Want to Keep Jeffco Moving Forward? Walk This Weekend.

We know you’re busy. We are too (see, for example, how well we’re keeping up with this blog!).

However, busy won’t help us keep moving Jeffco forward. We remember 2013, 2014, and 2015 all too well: disrespect, drama, and constant turmoil. We don’t want to return to that, which means we need to support our current school board members in November’s election.

This fall, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon, and Ron Mitchell are running for re-election to the Jeffco School Board. Both Rupert (District 1) and Harmon (District 2) have opponents, while Mitchell (District 5) is running uncontested. Some of you might be thinking, “So all is well, right? Reasonable people who are listening to all of Jeffco will continue to retain the board majority regardless of what happens.”

Our response: DON’T. GET. COMPLACENT.

The five board members who were elected in 2015 — Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell, along with Amanda Stevens and Ali Lasell — have worked hard to restore respect, collaboration, and careful decision-making to Jeffco Schools and the community. Don’t mistake respect, civility, and thoughtful discussions for any suggestion that they always vote in tandem. They don’t. On several occasions board members have differed in their opinions, and yes, their vote.

That’s as it should be. And frankly, it’s been a relief for those of us who regularly attend or watch Jeffco School Board meetings to see people taking each other and the issues seriously.

No one has been turned away at public comment since the recall. No one has been insulted by board members. Angry parents, students, and community members have had their chance to address the board when they disagree with a proposal — and Rupert, Harmon, Mitchell, Stevens and Lasell have listened to those voices and made decisions accordingly.

So what have they accomplished?

Brad Rupert explains in this video.

Or if you want the bullet-point version, the current five-member board of education has:

  • Restored respect and civility and professionalism to the Jeffco community, inside the board room and out
  • Expanded public comment opportunities and discussion on all issues facing Jeffco Schools
  • Hired a nationally-known, world-class superintendent, Dr. Jason Glass, to lead Jeffco forward
  • Become more competitive in attracting and retaining teachers
  • Continued to address growth areas in the district, such as northwest Arvada and west-central Jeffco
  • Celebrated with our Jeffco Schools as schools received 31 awards from the state of Colorado, and 11 Jeffco high schools ranked in the U.S. News and World Report top 50.

How can you help?

First, share Brad Rupert’s video on Facebook, Twitter, any other social media sites you use, and through your email network. A lot of Jeffco voters haven’t been paying attention since 2015, and they probably wonder what the clean slate accomplished. Let them know!

Also take time to read and share Superintendent Glass’ blog, Advance Jeffco. He’s encouraging dialogue and questions, and it’s a great place to talk about how to move Jeffco forward.

And walk! Volunteer here to walk or to look for other campaign opportunities (like a house party this Friday). We need people to let Jeffco voters know what Rupert, Harmon and Mitchell have accomplished during the last two years, and why they should vote for them to serve Jeffco students another four years.

We’re finally on a solid path with thoughtful, experienced decision-makers and a deeply knowledgeable superintendent, all working together from the board table in the best interest of Jeffco. Our students, parents, teachers, staff and community have waited a long time for this. We need to keep moving our district forward, rather than returning to failed policies of the past.

JeffCo Proud!

Sept 7 Jeffco School Board meeting summary

The Jeffco School Board held its first regular meeting of the the 2017-18 school year. This was a quiet one as meetings go, but there are a few highlights we want to share:

Study Session: Strategies to Support Student Success

The study session focused on the work that had been done to improve student achievement at five different Jeffco Schools. Each of these schools had shown a marked improvement in their growth scores on the 2017 CMAS, and each principal had time to talk about the strategies their school used to produce better results.

So what works?

  • Support systems, both within the school and with outside community organizations
  • Collaboration at every level. This ranges from student learning approaches to the work done in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where teachers, instructional coaches, interventionists, and other staff can collaborate to pinpoint the best approaches to engaging individual students.
  • Time. Staff need a structured time that supports collaboration and data-driven instruction, schools need time to implement and evaluate new approaches to learning, and time is needed to see improved results. There are no magic shortcuts.
  • Strong, stable, and consistent leadership to recognize issues and target appropriate resources to address issues and support staff and students.

