Please Wait a Moment

2022 Superintendent to Watch: Alex Marrero, Ed.D.

The Superintendents to Watch award recognizes up to 25 school district leaders each year who have fewer than five years of experience as a superintendent and who demonstrate dynamic, fast-paced leadership with strong communication at its core. 

Alex Marrero, Ed.D.Alex Marrero, Ed.D.
Denver Public Schools
Denver, Colo.

What does leadership mean to you?

As an inner-city public-school student from the Bronx, I learned firsthand the importance in having quality guidance and leadership. The support I received during adolescence proved to be most effective in my life. As a youth, coming up in the New York City public school system, I had many obstacles to hurdle in order to reach my full potential, and if it were not for the wonderful mentoring and support, I received from dedicated educators, I probably would not be in the position that I am in today: a life-long learner. I gained a tremendous amount of new insight; knowledge and confidence with each visit. I am a firm believer in giving back to community and I feel that it is my duty to provide students with the opportunities to succeed. Serving as Superintendent in the largest school district in Colorado allows me to engage with my passion of helping others at a larger scale. I entered education as a novice student and currently find myself as a life-long learning professional.

How have you integrated communication into your district’s strategic plan?

Denver Public Schools launched a new strategic roadmap in August 2022, which specifically articulates how we will improve the experiences of our students, adults, and systems. Communication plays a vital role, from the initial communication to internal/external stakeholders to progress updates during implementation, to the specific goals assigned to communications department, the role of comms is essential as we commit to “Getting better at getting better.” Strategic roadmap goals are the shared responsibility of communications and our Family and Community Engagement team. I believe in the importance of community driven, district supported efforts, therefore, we leverage our Family and Community Engagement team to develop relationships with our community. We have advisory councils representing the voices of our often most marginalized communities. In addition to these advisory councils, I also have a student cabinet that meets in-person quarterly and virtually on an as-needed basis.

What communication initiative are you most proud of that have you implemented in your district?

I developed a deliberate plan of meeting with as many family and community members, students, and staff as possible in my first 100 days. To be successful, the plan for the Listening and Learning Tour needed to cast a wide net of community participation and provide a benchmark for collecting information that could be used to help to develop a plan for the direction of the district. The Listening and Learning Tour was planned to strategically engage the all members in the City of Denver. I listened to the community about where they wanted to meet, including shelters, a mosque, parks, and language-specific meetings, and to ensure everyone felt safe and heard. I visited 68 schools and held over 100 meetings. The meetings captured feedback from 2,000 individual community members, students, and staff. In addition, over 10,000 stakeholders submitted responses to the online survey. We received the Golden Achievement Award from Colorado School Public Relations Association this plan.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, APR
Director of Communications
Oconee County Schools
Watkinsville, Ga.

Alma Mater:

B.A. - Mississippi State University; MPA - University of Georgia

I believe school PR/communications is what I was born to do! One of the biggest decisions a parent can make is where to send their child to school, and it’s an honor to share with our parents the engaging work that their children are doing under the guidance of world-class teachers and leaders. On any given day, in any given school, there are many stories to be told and I take that charge seriously. As school communicators played a key role in COVID-19 communications, storytelling was more important than ever – not only did I share information with parents about our protocols, but I also made over 80 visits to schools last year and told a variety of stories about how students were thriving with both in-person and distance learning options. I also worked with principals to determine best mitigation practices and helped make those pervasive, because positive action must be the foundation of what we are ultimately communicating. School public relations is incredibly complex and I love that each day brings a new challenge.

My greatest school PR success was completing 11 nationally-innovative school communication audits using a process of research, planning, implementation, and evaluation. I am now in phase two of this project and am attending school council meetings to garner feedback from parents about school-level communication and how I can better support the work of their schools. One of the most significant findings is that as students take more ownership of their learning, they also take more ownership in parent communication. Therefore, next steps are to better prepare parents for this transition and to also determine best practices from exemplar teachers and coaches at the secondary level so we can strike the right balance with parents feeling informed and fostering student independence.

My greatest school PR challenge is overcoming rigidity. Like many PR professionals, I am detail-oriented and a self-described perfectionist. It’s a blessing and a curse to see when something is one pixel off, but the greatest challenge I have faced in my 13 years in this field is to learn to be more flexible. I might have an aversion to Comic Sans or Curlz, but it’s not the end of the world if those are a font favorite elsewhere. What’s more important is the bigger picture – staff and parents feeling well-informed and students growing and learning in positive school cultures. Instead of telling someone their website isn’t formatted properly, I now make a 2-3 minute screencast if I think there’s a quick tutorial I can offer to provide ongoing professional learning. By being much more flexible, I have deepened relationships and become better at supporting the most important job that occurs in our school system: teaching.

My favorite part of my job is the relationships. I often say that there is no substitute for showing up, and that’s why I make so many school visits each year. From getting to hold a gorgeous monarch butterfly to watching a vibrant student musical to seeing 3-D printing in action from engineering students, I have witnessed countless unique opportunities, and these experiences are just a small piece of what our students get to take part in each and every day. If I didn’t take the time to form relationships, I wouldn’t know that what students value is knowing that the photos I take may show up in their yearbooks. I wouldn’t know the myriad of annual activities that teachers do across our schools because I wouldn’t have witnessed them firsthand. I wouldn’t know about the families of our principals or what they believe makes their school unique. All of that is invaluable because at the end of the day and at the end of this career, relationships are what will remain – both professionally and personally.

The communication tool I use the most is Canva! I would be a brand ambassador if they asked! I am not very mathematically-minded and it can be challenging for someone with an eye for good design – but not an eye for rulers and gridlines – to be a graphic designer. However, Canva has made it possible and I am able to create aesthetically-pleasing graphics with short turn-around times. I have trained communication ambassadors at our schools how to use it as well. Right after Canva, the tool I most use is iMovie. I am completely self-taught in videography and using iMovie and Canva together has made me someone who can add “videographer” to their list of expertise.