The Douglas County School Board has offered interim Superintendent Corey Wise the district’s permanent superintendent role after a months-long search that included a mix of internal and external candidates.

An emotional Wise accepted the offer shortly after the directors’ 5-2 vote during their April 20 board meeting.

Wise was one of four finalists advanced from an applicant pool of more than 100 people. The board’s decision left him at a loss for words, he said.

“I’m honored to accept and can’t wait to see what we all build and grow together,” he said.

Directors Christina Ciancio-Schor and Kevin Leung dissented, expressing their support for Mary Young. Young was one of two external finalists and serves as superintendent of Warren County Schools in North Carolina.

The other two finalists were Samuel Jarman, superintendent of Alpine School District in Utah, and Christopher Page, principal at Highlands Ranch High School.

Wise was named the district’s interim superintendent in September. He has been with the district for 25 years, having worked as a social studies teacher at Ponderosa High School and a teacher at Chaparral High School before becoming assistant principal.

He was the founding principal at Legend High School, where he stayed for seven years until taking roles in the district’s central administration.

Directors said they were impressed that Wise stepped into the interim superintendent role as superintendents throughout the region resigned, and after the COVID-19 pandemic thrust public education into crisis.

His time in the interim role could have been both an advantage and a disadvantage, board President David Ray said.

“Mr. Wise has been in the job interview that never ends for six months now,” he said.

Director Elizabeth Hanson said the board received hundreds of emails and phone calls with community feedback, much of which highlighted stories about Wise impacting families’ lives positively, she said.

Director Susan Meek said Wise “navigated a very tumultuous time” for the district. She named a “once in a generation pandemic,” what she called devastating budget cuts, social and racial justice movements nationally, a mental health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19 and “a polarized community” as examples of challenges he led the district through.

Leung said he wanted the board to base its decision on how candidates performed in their interviews during the selection process, and not by “how personally we know somebody or how somebody has performed in the past.”

Directors called Young deeply analytical, fact-driven, a strong communicator, relational, and a candidate who could bring expertise in diversity, equity and inclusion work. Directors also praised her background working in charter schools, rural districts and a district near twice the size of DCSD.

Young has worked in public education for more than 20 years. She previously served as an executive director for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland, which serves more than 130,000 students. She also worked in the South Carolina Department of Education and served as principal to several schools in Washington D.C.

Jarman has been superintendent at Alpine School District for six years, the state’s largest school district comprising more than 81,000 students and 9,000 employees. He has worked in public education for 35 years.

Page began his career in the Douglas County School District, starting as a history teacher at Rocky Heights Middle School. He taught at Rock Canyon High School before becoming assistant principal there and was named principal of Highlands Ranch High School in 2015. He has served 18 years with the district.

The district had hired the firm Frederick Andrews to conduct its search after former Superintendent Thomas Tucker resigned in September.  

The four finalists participated in an hours-long Q&A forum livestreamed to the community on April 13. In the days before that, they went before community panels, interviewed with local community leaders and board directors.

During April 20 public comment, some community members urged board directors to select a superintendent who would prioritize in-person learning as tensions in the community flare over how to handle schooling in the age of COVID-19.

Former school board candidate Andy Jones said he wanted to welcome whoever the new superintendent would be to “what used to be one of the best school districts in Colorado” before criticizing board directors and previous superintendents for their management of the district.

Three people including current district teachers spoke in favor of selecting Wise for the post. Wise makes decisions by asking what is best for children, listens to community input and is “built to lead,” they said.