Superintendent Glass has also summarized this study session discussion and his takeaways on his Advance Jeffco blog. We encourage you to read his post and thoughts about what this means for the rest of the district.

We’d also like to emphasize the collaboration theme again. It’s one we’ve heard before, back when Jeffco Schools received a $39 million, five-year Teacher Incentive Fund grant to do a strategic compensation study that compared the impact of merit pay and the impact of additional resources and collaboration.  There were three different presentations given to the Jeffco School Board as that study progressed; resources, support, and collaboration were repeatedly mentioned as the most effective elements in boosting student achievement. Some of the 2016 findings are summarized in this Denver Post article:

Data in Jefferson County’s schools also is being watched at a national level. The district is near the end of a federally funded pilot program that tested performance incentives and changes to how teachers are supported.

So far, analysis of the project shows that the supports provided to teachers — such as creating leadership opportunities, professional learning communities with coaches and a system for constructive feedback — have increased student performance. Financial incentives are not showing a strong link.

Jefferson County officials say they believe the best and fastest results will happen with both components.

Aswege, who taught at one of the schools in the pilot program, said bonuses for school or team goals didn’t remove collaboration, but she said the money is still more necessary for the coaching resources.

“When you have a healthy culture in a school, you don’t think about the pay,” Aswege said. “You don’t think about anything else but helping children.”

Why is that important? Because too often, the argument goes something along the lines of “any kid can learn in any condition, including a cardboard box, so long as they have a great teacher.”

What the data actually shows is that while great teachers make a difference, collaboration and resources for a team of great teachers makes a much bigger, school-wide difference. And then we need to give it time to work rather than rushing off in search of a different quick fix.

Superintendent’s Report

We’ve sat through a lot of superintendent’s reports over the years, but this is the first time we’ve been completely blown away. First, he had a slide presentation that summarized the various groups he’s met with and meetings he’s attended in the past few weeks. It also included a list of future events and meetings.

We are thrilled to see our superintendent out getting to know people in all parts of Jeffco so he can hear about what’s working, what’s not, and issues we need to address going forward. We’re also thrilled to see it documented, so that anyone who wants to know what our superintendent is doing can see it, too.

Don’t forget to also check out his Advance Jeffco blog, Facebook page, and Twitter feed, where he regularly posts about what he’s doing and issues that affect the education of our Jeffco students.

Ends Discussion: CMAS Spring Results

Once again, Jeffco Schools students outpaced the state on the 2017 CMAS tests–and in some cases hit new academic highs. Student growth scores also outpaced the state and often did so by an increasing margin over previous years.

Now before anyone jumps in to argue that many or most of our students are failing, etc, we’d like to remind our readers of these very important points:

  • Spring 2017 marked the third year that students took CMAS (also known as PARCC), and increasing numbers of families have chosen to opt out of testing.
  • The bar was raised with CMAS, with students being pushed to higher academic expectations. Students have been expected to meet those expectations, despite the reality that the years since 2009-10 have been marked by larger class sizes and fewer resources. Despite these challenges, student achievement continues to improve.
  • In middle and high school, the CMAS math tests students according to the math they are taking rather than their grade level, which leads to a bit of confusion. Eighth grade students who take Algebra I are counted in the algebra results rather than the “8th grade math” results, and the same is true for 7th grade students enrolled in Algebra I or 8th grade students enrolled in Geometry. “Seventh grade math” only includes those students not enrolled in algebra rather than all 7th graders, and the same is true for 8th graders. What this shows most clearly is a math divide between students who are already excelling in math (and thus taking algebra in 7th or 8th grade), and those students who were already struggling and continue to do so. We hope this allows Jeffco staff to keep working to better address struggling students and bring them up to grade level, but also want to make it clear that the 7th and 8th grade math categories only feature a subset of students.

The report also summarizes some of the elements that are pushing student achievement higher, as well as the areas that need improvement.

