Last Thursday, the Jeffco Schools Board of Education voted 5-0 to move ahead with a national Superintendent search. Before voting, each board member shared their personal thoughts, focusing especially on what they expect from a superintendent.
Following is a transcript of that conversation, including Board President Ron Mitchell’s introduction, but not including transition conversations about who would speak next. You can hear firsthand what was discussed here.
Again and again, we heard the key traits this board expects from a superintendent:
- strong leadership skills, both internally and externally
- the ability to build trust with all constituencies and take politics out of education in Jeffco
- the ability to bring our community together in the best interests of 86,000 students
- a skilled innovator who consistently provides vision and guidance and shares pertinent information in a timely manner
- educational expertise and respect for the Colorado Academic Standards and the Jeffco 2020 Vision
- a district ambassador who can build and grow key networks and communicate Jeffco’s successes
- a leader who acts transparently
We also heard several times that that board members strived to be respectful of current Superintendent Dan McMinimee when discussing concerns about his performance. This is why the very personal aspects of their discussions happened in executive session rather than during the public discussion.
Here is the transcript of opening statements regarding the superintendent search from the Jan. 12 board meeting:
Ron Mitchell: The employment contract with our current superintendent, Mr. Dan McMinimee, expires on June 30th. It’s important that we incorporate that into our thinking. The contract does not require the Board of Education to take action unless the board wishes to extend the term beyond June 30th of 2017. In that case, the board is required and must take action and notify Mr. McMinimee prior to March 31 of 2017. If the board does not take action, the contract simply expires by its terms on June 30, 2017.
If the board wishes to consider new leadership for Jeffco Schools, the board must take action to begin the process of identifying and gathering information about qualified candidates. The search process is summarized in Colorado statutes 24-6-402 and includes deadlines for applications, requirements for applicants, election procedures, and the timeframe for making a selection.
I want you to know that this conversation is a difficult and challenging conversation for the board. I can say that, too, because we have met in executive session and we have discussed this thing at length, for several hours, actually.
Many people have asked me, “Why now? Why are you as the board dealing with this now?” And the answer is really fairly simple: if you are going to engage in a search process, my advice from experts who understand the search process is that you must be in the marketplace in January if you’re going to be competitive with other districts across the United States. So the “why now?” is really driven by if we go much beyond January, if we go beyond January, we begin to limit our choices and limit our options.
By doing this now the board has two clean choices. One, we could extend Mr. McMinimee’s contract. Two, we could launch a national search. I’ve often said to my colleagues over the past month or six weeks that this is a lose-lose for our board of education. And by that I mean this: we are fully aware of the fact, if you’ve listened to our constituency this evening just here in the boardroom, you know that not everyone is going to agree with this decision. We could choose either choice, and it will be right for some and wrong for others. We know that. That is why I consider this to be one of the most challenging decisions that we as a board have tried to do, tried to take on since we began here a year ago.
I believe that this board is committed to something I think is important, and I will want to share it with you, that is we will do our level best what is right for 86,000 students in Jeffco, for our staff, and for Jeffco’s future. That is the bottom line. I do not think that there is an agenda that is political, and I don’t think there is an agenda to get even with any of our predecessors.
Regardless of the decision, I want you to know also that this board of education hopes that regardless of the decision, Dan McMinimee will finish his contract with us.
With that as background, I think we should open this discussion with a motion, and that the vote on that motion will determine the direction that we choose as a board for Jefferson County Schools. Is there a motion on this issue?
Amanda Stevens: I move that the Jeffco Board of Education begin the superintendent search process, and that staff be authorized to take the necessary and appropriate steps to begin the process as soon as possible.
Brad Rupert: I second the motion.
Ron Mitchell: It’s been moved and seconded that Jeffco Public Schools begin the search process. That opens a discussion that I would really like to encourage all of our board members to participate in. This is a difficult and challenging decision.
JCSBW note: The statements of each board member follow:
Stevens: I want to begin by reiterating something that you said President Mitchell, and that is that specifically, this is a difficult decision and there are, by design, limited leverage points that a board of education utilizes. Our goal is to define the vision and mission we articulate for our students and to make sure that we are on target to achieve that. We have, as a board, one sole employee, and that’s our superintendent. It’s been a privilege to join the collaborative effort that thousands of staff and teachers work on every day to achieve great learning and life outcomes for students. I am motivated by one thing and one thing only, and that is that we’re maximizing the learning and life outcomes of each and every student each and every day.
