Two months after the superintendent of one of the largest school districts in the state announced his retirement, the district's school board selected a familiar face to succeed him.
The Cherry Creek school board voted unanimously on March 24 to name Christopher Smith — the district's chief of staff — as the sole finalist for the superintendent position.
As chief of staff, Smith is currently part of a group of top district officials, known as the District Leadership Team, or the superintendent's “cabinet.”
In that role, Smith has a hand in policy that steers the day-to-day operations in every building in the district, working directly with outgoing Superintendent Scott Siegfried and the rest of the cabinet, according to the district's website.
Smith led efforts to plan for the August return to school with in-person, hybrid and online class options, according to the district. He also oversees district security.
“We believe that Mr. Smith's proven success as a servant leader, a relationship builder, and someone who is committed to educating the whole child is the best fit for CCSD as we transition out of COVID and into the coming years,” said a statement from Karen Fisher, the school board's president.
Smith shared plans for “ensuring the wellbeing of students and staff, while budgeting and staffing our schools to achieve equitable outcomes for all students,” according to Fisher's statement.
The Cherry Creek district covers parts of Centennial, Cherry Hills Village, Englewood, Greenwood Village, Aurora, Foxfield and unincorporated Arapahoe County.
Smith started his professional path as a fourth-grade teacher and progressed through roles as an assistant principal, principal and administrator, according to a profile on the school district's website.
He came to the Cherry Creek district in 2009 after serving as a teacher and principal in Douglas County School District, the profile says. He was one of the first principals at Coyote Hills Elementary School in far southeast Aurora.
Smith later joined the district-level administration, serving as executive director of elementary education. He moved to the chief of staff role at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
“Smith remains committed to playing the same role that influential teachers played for him when he was a high school student in Pueblo, still searching for direction,” the profile says. “Those educators helped Smith find his path, and he's committed to making sure that the Cherry Creek School District makes a similar impact for all of its 55,000-plus students.”
The superintendent appoints his or her own District Leadership Team's members, such as Smith. The school board, a body of elected officials, hires the superintendent.
Siegfried, the current superintendent, announced his retirement in a letter to the community on Jan. 22. He will retire at the end of this school year, at which point Smith will start in the position.
“It has been an honor to serve the CCSD staff, students and community over the last three decades,” Siegfried wrote in the message. “I never saw myself serving in the role of superintendent for an extended time. However, I would be disingenuous if I didn't say that the last year has had an impact on myself and my family.”
In his retirement message, Siegfried recalled reflecting with his family over the holidays about his goals and priorities and about “the right moves for our family.”
He nodded to the “fortitude and resilience that our Cherry Creek Schools community has modeled throughout this pandemic,” calling it a “heavy year, marked by tragedy and unimaginable challenges but also by acts of courage and a collective determination to rise to this moment.”
The Cherry Creek school board, in a statement, had thanked Siegfried for his “courageous leadership and tireless dedication during this pandemic.”
Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Perry is the other candidate the board considered for the position. The board only interviewed district employees — no external candidates — for the job.
Alongside the search for a new superintendent, the district gathered feedback through a districtwide survey available to respondents in 11 languages that drew nearly 5,000 responses, according to a letter to families. Some input came via 22 individual interviews and 26 focus groups.
With nearly 80% of survey respondents saying they believe the school district is on the right track, the board decided to initially focus its search on internal candidates. The board unanimously voted on March 2 to conduct an internal search based on the community feedback.
Survey respondents pointed to the need to continue work toward addressing achievement gaps and equity issues, hiring teachers that match the demographics of the district, and managing school funding shortfalls from the state level.
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