Also keep in mind that “churn” is a key word in understanding Jeffco’s student achievement scores in the past several years, as Chalkbeat makes clear:

Colorado has already changed math and English testing twice in the past decade, making comparing past results extremely difficult — if not impossible. Officials say it won’t be the case now because this is essentially a contract change. However, more significant test changes may need to be considered after the state’s academic standards revision process is completed in 2018.

Yes, a new set of tests (though supposedly comparable to CMAS) and yet another academic standards revision are already on the way. It seems like we barely have time to adjust to one change before another is headed our way, and that’s hardly a process that benefits our students’ learning.

Other items of note

The rest of the meeting largely consisted of policy reviews, and few of those required changes. Any policies with changes are listed on Board Docs.

Also of note: for the first time we can remember in years, no one signed up for agenda-related public comment. We found that odd, particularly because student achievement has reliably been one of the most popular topics for citizens. Only one person signed up for the non-agenda-related section as well, making for a very quiet (and quick!) meeting. Curiouser and curiouser? Quite possibly.

With that in mind, we owe our readers a post about the upcoming school board election. We’ll post that soon. Until then, we remain

JeffCo Proud!

 

Welcome Back!

We’d like to welcome everyone back to a new school year, and extend a special welcome to our new superintendent, Dr. Jason Glass.

It’s been a while since we’ve updated (summer was busy), but here’s a quick summary of some of the Jeffco Schools news:

Dr. Jason Glass

Jason Glass was approved as Jeffco’s new superintendent by a unanimous vote of the five school board members. Since he started on July 1, he’s been communicating through his Advance Jeffco blog, meeting with the community, and taking time to listen and learn about the many diverse neighborhoods, schools, families, and issues that comprise Jeffco.

We’re very excited to see him so active in the community, and appreciate that he’s taking the time to talk to a diverse assortment of families, students, community groups, and more to get an overall picture of what makes us Jeffco. Please take the time to read his blog and participate in the conversation.

Jeffco School Board Election

Ron Mitchell, Brad Rupert, and Susan Harmon kicked off their respective school board campaigns last week and are currently collecting signatures for the petition to place them on the November ballot. Today is the last day to sign – you have several options for locations and times.

For more information about any of the three, to help with their campaigns, or if you’d like to donate to their campaigns, follow this link: http://keepjeffcomovingforward.com/.

Watch for more posts in the coming weeks about how you can help with their campaigns. We’ll also post a brief summary of what the board members have accomplished since the November 2015 election.

Three Creeks opens, renovations on Rose Stein and Sierra Elementary wrap up

Three Creeks K-8 opened to students for the first time, relieving some of the overcrowding in the northwest Arvada area. The school is currently open to K-6 students and will expand to 7th and 8th graders during the next two years.

In addition, the second phase of renovations for Sierra Elementary, also located in Arvada, and renovations on Rose Stein Elementary in Lakewood also wrapped up. Stein had been closed during renovations and now reopened to PK-6 students, and Sierra Elementary’s renovations added seats for the still-growing Arvada community.

We all have an exciting school year ahead, and will continue to update you in the weeks and months ahead. As always, we are

JeffCo Proud!

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Finalist Jason Glass

It’s an exciting week in Jeffco, as the Jeffco School Board prepares to vote on superintendent finalist candidate Jason Glass.

We are very excited both that Dr. Glass, currently superintendent of Eagle County Schools, applied for the position and that he emerged as the clear finalist. JCSBW has quoted Dr Glass’ columns in the Vail Daily in the past because he speaks so articulately about the funding issues and other challenges facing public schools in Colorado. Having him right here in Jeffco is a true privilege and pleasure.

Things we’re most excited about:

  • Dr. Glass is an articulate communicator who doesn’t hesitate to reach out to students, families, and the larger community.
  • He not only understands the challenges of local and state funding, but has been actively involved in a successful mill and bond campaign in his own district last fall.
  • He has previous experience as a superintendent, having served as Eagle County’s superintendent for the past four years.
  • He has a doctorate in education.
  • Dr. Glass also brings national experience to the district, having served as Iowa’s Department of Education Director and Chief State School Officer from 2010 to 2013.
  • He was also appointed as a member of the National Board for Education Sciences board of directors in December 2016 by then-President Obama.