I also want to clarify something that I think became confused due to some of the media coverage and that is we met in executive session, we heard from our superintendent, Mr. McMinimee, we had some conversations together. We did that to explore this and did so with full respect and openness. No decisions were made during that time, and it matters that our public know that and have confidence in the fact that we had a transparent and open conversation with one another and with our superintendent but that we did not, in any way, make a decision or take a straw poll, or figure out next steps. We simply navigated some of the issues and concerns around this topic.
So I want to begin by talking about what it is that I believe we know about Jeffco and what we don’t know. I think we know that we have the very best students in the world here, and it’s our privilege to serve them. I think we know that we have considerable challenges. Some of those are not created here. Some of those are a result of the fact that we’re now more than $2,000 below the national average when it comes to per-pupil investment in our students and their future. We also know that some of those challenges are embedded in this community. We did not win much-needed revenue for our facilities and for our own ongoing operational costs so we have difficult decisions ahead. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that each and every one of our students has extraordinary potential, and each and every one of our dollars has to be directed to them.
I want to recognize what it is that I look for in a leader. I think that we’ve done a great job as a board in the spring in re-evaluating and re-articulating the board ends. They are closely aligned with the Jeffco 2020 Vision. They capture a deep commitment to the educational standards and the Colorado Academic Standards, and to a more holistic understanding of what it is that students need to be ready to do in the 21st century work environment. And I believe deeply that the kind of innovation, expansive thinking, and granular analysis that needs to happen in our classrooms, in our schools, also needs to happen at the district level. So when I think about the kind of leader that Jeffco needs to tackle its future — and Jeffco students deserve — I’m looking for significant and demonstrated educational expertise, to drill down on the strengths and challenges, the shared next steps, what are the district-wide non-negotiables, what are the important flexibilities. It may be that professional managerial expertise would serve as well but I will admit that I am looking for first and foremost educational expertise because I think the educational environment is unique.
I believe that Jeffco needs and students deserve a capable connector and communicator, someone who is a proactive ambassador of our schools in our community and our state, to tell the stories of the great accomplishments of our students and schools, to articulate the deep needs that we have, and I believe that Jeffco needs a strategic innovator, someone who can articulate and execute district-wide initiatives that support and complement the school-level initiatives we loved hearing about earlier during the student-based budgeting conversation.
I also want to say thank you to Dan. I think you’ve been a stable leader during changing times. I want to thank you for wisely deferring to the expertise of your cabinet. I think you’ve done that well. You’ve responded to Jeffco needs. I’m grateful for that. And it’s been a privilege to work with you and I hope that our time together isn’t done. At the same time, I have exacting standards and our board has one sole employee, and I’m ready to explore a process by which we can aim for next steps and identify and start a superintendent search process.
Rupert: My position is that Mr. McMinimee has served Jeffco Schools and our children well during difficult times and under extremely difficult circumstances, as many of our speakers have expressed. He’s worked with two diverse boards and in my view he’s worked with this board constructively and with integrity. With his skilled management, Mr. McMinimee has helped us bring stability to the district, which I don’t think we had a year and a half ago, and he’s helped provide a foundation that we can build on.
With this motion, with a search that engages our community, and with a long history of high-quality public education, I’m hoping that we can attract a superintendent candidate with the leadership skills, the communication skills, the problem-solving skills, and the vision that can build on our foundation and raise Jeffco to new levels of educational excellence.
I will be looking for a candidate with the expertise to drive greater educational outcomes for our children, and the ability to build stronger ties with and support of our educators, families and the broader community.
I’ve heard from some quarters — we’ve had a lot of correspondence, as you can imagine, and even from a comment this evening — that we’ve been through difficult times and we should let things settle. And it’s true. We’ve been through difficulties the last three years, and I’m certain that we’re going to face more in the future, as outlined by Amanda.
But the children in our schools can’t afford for the adults to just let things settle. We’ve got problems to solve, challenges to overcome, and 86,000 children who’ve got the right to expect a great education now. Not when things settle down. I, therefore, choose not to fear the future, but to try and create it. And let us not succumb to the inertia of the day, but let’s build forward momentum.
It’s absolutely fair to ask that this decision be based upon actual performance. And in private conversations we’ve had some conversation about Mr. McMinimee’s performance, his skills as a manager, and areas that we would look for additional talent.
