DENVER — Denver Public Schools kicked off the 2021-2022 school year Monday with a new superintendent in charge.
Dr. Alex Marrero said while DPS is entering another school year amid a global pandemic, the community is excited about the return of in-person learning.
“The excitement overrides any of the obstacles because it is as close to as what we can call normal, meaning that we're in-person, which was such a far reach this time last year,” Dr. Marrero said.
Dr. Marrero said his priorities include focusing on students’ mental and emotional health, gauging their academic needs, and engaging with students and community leaders. In June when the DPS School Board voted to confirm Marrero, some in the Denver Latino community questioned if he had enough experience and knowledge about DPS.
Milo Marquez, with the Auraria Historical Advisory Council, said over the summer he met with Dr. Marrero multiple times.
“Before we met him, we did have some concerns with someone coming from New York that really didn't understand the community, but I think Dr. Marrero has done a great job of trying to understand who we are, and he's done a great job of coming in, listening to us, learning some of our history and understanding who we are as a people,” Marquez said.
Over half of the students in DPS are Latino and over a third are English-language learners. Dr. Marrero, who is bilingual, said he’s excited about working with those students and native English speakers in dual language programs to bring students together.
But he acknowledged challenges for students of color, including an achievement gap that has likely widened during the pandemic. The state-level CMAS scores released this month showed declines in math and literacy. DPS will get district-level results by the end of August.
“Until we really discover what that (learning) loss is for each individual student, we will not be doing them service,” Marrero said.
He said he hopes accelerated learning will take place mostly during the school day, but he is encouraging leaders to come up with creative ideas.
“Our principals do have the autonomy to extend their school day, and I welcome it — I was that principal,” Marrero said.
He said educators will have to wear many different hats this year, acting as social workers and guidance counselors in addition to being teachers, to make sure students are doing well socially and emotionally.
Dr. Marrero also discussed school safety, as DPS begins the year without school resource officers inside buildings. The DPS Board voted in 2020 to end the contract with Denver Police for 18 school resource officers. Instead, schools will focus on providing more mental health resources and training for staff.
“Although we do not have those 18 individuals — school resource officers — in our buildings, the Denver Police Department is still our partner,” Marrero said.
He said he will meet with DPD Chief Paul Pazen in the coming days.
Dr. Marrero pointed out that he is deeply invested in school safety and quality education because he is a DPS parent. One of his two daughters is a kindergartner in DPS this year.