Aurora Public Schools Leader Has Great Expectations

Effective this month, Michael Giles Jr. is the new superintendent for Aurora Public Schools. The APS Board of Education voted unanimously (7-0) to officially approve Giles’ contract during their May 16 meeting.

In their public announcement, Board President Debbie Gerkin says, “On behalf of the board, I would like to sincerely thank the Aurora Public Schools community for your strong engagement throughout the superintendent search process. Community input and feedback was a critical component in selecting our next leader, and we are thrilled that Mr. Giles embodies many of the leadership traits and competencies that our community identified as priorities.”

The board’s announcement of a sole finalist for a new superintendent completed a four-month search and selection process. 

Giles brings with him a wealth of advancing roles in education, having served as assistant superintendent of equity, culture and community engagement as well as assistant superintendent of performance improvement for Cherry Creek School District (CCSD). Other educational roles under his belt include school counselor, dean of students, assistant principal, principal and executive director. Prior to working in public education, he worked for a juvenile correction center.

Understanding the Role

A lot of parents are familiar with the role of teacher and principal, but they may not have a full understanding of what a superintendent does. According to Giles, the superintendent “Is a servant leader in the community, and is responsible for adhering to the needs of the community in an effort to educate students and provide them with educational opportunities.”

These opportunities are meant to help students go out and live a thriving and successful life after high school. Giles feels the only way to afford those opportunities to students effectively is to understand and address community needs while also representing the community as an educational leader. 

Community interaction from Giles’ perspective, is not just about communicating and interacting with parents, but includes engaging with corporations and local businesses. This enables the superintendent to assess the needs of the community before returning to the district and formulating a vision that incorporates the entire environment. Giles believes that this comprehensive view prepares a superintendent to provide leadership and create pathways for meaningful student experiences and academic achievement.

With the right systems and structures in place, Giles and the APS Board of Directors will continue working to provide great academic and educational experiences that benefit the entire student body. The new superintendent says his goal is to ensure that when students complete their K-12 experience, they are prepared for college, the workforce or any other endeavor they choose.

East Coast Innovation

As an Air Force military brat, Giles lived in New York, South Carolina and England before moving to Colorado as a senior in high school. He developed multiple perspectives from living in various places. Noting the main difference between schools in Colorado and schools on the East Coast, Giles says schools on the East Coast were more innovative and challenging. He recalls being expected to do and know more, and feels that there were more opportunities afforded to students.

Giles refers to an experience in middle school when his cousin had to create and film a movie. The project required his cousin to assemble a crew, write a script and produce a movie with technical equipment. He used a camera to shoot the movie over the course of several weeks. Students cut and spliced the video scenes at school, producing an incredible final product. Giles says he has not seen a student project of that caliber during his time in Colorado, and he is ready to introduce students to projects that will expand their horizons.

Without downplaying Colorado’s education standards, Giles insists that available resources are crucially important components to success in education. He notes that just like the East Coast has unique resources available to students, Colorado schools typically have different resources than school districts in other parts of the country. Innovation and differing mindsets will help shape opportunities that lead to advancement for Aurora Public Schools’ students.

Giles believes that by modernizing technologies and teaching methods, students and educators can overcome the limitations caused by antiquated school systems. He points to inequities in educational funding and says that while these challenges might slow down progress, they won’t stop the mission.

Safety Measures

When it comes to safety, compared to South Carolina and New York, Giles says the school environment in Colorado is safer. For example, in New York, students experienced constant worry about safety, with metal detectors and daily weapon screening. While he understands the severity of recent conversations regarding safety in Colorado schools, he is opposed to metal detectors due to previous experience.

The veteran administrator plans to address the safety concerns of parents and community members by first investigating the district’s current safety plan. He will evaluate the effectiveness and success of ongoing safety measures to determine whether there is a need for adjustment. Giles also plans to establish an interview process and task force comprised of educators, parents, students, local law enforcement and mental health providers to “Wrap our arms around kids,” he says. Members of the task force will come to the table to discuss safety and determine ways to best protect each child’s well-being in the educational environment. 

