulty and don’t let fear hold you back.
- Cultivate Strong Teams: Leaders are only as strong as their teams, so building the ability of individuals to work as a team pays off in higher productivity.
- Work on Your Own Leadership: Set personal goals for self improvement and monitor your progress on a regular basis. Ask someone you trust to hold you accountable.