You can see his resume here. There have also been several articles in local newspapers that are worth checking out, including the Denver Post and the Arvada News.

We’re extremely hopeful that Dr. Glass will be able to continue writing columns for one of the local papers that serve Jeffco families. If you haven’t seen his columns, we’d encourage you to read one of his most recent columns, or this one.

The board will vote whether to approve Dr. Glass as superintendent this Tuesday, May 16. The meeting starts at 4 pm (please note the earlier time, which we also missed in our original post!). Time for public comment is scheduled to start at 4, and we encourage you to sign up and share your thoughts with the board.

We are thrilled to have such a great candidate and very pleased with the transparency with which this search was conducted. The community’s voice was used to find and select the finalist, and results from community comments and meetings, including nearly 3,900 surveys and 1,000 comments are available on the Jeffco Schools superintendent search page.

We also know much more about the search than we did three years ago. For example, we know that:

  • 825 contacts were made to potential candidates in 46 states,
  • 69 applications were received
  • 11 candidates from 9 different states were recommended for consideration
  • 6 candidates were interviewed from 6 different states (including Colorado, obviously)
  • 5 of the interviewees were currently or had been superintendents
  • Dr. Glass emerged unanimously as the strongest candidate, far surpassing the others

Tuesday is your last chance to give the board input into this extraordinarily important decision. If you can’t attend, consider emailing the board members with your thoughts.

And as always, we remain

JeffCo Proud!

Catching up, plus the 4.6.17 agenda

We thought we’d start with a quick summary of what’s been going on the past few months.  Some highlights:

Superintendent Search

The biggest news here was announced this week: former Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who stepped back at the beginning of March, has accepted a job as superintendent for the New America Schools charter school network. He will begin that position when his Jeffco contract ends on July 1.

Meanwhile, McMinimee will continue to serve Jeffco Schools in an advisory role, per his revised contract, while Terry Elliot serves as acting superintendent.

At the March meeting, board members looked at the responses they had received from the community about qualities they thought most important in our next superintendent. You can see the community feedback in this presentation, visit the Jeffco Schools superintendent search page, and and view the Ray & Associates ad for the position.

Jeffco School Board members will hear an update on the superintendent search at tonight’s April 6 board meeting. The application window for the superintendent search ends April 10, and Board members will meet in executive session with Ray & Associates to start screening candidates on April 20.

2017-18 Jeffco Schools Budget

Here, we’d first like to direct everyone’s attention to the most current list of budget reductions so that everyone can see that the Wheat Ridge High School GT Center and the proposed closures to Swanson, Stober, Peck, and Pennington are off the list. Those items are listed as “removed” in the document.

The March 23 budget presentation also included feedback from the online interactive budget tool, and from the telephone town halls. More than 18,000 individuals viewed the tool and 5,366 responses were submitted, which is a 585 percent increase over the previous year.  Feedback from all sources is listed on slides 7 through 9.

Board members clarified at the March 23 meeting that, unless something drastically changed at the state level, it was extremely unlikely they would consider the items in the deferred column again this year.

Current projections indicate that the final state budget will be close to the governor’s request, and board members agreed that district staff could proceed with the following budget assumptions:

  • Approximately $4 million in new state funding
  • Including the items in blue on this list in the Jeffco Schools 2017-18 budget
  • Increasing compensation for all Jeffco employees by $19.8 million
  • Keeping any one-time use of reserves on hold until there is more clarity on state funding

The first budget public hearing will be April 20. The second public hearing on the budget is scheduled for May 4.

Want to Join the District Accountability Committee?

Applications are being accepted for Jeffco’s District Accountability Committee (DAC) from now through April 30. If you are interested in joining this important group, read more about the DAC application process here and about the work the DAC does here.

