Susana Cordova

Recognized for Leadership in Equity for All Students

  • 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.
More Leaders of 2018

Produced with support from The Wallace Foundation, at www.wallacefoundation.org

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2015 Agenda

7:15 a.m.–8:00 a.m.
Networking Breakfast
Join for breakfast with leaders who work in the fields of most interest to you. There’ll be tables for parent engagement, school climate, ed tech, and more!

8:00 a.m.–8:25 a.m.
Welcome, Introductions, and Recognition Presentation
Recognition of the work of 8 of the 15—2015 Leaders To Learn From selected by Education Week.

8:25 a.m.–8:40 a.m.
Breakouts—Meet the Leaders
First 8 Leaders will go to their subject matter tables located throughout the room to discuss with attendees their “Focus of Strength” and to answer any questions attendees have. (Attendees will be encouraged to find their table of interest based on the map of the room provided in the program).

8:40 a.m.–9:10 a.m.
Recognition Presentation Concludes
Recognition of the work of our final 7 Leaders To Learn From.

9:10 a.m.–9:35 a.m
Breakouts—Meet the Leaders
Second group of Leaders will go to their subject matter tables located throughout the room to discuss with attendees their “Focus of Strength” and to answer any questions attendees have.

9:35 a.m.–10:05 a.m.
District Leader Snapshots
(A selection of 2015 Leaders will come to the stage with their reporters and discuss their “Focus of Strength.”)

10:05 a.m.–10:30 a.m.
Midmorning Networking Break

10:30 a.m.–11:30 a.m.
“Three Keys for Maximizing Leadership Impact”
Michael Fullan, education leadership author and expert, and former minister of education, Canada (2003–2013).

11:30 a.m.–12:00 a.m.
District Leader Snapshots
(A selection of 2015 Leaders will come to the stage with their reporters and discuss their “Focus of Strength”).

12:00 a.m.– 12:30 p.m.
“Ask the ED”
Join in a Department of Education Lightning Round featuring Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Deborah S. Delisle other Department of Education leadership who will take your questions.

12:30 p.m.–1:30 p.m.
Networking Luncheon
Uninterrupted time to mingle with those you’ve met at your tables and at the various tables set up throughout the room during our break-outs.

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