By asking essential questions like, “Are we preventing altercations?” “Are we reducing gun violence?” and “Are we reducing our mental health crisis?” Giles seeks to identify what’s working and what’s not. He looks forward to collectively designing a system that provides better safety measures for students. Along with vulnerable young learners, he plans to create better support systems for teachers, who need equally effective resources when overwhelmed.

Giles says that once a student leaves the school premises, things that happen are out of his control; however, he believes in arming students with the skills needed to address cyberbullying. For example, he wants students to know what cyberbullying looks like so they can identify their role as victims or perpetrators.  He also says there is a need for programs that help students learn how to use social media responsibly. 

Great Expectations

Having built a career around educational leadership and equity consultation, Giles earned bachelor of arts degrees in sociology and anthropology from Colorado Mesa University. He earned a master of arts degree in educational counseling from the University of Phoenix. His academic and real-world experience helped him understand the different ways educators can be creative to bring out every student’s brilliance, particularly students of color.

Though students may lack resources and experience inequities due to socioeconomic status, race, and cultural and linguistic backgrounds, Giles believes they are still capable of reaching the high expectations set by teachers.

Originally, Giles aspired to work in an educational setting that featured a high population of students of color. When he was hired at a predominantly white school in Cherry Creek School District, he discovered a need for someone like him in that environment. He believes it was important for students and community members to see Black educators in leadership positions where their voices are heard.

Giles values Aurora Public Schools’ diverse student body, and will work to ensure that his efforts are, “Providing students with positive role models that look like them and understand their experiences.” He adds, “It boils down to the recruitment and retention of educators of color from diverse backgrounds.”

A teacher at heart, Giles did not always want to be an administrator; he didn’t know if he would enjoy being away from students and out of the classroom. Today, he is most proud of the relationships he has been able to maintain outside of instruction.

As a dean and assistant principal, Giles was able to develop and maintain student and parent groups. As a principal, he continued facilitating those groups at the district level because they were important to him. He believes that authenticity and transparency allowed him to develop and maintain great relationships with parents, and more importantly, inspired parents to advocate for their children. He says that these relationships have provided feedback that he will use to improve students’ academic experience going forward. 

Though he does not care for politics, Giles is willing to engage in the political landscape to advocate for the needs of the students and community he serves. His integrity and values inform his support of legislation that will assist in the development of the state’s student body.

Building from the Classroom

Giles is excited for new educators whose classroom careers are just beginning. He encourages them to keep an open mind as it relates to moving within the education system, and cautions against limiting themselves to familiar roles and positions. A growth mindset, he says, can lead to wonderful possibilities.

Despite inadequate compensation within the industry, Giles says that the rewards of education and educators’ impact on a child’s life bring fulfillment to the career. “When you see a child turn the corner and overcome obstacles, those are things you can’t necessarily monetize,” he reflects.

Giles also encourages educators to take advantage of professional development opportunities. In his own experience, AVID training during summers allowed for the expansion of his academic background.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, many teachers chose to switch careers. Giles admits that the school system has suffered from the loss of very talented teachers. He understands the stress resulting from lack of payment and safety issues and says that recruiting a new pool of teachers would be a huge benefit to students. Giles plans to implement innovative recruitment methods to help inspire new professionals to begin teaching and encourage former teachers to return to the classroom.

Mental health resources and additional professional development opportunities are some of the areas in which Giles believes he can support teachers. He is also trying to find ways to incentivize teaching with creative affordable housing initiatives he hopes to explore with local developers and city leaders.

Giles is bringing fresh, new energy to Aurora Public Schools, transforming the culture in every classroom. With community partnership and a comprehensive plan for a brighter future, he is on track to be one of the best superintendents the district has ever had.