New Bellevue schools chief driven to tackle ethnic achievement gaps

Superintendent Ivan Duran takes over at the Bellevue School District, known for high-performing schools but persistent achievement gaps for some nonwhite students. His own shattering experience of racism as a Latino kid in Denver fuels his drive to help all students here.

As a Latino student growing up in Denver, new Bellevue School District Superintendent Ivan Duran attended two kinds of schools: ones that were diverse and welcoming and where learning thrived, and ones in which he heard racist taunts and disparagements and learning shut down.

“It shattered my life in ways I can still feel viscerally,” Duran told a group of new teachers at an orientation last month.

As he begins his first year at the helm of a district with strong academic success, but lagging achievement for some ethnic groups, Duran said he’s deeply driven by his personal history to think about how to create equitable learning environments and about how the district can support its classroom teachers in achieving those goals.

In person, Duran, 52, is soft-spoken and modest about his accomplishments over a 27-year career. He’s been a teacher, principal and, most recently, an assistant superintendent in both Denver and Dallas public schools. Former colleagues describe him as respectful and collaborative.

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But he is also willing to share his experiences as a student, including being bused from a racially diverse neighborhood middle school to a mostly white, suburban one, where he heard anti-Mexican slurs for the first time (his parents grew up in New Mexico).

He also tried to attend a private high school for a year but ended up angry at the harassment and at his parents for not sticking up for him. Returning to a public high school, he said, he only stayed in school because of his parents’ insistence.

In retrospect, he said, the schools weren’t prepared to bring together students from different backgrounds.

“Ivan has experienced firsthand what happens when you don’t get a good education and what happens when you do. That’s motivated him to ensure that all kids have access to high quality and rigorous instruction,” said Susana Cordova, deputy superintendent for Denver Public Schools, where Duran spent most of his professional career.

Cordova worked with Duran when he oversaw a network of about 22 elementary schools and focused on early literacy and using data to inform…

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