Other News

The Wheat Ridge High School GT Center is off the list of cuts, as noted above. However, there still seems to be some confusion about how the SBB funding mechanism will work to support the GT Center Program. After our previous post about this issue, we heard from some readers who said that WRHS’s SBB dollars only fund six classes and this is a seventh class, though we know of other Jeffco high schools that are funding seventh classes with SBB.

Some of the feedback also focused on the fact that this is a program and not just a class. While we agree, our combined and varied experiences among the JCSBW writers has been that GT Centers in our Jeffco elementary and middle schools are also programs that address both the socio-emotional issues as well as providing appropriate academic acceleration.

We hope the Jeffco School Board members will follow up with the WRHS staff and accountability committee in a future meeting to check in on the progress and talk through any issues that could pose a problem in future funding.

Doral Academy will lease Zerger Elementary from the district for the 2017-18 year, per a contract that was approved at the March 23 meeting. It is a one-year lease with no option for renewal, and Doral representatives told the Jeffco School Board that their ideal location is further west. Here are three key things you need to know about this decision:

  1. If the school board hadn’t approved the lease, Doral could have appealed the lease decision to the State Board of Education. We’ll merely point out that given the State BOE’s decision regarding Great Work Montessori, it’s likely the state board would have told Jeffco to approve the lease anyhow.
  2. Jeffco Schools can continue to market the property while Doral is in it, so it won’t impede the district’s attempts to sell it.
  3. According to the contract, Doral will pay nearly $200,000 to lease the building, which, frankly, is money the district is not receiving while Zerger sits empty.

Several board members expressed concern about an overabundance of charters in the area and the potential impact on neighboring schools. It is true that there are a lot of charter schools clustered in the area. Woodrow Wilson Academy is also located in the Zerger neighborhood, merely a half-mile away. Excel Academy is only two miles to the west, Jefferson Academy is 2.5 miles, and Lincoln Academy is 3.5 miles away.

However, Doral’s current location is only 3 miles away from Zerger, making it unlikely that the lease will have a substantial impact on neighboring schools. Families who either wanted a nearby charter school or who wanted one still within walking distance of their house have had Woodrow Wilson as a nearby option even before Zerger closed in May 2011.

The school board approved a three-year conditional contract renewal for Mountain Phoenix, which is a Waldorf charter school. The issue was test scores, because Mountain Phoenix’s 2016 academic proficiency scores were quite low, triggering an automatic flag during the contract review process.

The school’s math scores ranked in the 9th percentile in elementary, and 25th percentile in middle school. Math growth scores were also below the district average at all grade levels except 7th grade. Science scores were also low, with the scores at the 18th percentile in science for both elementary and middle school students.

Much of this can be chalked up to the “Waldorf curve,” because Waldorf focuses on arts and storytelling and creativity in the early grades. The Waldorf curve is something the district has been aware of for a number of years, and the students generally have shown improvements in academic proficiency, especially during the middle school years.

This is another topic that has drawn a lot of ire from critics who implied that the district was unfairly focusing on Mountain Phoenix when other neighborhood schools also are struggling with academic proficiency. However, the actual conversation in the board room was polite and respectful, with board members and Mountain Phoenix staff trying to find the best way to balance how to preserve the Waldorf experience while also finding new ways to address the increased academic standards. A three-year contract was approved, and we at JCSBW think that Mountain Phoenix will be successful.

New boundaries were set for Shelton Elementary and Welchester Elementary at the board’s March 9 meeting to accommodate the students from Pleasant View, which closes at the end of this year.

Agenda for the April 6 Jeffco BOE meeting

Watch for a presentation from the TDPAC (Technology Data Privacy Advisory Committee) during the 5 pm study session.

The Board will also hear an update on the superintendent search during the study session, as noted above.

The regular meeting will begin at 6 pm with the usual awards and recognitions, after which the board will discuss the District Unified Improvement Plan (UIP). There are several attachments for this agenda item, so we’ll link to the District Accountability Committee UIP Recommendations and encourage you to visit BoardDocs to look at the other associated materials.

As always, we encourage you to attend the meeting in person or to watch the live stream. Videos of the meetings are also available for later viewing.

JeffCo Proud!