December 2018 - Denise Cordova-Abbott

Colorado Association of Latino/a Administrators and Superintendents

December 2018

Welcome to the CO ALAS Membership Spotlight.  Each month we introduce you to one of our many CO ALAS members. Let’s see what they are doing and what’s on their mind!

This month we are featuring Denise Cordova-Abbott, ELA Instructional Specialist, Denver Public Schools.

Career Highlights & EducationI graduated from Metropolitan State University, K-12 Physical Education and the University of Northern Colorado with a Masters in Educational Leadership. I was recognized by the UNC Cesar Chavez Cultural Center for Academic Excellence 4.0.

I was born and raised in the Denver metro area and attended eight years of parochial school and four years of public high school, graduating from Englewood High School.  However, it was not a smooth life experience. Life was hard growing up in poverty and seeing my parents struggle to make ends meet. Catholic Charities paid our tuition and I wore donated uniforms to school. Transportation was always an issue so there wasn’t much I could participate in while in elementary school. When I went to high school, I joined lots of clubs, sports and activities and took on many leadership roles. I found this to be my safe place. I felt happiest when I only needed to go home to sleep and get a bite to eat. I lived at school as much as I could.

I come from a family of many educators, however, in my immediate family, I was the only child to graduate from a four year university and go on to earn my Master’s degree. I have decorated my office with symbols of where I come from. I cherish my great grandfather’s teaching certificate from the Las Animas School district in Southern Colorado dated 1910. Another newspaper article, features my grandfather’s first cousin who was the first Hispanic Principal in Adams District 50. These two items hang in my office next to my diplomas. Growing up, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and an athletic coach--education was going to be the foundation for whatever I wanted to do. Teaching seemed to be in my DNA but the passion came from the relationships I developed with my coaches and I wanted to be able to pay it forward to my future student athletes.

This is my 27th year in education. During this time I have been a secondary teacher, athletic coach, Dean of Students, Assistant Principal and Principal in very large and rural education settings. I am currently an ELA  (English Language Acquisition) Instructional Specialist with the Denver Public Schools. I am passionate about working with families in high poverty and ethnically diverse groups of students. I have been on school leadership teams that have been recognized for Outstanding Academic Growth by the Foundations for Great Schools and Centers of Excellence Award. I have had other recognitions during my career in the Aurora Public Schools as an “Aurora Everyday Hero” and nomination for the television channel “7 Everyday Hero” for my work in the community and as an assistant principal.

What is exciting about my job?
What’s exciting about my job is I get to work directly with teachers and knowing we are in this together for the sake of the young people who show up in our schools. I think teachers just want to be heard, so I listen. When they are upset, I listen. When I am struggling to connect, I listen. When in doubt, I listen. It is a big change for me, to stop talking, stop trying to direct someone and just listen. In this role I have a lot more time with individual teachers to scaffold the learning, chunk it, and use a gradual release of responsibility. I get to honor the teacher in front of me and be 100% present.

Words from a consejero/a.
To take care of yourself. Take time to reflect on your practice, to read and learn and grow as a leader. Take time to explore your own beliefs and ways of being. Take time to have conversations about equity, race and injustice. Take time to be with and understand your own emotions. Take care of yourself because you deserve self-care, and because our students need you to take care of yourself, so that you can be the clearest and most available leader for them.

Advice you would give a new superintendent or school leader? 
Wield compassion. It can slice through resistance and open up paths. It can bring people together. An open heart may be scary but it feels better than a closed, angry, hard heart. Compassion is like a muscle that just needs strengthening.

If you catch me outside the office, you’ll find . . .
I have two grandchildren, six and three years old, so my free time every other week is wholly and completely consumed by being a grandmother, which I love immensely. Being a grandparent and engaging them as much as I possibly can, exposing them to things. We like to plan small activities at home, do volunteer work to give back, go places we haven’t been and expose my grandchildren to the diversity that is our world we live in.

Part of being a teacher is sharing new things with someone, and watching that excitement and that joy on their face. That same thing is true in being a grandparent. When they see things for the first time, or experience something for the first time, it’s awesome. Now, I can’t wait to teach them to ski!

How does CO-ALAS add value?
I truly believe in and support the mission of CO-ALAS. The mission of CO-ALAS is to support aspiring and current Latino/a administrators and educational leaders by promoting best practices, professional learning, communication and networking. I served on the Board of Directors for two years as the secretary and now as a delegate for the past four years. For the past four years, I have been involved in the visionary work for Latina Leadership. This year, I served as the conference chair for the 2nd Annual Latina Leadership Conference. The greatest value that CO-ALAS has offered me is having a network of leaders that I’ve met through CO-ALAS, and at any time, I can pick up the phone or send an email and ask for advice. It is the on-the-job support at your fingertips. Anyone that I have contacted has always been willing to listen, even when I just needed to think out loud, and at other times receiving sound advice which has helped in cultivating my success.

CO-ALAS is a professional education association that advocates for the continued development and placement of Latino/Latina administrators who are committed to quality public education for all students.


PO Box 13109
Denver, CO 80201