I believe strongly that that kind of conversation is appropriate privately because I honestly believe that Mr. McMinimee is in the middle of his career, and has extraordinary potential. He is not the same person he was five years ago, and he’s not the same person he will be five years from now. He’s going to take what he’s learned in Jeffco, facing the adversity he’s faced, and be an extraordinary leader somewhere, and develop new skills.
I firmly believe that Mr. McMinimee is going to develop into an extraordinary superintendent, but he needs the opportunity to have that growth, and it’s going to take other opportunities, I think, to get him there.
I, therefore, believe that it’s appropriate that we conduct a search now, and that we do it in the season that maximizes his ability to get a position elsewhere, if that’s what he chooses to do.
Ali Lasell: First, I want to thank everyone for speaking at public comment. I want to thank everyone for writing letters, and even the phone calls that I have received. I greatly value our community’s input, and so thank you. I want you to know that I have given this a lot of thought, and written several drafts of what I want to communicate. I am reading what I want to say because I don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want to birdwalk.
First and foremost, I care very deeply about Jeffco, and I intend to do the very best job to make decisions that are in the best interest of all 86,000 kids. I do want to thank all of you — cabinet, community, board members, Dan — for the work that we have done to date. We know we can do better, and we know we can do more. This district has some major challenges to work through this next year, while being thoughtful, strategic, long-range planners, as well.
Our district needs to continue to come together. Everyone needs to feel valued, whether you are a student, employee, or taxpayer. Our board consists of four unaffiliated voters and one affiliated with a political party. I take great pride in this, and I am confident that none of us up here has an agenda, personal or political. We are focused on making the best decisions for the 86,000 students that we serve, and for this organization, whose sole responsibility is to provide a high-quality education for each and every student.
I wanted to become a board member because I am passionate about public education. Education is not political, and there are some members of our community who want to politicize every single thing that we do. This needs to change for us to move forward. We need our community behind Jefferson County Public Schools.
We’ve got one employee. It is our job to make sure that we have the most qualified person in that position to shepherd our community through the very difficult times we face as a Colorado school district who is forced to make major cuts due to our funding crisis.
Now is the time in a superintendent’s contract where every board decides whether to search for a superintendent or not, which is what we’re discussing right now. I want to be clear to our community: there were no decisions made in executive session, regardless of what you’re hearing or reading. Dan, honestly, I feel that we have been trying to be protective of you throughout this process, in deference to you and your professional reputation. This discussion is not easy, but this discussion and decision are critical to the future of Jeffco. I feel I’ve been clear about my expectations, and shared any concerns I might have in a variety of ways. We’ve got monthly meetings, through email, or just through direct communication. All informal, but all very important.
To me, honestly, this isn’t as much about your evaluation as it is about where we are right now in Jeffco, and what kind of a leader we need to move this district forward. When I think of leadership qualities, and I’m going to outline what I think about. When I think of leadership qualities necessary to move Jeffco forward from this point on, so that we can continue to provide a high-quality education to our students, I believe we need a leader who can cultivate ongoing networks from the get-go with our business community, civic and service groups, city leaders, parents, teachers, students, and the 70 percent of our community that has zero connection to our schools. Someone who can communicate to all stakeholders that our schools are a major, valued part of our community, and are worth investing in, so we can continue to provide great opportunities for all 86,000 students. Someone who can build trust between the district leaders and school personnel, can lead internally as well as externally. Someone who can inspire our staff and our students to strive for excellence. An educational expert who can provide direction when needed, and guidance, making sure that all levels of our system are accountable. Someone who can look at our test results, positive or not so positive, and communicate a clear plan of action for excellence. Someone who can communicate the vision of the district to employees and our public. A forward-thinker who can anticipate potential challenges, as well as opportunities, and provide clear direction, clear solutions. A leader willing to make bold moves, look at that budget and find dollars that can be saved by making necessary cuts, while looking at programs, departments, and staffing, so our students receive the greatest benefit from our limited resources. Someone who will keep us routinely informed about issues impacting this district, so when our constituents ask us about an issue, we’ve got the facts.
Here’s what I’m saying: we need a very strong leader to take this district to the next level.
Bottom line, for me, we need an inspirational leader who provides vision and direction, who can lead both internally and externally, and who can build trust with our employees and community. I realize these are huge asks, but I believe that Jeffco will attract just that kind of leader.
I will be voting to launch a superintendent search, and feel strongly that our community needs to be a part of this process. If passed, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure this is an open and transparent process. These schools belong to our community, and I want our community to believe in and support the work that we are doing for our students. Thank you.
