New DPS Superintendent Talks Hiding Mandates, Vaccines, Learning Gaps


Alex Marrero took over as head of Denver Public Schools in early July and took over ahead of the new school year start date of August 23.

The 38-year-old superintendent was raised in the Bronx and recently worked as the acting superintendent of the City School District from New Rochelle to New York, meaning he’s new to the West.

Marrero recently answered questions about what the first days of the upcoming school year might look like for himself and around 90,000 students and 14,000 staff. The following interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

How do you plan to make sure Denver public school workers get vaccinated? Do you foresee specific challenges? What happens to those who refuse to shoot?

Marrero expressed confidence that the district will vaccinate as many people as possible before Mayor Michael Hancock’s Sept. 30 deadline, although details on immunization tracking have yet to be finalized.

“In terms of legality. We have learned from our general counsel and the town’s attorney general that Mayor Hancock is under his authority, based on a 1905 (US Supreme Court) case. …

“At first my thought was’ Okay, maybe, maybe, he overstepped it. Perhaps.’ But I quickly realized that was not the case.

“What I feel absolutely comfortable sharing with our team, and we have shared it intimately with our union leaders…

While those who do not get the vaccine could face disciplinary action, he said, and there will be “progress monitoring”, they will not be fired.

“In terms of tracking progress beyond that… with respect to any breaches, I expect that to come to me as the head of the agency.”

Do you have any idea how long DPS will maintain its mask mandates? Do you know what steps you and your team will take to determine when or if this mandate can be lifted? What happens to those who refuse to wear a mask?

Marrero said he does not foresee a significant step back on the mask’s mandate given the current COVID environment. He added that “if anything, it has been well received both externally and internally, in terms of universal masking, to my surprise…

“We’re at a point where we’re going to come back in person. I can’t believe this. I jump up and down. It is victory. …

“The masks, I understand that there are some who will say that it is not the ideal but if it is universally required. We will not do what other districts, which will remain anonymous, have done, is to go back and confuse the voters.

Denver Public Health Director Bob McDonald will be the DPS ‘ultimate resource in determining whether masking is still necessary, Marrero said. The warrant won’t be lifted until McDonald’s gives the green light – and there’s no way to know when it will be.

Are you considering vaccine requirements for eligible students?

A coronavirus vaccine requirement is on the table, Marrero said, but only as part of the larger suite of most commonly required vaccines.

“The larger conversation is really about what we’re going to present in terms of all the students and their expectations?” COVID-19 is part of this discussion. But measles, rubella, DTap, you know, the goods, it’s all in there.

Can you give me some insight into how you would like the DPS to help students overcome some of the trauma and substantial changes / changes they experienced during the pandemic? What exactly do you think is the ultimate effect of the last 18 months to two years on these students?

It’s unclear exactly what the students are going through right now, Marrero said, but he wants every teacher and staff member to assess student performance.

“I think it would be a critical mistake if we jump over the privacy that comes with the work we do. This is when we will know the impact of the last 18 months. I think everyone becomes a guidance counselor, everyone becomes a social worker, whatever their position. …

“This intimacy is how I really expect to assess the impact of the past 18 months.”

Emotional and social damage aside, students clearly struggled during the pandemic. Do you have data to indicate what type of learning gap you will face?

State tests assessing student performance levels are coming up, Marrero said, but he will not trust him.

“I’m not going to take this as valid for several reasons. We don’t know the sophistication of the tests that came with it. The conditions… when I say conditions, if a student is used, throughout his school career, to take tests in class and now he is asked to take a test via Zoom, that will have an impact.

“The truth is, if I had an older brother and my older brother was hovering over me, I don’t know what kind of influence that person had in terms of evaluation.”

Rather, the district will be best served by assessing students throughout the school year with “end of unit” or “onboarding,” assessments, Marrero said.

“We will soon know where we are. “

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Alex Marrero, front left, meets with members of the Denver South High School student government at the school after being announced as the next principal of Denver Public Schools on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

You have a declining student base. Have there been any discussions about consolidating schools? Have you already participated in this process? What can it look like?

Marrero said he has dealt with school closures and consolidations before in his career and that conversations about them in Denver are ongoing.

“I never look forward to these conversations because people are deeply rooted, especially when you have inherited parents, but it’s something you can’t avoid in this profession. …

“What I can say is that this year and next year, there will be no closures at the moment. We are looking at two years and more. It should give people a good sense of stability.

Marrero promised that when or if closures or consolidations occur, the district will involve community members in the effort and also strive to empower them.

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