Dennis hired to head Boise schools

After 27 years in Boise schools — but an eight-day application process — Coby Dennis is the district’s superintendent in waiting.

Trustees voted unanimously Thursday morning to offer Dennis the job. The vote came after the board interviewed the district’s deputy superintendent behind closed doors for more than 90 minutes.

“I want to thank the trustees for your confidence in me,” said Dennis, fighting back tears, moments after the board vote.

Dennis’ first day as superintendent is scheduled for July 1.

The top job in the state’s second-largest school district came open abruptly, and was filled rapidly.

On Dec. 5, the news broke that Boise superintendent Don Coberly is planning to retire at the end of this school year — ending 35 years in Boise schools, including nine as superintendent.

One day later, trustees voted to invite Dennis to interview for the job, effectively making him the sole candidate to succeed Coberly.

Interview morning

Thursday, interview day, started early.

At 7:40 a.m., trustees voted unanimously to interview Dennis in a closed executive session. (State open meetings law allows public agencies to discuss personnel matters in a closed session.)

The closed meeting broke up at 9:20 a.m., leaving trustees with one brief, public task: to vote to offer Dennis the job.

“You have an intimate knowledge of all of our programs,” veteran trustee Maria Greeley said. “You are a leader. You’ve been a leader.”

A superintendent’s job is to put the needs of children first, said trustee David Wagers. In Boise’s case, that means considering the needs of more than 25,000 students.  “You are the best guy that I know to do that.”

A rapid, insulated process

All seven trustees took turns praising Dennis. When it came time to vote on his hire, Beth Oppenheimer moved to offer the job to Dennis, and Dennis Doan seconded the motion. That was noteworthy. A week earlier, Doan and Oppenheimer pushed their colleagues to open the job search to external candidates — a move that failed on a 5-2 vote.

The timeline came up briefly before Thursday’s vote. Doan — who last week said his criticism was focused on process, and not directed at Dennis — said it was time to move on. Board President Nancy Gregory again defended the district’s approach. “I’m happy to have arrived at this point.”

Boise’s rapid, insulated hiring process marks a departure from recent job searches in West Ada, Idaho’s largest school district, and Nampa, the state’s third-largest district. In both cases, trustees built public question-and-answer sessions into the interview process — and in both cases, trustees hired external candidates.

In an interview after his hiring, Dennis deflected a question about the process. “People elect the board as their representatives to make those kind of decisions.”

But Dennis acknowledged that he needs to reach out to the community in his new role, and said he’s looking forward to it.

“Dr. Coberly has been the face of this district for close to a decade,” Dennis said.

A second-generation superintendent

Dennis is no stranger to many Boise patrons; he began in the district in 1991 as a teacher. And the Dennis family is well-known in Boise education circles.

Dennis’ father, Dehryl Dennis, came to Boise schools in 1976 as human resources director, and was superintendent from 1994 to 1999. Coby Dennis credited his father with helping to lay the groundwork for several important district policies — such as hiring additional teachers, above the numbers covered by state appropriations; and an “interest-based” approach to labor negotiations that remains in place. Today, the district’s technical center bears the former superintendent’s name.

But in accepting his new job — in front of a small audience that included his mother, his wife, other family members and district staffers, including Coberly — Coby Dennis said his mother inspired him to go into education.

As he explained later, Dennis was a semester away from graduating from college with a degree in electrical engineering. He told his mother he wasn’t happy with his career path, and wanted to teach and coach instead. He went back to college, and at his mother’s urging, he switched majors.

A year and a half later, he graduated, and was ready to begin his career in education.

Other appointments

Lisa Roberts

Within hours of promoting Dennis, the Boise School District announced a successor for his old job.

Lisa Roberts will take over as deputy superintendent, the district announced Thursday afternoon. Roberts is a 26-year district veteran, as an elementary school teacher and principal and administrator of school programs. Roberts is currently one of Boise’s four area directors. She oversees the district’s “Borah Quadrant,” which includes schools on the south side of the district.

Becca Anderson will take over Roberts’ area director post.

Becca Anderson

She has worked 24 years in public schools. She is currently the district’s data and accountability supervisor. Previously, she was Boise’s English language arts supervisor.




Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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