Rico Munn

With an "S" on his chest, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn, is the representation of what it is to be a real black superhero.

Interview By Kenya Fashaw

What is your role in education?

I’m the Superintendent of schools for the Aurora Public Schools. The Superintendent of schools is the CEO for school districts. 

How long have you been in education?

This is my eighth school year as Superintendent. Prior to that, I was a lawyer practicing commercial litigation here in town. I was also the head of higher education for a number of years under Governor Ritter and I was an elected member of our state board of education. 

How did you end up becoming a  Superintendent? 

I’ve been involved in education policy for many years. My undergrad degree is in education. After I spent some years at the governor’s cabinet and went back to practicing law, I recognized that there were some other things that I thought were important to work on and wanted to address in the community. The position came open for Aurora Public Schools and I thought I had something to contribute to and wanted to competed for.

What are some of your most valuable lessons you’ve learned on your path to become Superintendent?

That’s a big question. I would say that

it’s incredibly important to understand the community that you want to serve. To be able to understand what those in the community are interested in and what they expect of you. It’s not about trying to be the best school district in the world, that’s not valuable to anybody. It’s about trying to be the best that you can at surveying this particular community.

What would you say your philosophy on delegating authority is?

Early and often.

How can you maintain accountability with that?

I think the first key is to surround yourself with talented people who you can trust. Set clear expectations around what you need and what needs to be done one by one, and then you follow up on that.

What do you think our schools need to do to continue to improve?

I can only speak about my school not all schools in general. What our schools need to do is to stay focused. We have a strategic plan and a strategic vision about every student shaping a successful future. What that requires is for us to get to know each of our students in a very deep way so we can engage them in rigorous and relevant learning. Then we think about how we make sure that every one of them has a plan for their future and a set of skills to implement their plan. Then, how do they get credentials and open the doors that they need opened in their life?

What roles do you think the community or the neighborhood would play in education? 

We recognize that we can’t do this work alone and that communities and parents are our partners in education. There are a lot of different roles to play in it. First and foremost,  the accountability role is to identify for us what they need, what they expect and then holding us accountable to deliver that. Secondly, it’s about being that partner and making sure that they are connecting and understanding what are our kids trying to accomplish. What are their plans? What are their goals?  Then helping to support that and provide opportunities for them.

As it relates to people who look like you and, what advice would you give a young minority pursuing a leadership role such as yours?

Hard work is always first and foremost. I think it’s also about bringing your creativity. The real opportunity for diversity is to demonstrate creativity. You can bring a different perspective to the work that’s being done in a way that can solve problems for people.

What role do you think the extracurricular activities play in education?

Students need to be connected and to be engaged. Students engage for very different reasons. It may be that they have a deep passion for science or maybe that they have a deep passion for baseball. What’s important is that we as educators have to understand what doors are opening for us and walk through whatever door they’re opening. So if the door they’re opening is their love of video games, I don’t try to tell them to open a different door. I walk through that door to say okay, how do we use that blood and passion to connect you to rigorous and relevant education.

How do you think the educational system will adapt to covid-19?

We’re adapting as we speak every day and it’s tough. It’s tough to answer that when you’re in the middle of it like we are. But, clearly everybody now has had exposure to online learning. Everybody now has had that experience. I think that online learning will become a much bigger part of our education on destruction moving forward because of that universal experience to it at this point.

How do you measure success in education?

There are lots of different measurements. The federal and state government give us a measurement,  parents give us measurements and there is a measurement that kids give themselves. So what we try to do is look at that holistically and we talked about every kid shaping a successful future. We recognize that it’s up to parents and students to decide what success looks like. For a different family success might be getting a PhD in neurosurgery, or success might look like a taking over the family’s garage. I don’t have a value judgment in that right, but I understand what their picture of success is and then help come alongside them and support their success.

I know that you talked about really making it a point to involve the parents in the student success. How do you involve the parents to make sure that students are successful?

That’s always the challenge educational systems have is how and when to engage parents. There are traditional structures like parent-teacher conferences and giving people access to online report cards and so forth, and those are important. I think the really important thing is to have open doors where you help parents understand the technical side of what you’re trying to do in the classroom and then how they can reinforce that at home. A lot of the work that we do is very technical. Teaching students how to read is a technical thing. Then working with parents to say here are the types of books that you can help your kids find in the library or to read, or to read to them, is how they can help reinforce that. 

What do you want your legacy to be as a Superintendent? 

At the end of the day, Aurora and Aurora Public Schools, are a strong and diverse community. I think it’s important that Aurora Public Schools be known as a districts that will fight for their kids and kids who will fight for their own futures. I just want to support that.

What principles and values lead your decision making?

There’s two sets of things. One, is I have a list of ten essential truths that I tell people. As a leader in the Aurora Public Schools, I will always Benchmark myself against these 10 essential truth. I also have a second thing, which is universal job description. I ask everybody in the district to adopt a job description. For all of us, the first sentence is the same, the third sentence is the same and the middle sentences where we differentiate how we do our jobs. So what that says is our first sentence is, my job is to accelerate learning for every Aurora public student every day.  Everybody in the district has that job. There’s one job and that is the same job for everybody, from bus drivers, to our principles, and to me. That is the job. The third sentences says our community needs us to do our job. We have to understand the why, why do we have to do that job? The middle part again for me, is that I do my job and I’m making sure that we have the right people and can access resources to do the work. There’s different formulations over the years. Over time that second sentence can involve a change.

Do you have somebody that inspires you?

I think it’s important have a lot of different Inspirations as times change. For me personally, first and foremost, I’m a person of faith. I get a lot of inspiration from my faith. I also have people in my family like my parents who would have inspired me over the years. I always wanted to live up to who they wanted me to be and who they expect me to be. I’m inspired by my family, my wife, and my kids by who they are and who I want to be for them.

Is there a quote that you live by?

Yes, there’s one that hangs in my office it says, “From the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.” 

What was the biggest lesson you learned as an educator coming in?

It’s tough to think about one single lesson. I think it’s always got to be about trying to understand what the community needs and expects. I believe that, but I think it’s become more true for me over the years as I continue to learn and grow in this role.

Why do you think it’s important for black students to see themselves represented in an education?

That’s a loaded question. I do believe that it’s important! Why I believe that, is because I think that we all want to aspire to things we all want to be our best selves. We all want to be greater than we currently are. It’s incredibly powerful and impactful to have models of that and to see what that can look like.

What advice would you give to black students to help them Excel?

The advice that I give today and whenever I have the opportunity is to be yourself, but don’t limit yourself.

What is the biggest win you’ve experienced as an educator?

I think the biggest win was last year when we closed the the graduation achievement gap. When I came to the district, we had a significant gap between graduation rates. Last year we eliminated that.

As Mr. Munn’s cape continues to blowin the wind from all his hard work and dedication for Aurora Public Schools, we applaud him for his amazing super powers in helping to keep the, students, staff and community thriving and successful.

Here are the links Rico referred to:

  1. Rico’s Ten Essential Truths
  2. Rico’s Unified Job Description
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