Profile

Monte C. Moses

by Jay P. Goldman

Mary Grace Jarvis has an inherent sense of what a bold, risk-taking school leader looks like because she is one, having been named National Secondary School Principal of the Year in 1996.

So when Jarvis, who is the principal of Cherokee Trail High School in Aurora, Colo., speaks in glowing terms about her superintendent, Monte Moses, she’s not doing so to curry favor with the boss. Moses, superintendent of the Cherry Creek Public Schools in suburban Denver, was named 2005 National Superintendent of the Year in February.

Jarvis acknowledges she is a direct beneficiary of Moses’ steadfast notion that public schools must do everything possible to accommodate the learning needs of children. So despite some rather vocal opposition from other principals in Cherry Creek, Moses stood behind Jarvis’ proposal to create a second International Baccalaureate program among the district’s six high schools—a rare occurrence among school systems of like size.

“The politics of this discussion could have created major issues,” Jarvis says. “It did not, and that is a direct reflection of his leadership style and priority of academic excellence.”

Moses, who has been Cherry Creek’s superintendent since 1999 after seven years as deputy superintendent, doesn’t necessarily see Jarvis’ depiction as illustrative of anything special about him. Yet others, including school board president Wendy DeBell, say one of the superintendent’s great gifts is his ability to rivet attention on creating sustainable change to better serve the high-achieving and the underachieving. “He has a ferocious and driving will,” says DeBell, who joined the board 10 years ago inspired by the servant leadership she saw before Moses was appointed to the top post.

Moses carries a no-nonsense approach, yet staff find him accessible and open-minded even while he’s unwavering in his passion for high performance. In fact, as Cherry Creek predecessor Bob Tschirki is quick to note, Moses authored a book on high-performing schools in the early ’90s, before the topic became fashionable.

Since assuming the superintendency, he has remained personally involved in promoting continuous improvement by annually visiting every one of the district’s 55 schools for an extended period. During these visits, Moses ensures progress is being made on the “achievement themes” presented at the outset of the school year.

Most recently, Moses has been struggling to reconcile the broader mission of teaching and learning in his 46,000-student school district with the narrower demands of federal accountability for student test performance. Cherry Creek’s mission—“to inspire every student to think, to learn, to achieve, to care”—comes off as an almost quaint reminder of what was possible during the days of more substantive local control.

“I don’t want us to stop looking at the whole human being,” says Moses, who has lent his articulate voice to the fight against what he has termed a hostile and arrogant intrusion by federal mandates.

The fact Moses turned to school administration as his professional lifeblood probably didn’t surprise anyone who knew him as a teen-ager growing up in Nacogdoches, Texas. His father Morgan was a teacher and high school principal for 20 years before spending the next two decades as a university professor, training the next generation of school leaders.

His older brother Mike also has led a distinguished career, including stints as Texas state commissioner of education and superintendent in Dallas. Mike Moses was one of four finalists for the 2003 National Superintendent of the Year, the first time two brothers have reached that lofty level in the program’s 18 years.

Mike Moses tends to bring out the competitive spirit of his younger sibling, who otherwise comes across as mild-mannered. The pair is notorious among their playing partners in hotly contested golf outings.

Both agree that Monte tends to finish with the lower scorecard, but Mike jokingly insists that’s because his brother’s less-demanding suburban worklife affords more leisure time. Monte quips in response: “Every time I called him in Dallas they’d say he’s out checking the outdoor education program.”

Jay Goldman is the editor of The School Administrator. E-mail: jgoldman@aasa.org

BIO STATS:
Monte Moses

Currently:
superintendent, Cherry Creek School District, Aurora, Colo.

Earlier:
deputy superintendent, Cherry Creek

Age:
50

Greatest Influence on Career:
My father, Morgan Moses, an educational leader in Texas for 40 years, has been a model for helping people fulfill their dreams and to never forget the people who help you along the way. Bob Tschirki, my predecessor as superintendent, taught me the true meaning of Pope John Paul's words, "Be faithful to your mission."