Silver linings playbook

DU alumni find resilience—and even hope—in the midst of a pandemic

THE EDUCATOR: Susana Cordova (BA ’88)

Photo by Wayne Armstrong

As superintendent of Denver Public Schools, Susana Cordova helped oversee one of the most difficult transitions of the COVID-19 period: the across-the-board shift to online learning for K-12 students and teachers.

“There is no playbook. There is no one right answer. Everybody is trying to figure this out,” Cordova said during an online town hall organized for the University’s 1Day4DU fundraising event in May. “I believe deeply that the people in our district are committed to common values and common beliefs about what is possible for all kids, and that it was going to be really important that we create an approach that supports the best in people and allows for a lot of grace and flexibility during a challenging time.”

In addition to offering teachers and students as much support as possible during the last months of the school year, the district worked to buy laptops and set up internet access for those who needed such assistance.

“We still have areas of the city where, even with broadband internet, connections are not stable,” Cordova said. “We still have some families that are using their telephones for hot spots. The inequities that creates for students [are] really, really challenging.”

One bright spot, she said, is that some students actually learned better in the new environment, doing lessons on their own time and adapting the model to fit their personal schedules.

“The older adolescents who want to be able to sleep later or work later, it has really worked well for,” Cordova said. “It’s worked well for kids who like to be able to work at their own pace. That’s been really gratifying to hear.”

Throughout it all, she said, the district has been using humility and grace as its watchwords, while striving to keep students and teachers connected with one another despite the distance necessitated by the virus.

“We’ve been guided by the belief that this is a time when our students need us more than ever,” she said. “We really are trying to ensure that we are supporting children around their social emotional needs as much as we are around their academic needs. The power of connection is really at the forefront during a time like this.”

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