Susan Harmon: This is a really difficult conversation for me to have, and anyone out there who’s been in an employment situation, which is probably all of you on some level. It’s just bizarre to me that you have these conversations publicly, but I understand the necessity of it because of this particular position. I have never been in this position before, so it has been very challenging for me. And I can assure you that I have not made up my mind about any of this.
I spent a lot of time listening, and I get criticized at times because I seem to listen more than I speak up here, but I listen because there is a lot to hear and a lot to process. And I just try and think back on my experiences here in the limited time I’ve been on the board. My communications with you Dan, and items that were really important to me when I started this position, and you were responsive to them. You listened to them. And I think you’ve made great progress in those areas.
And those are the pieces of special education and where we were as a district on some of those things when I took this seat, and we got notifications of maybe being sanctioned. And you took that with integrity. You inherited these things, and you took action on them. You made great hires, and you’ve been true to your word on that. And we, as a board, have demanded reports on that and updates. And we keep using that analogy of we have a big rock to move there, but we’re making movement there. So that’s significant and important to me.
And I will say this repeatedly, and I know the board’s tired of hearing me, that whatever direction we go, that area, because all kids are general ed kids first, that we need to remember that and have integrity in that area.
The other area that was really important to me as a board member was career and workforce readiness, and making those connections. I have been privileged to have Warren Tech as one of my schools, high schools that have pathways that are designed with that goal in mind. And my experience has been again, as a superintendent, that you have been true to your word on that, you have put great effort, and have great working connections with the people that are running those programs, and we have made great strides in that 2020 Vision in terms of really looking at the whole child.
So, I listened to everyone, and yes, there’s always areas where, as I look at these words, you know, “room to improve,” “areas where we could be doing things differently.” You and I have talked about this.
How do you shake distrust? How do you change a perception? And that is so hard to do. And perception, unfortunately, matters. It matters in so much of what we do. And you could make the same decision as someone else would make, but if there’s a perception in place, it doesn’t matter what that is. Same thing that’s just happened to all of us. There’s a perception that a decision was made, or something happened — well, it didn’t happen when I was in the room.
So, that’s the tough thing about this job. And transparency, again, it’s perceptions. And I look forward to a full description of what this process actually looks like so that people’s perceptions of what may or may not have happened last time are simply that, perceptions. I didn’t participate in that process. I wasn’t a part of any of those meetings. All you can hear is what was presented. So, I don’t have a perception, but I do know that Dan went through that process, and I know that he did a presentation of his qualifications, and was one person that was recommended as a finalist. How the rest of that process thing goes, in terms of people’s backgrounds, ability to put out there that you are running for a position, and whether you want that to be public or not and how that works: I hope that we get information on that so that we don’t continue this perpetual perception of some agenda, because I assure you if those perceptions were correct then I suppose we would have made a change in our school board superintendent in November or December — which we did not do.
So, with all due respect for all of the information, and I know that people feel really strongly about this, I still go back to inspiration, trust. Those are all these amorphous things, but they matter in this position. They do.
I think we all share a collective responsibility for 3A/3B not passing. And when I say collective, I mean our community, I mean ourselves as a school board, and obviously Dan takes a part of that, but we all collectively share in that. And we all need to collectively move forward with that. There are areas that we don’t have any control over, and only Dan does, because our only decision relates to Dan’s contract, not those areas that Dan has been directly working on.
So, it’s difficult, and I am concerned, and I know everyone knows this: it’s not about fear of change or fear of something new, because I embrace change. I think it’s always a positive. Change is always good, again, if you have the right perception.
So, I’m still struggling with this. And I know those are only two areas, and I just bring that up because those are areas that I was really focused on as a board member. I have other areas of concern. But on Brad’s point, too, I’m trying to be deferential over someone’s career and what we’re doing here and the impact we can have on that.
Mitchell: You know, sometimes I have often been the closer. I get to choose that, I guess, with the board. But I want you to know, sometimes I listen to what they have to say, and I say, you know, I probably should say wasn’t all those things pretty well stated, because they really were.
But I do want to say a couple of things.
One, I don’t believe in public evaluation of our employees. And so there are people who have criticized us for having our discussions about what to do with this particular issue in exec session. For them, I’m sorry. I don’t believe in public evaluation. I’m not really happy about what we even have to do here in public this evening. But I understand that it’s required by law.
I believe that Dan has led us through a difficult transition time from a prior board to this board, and has done a nice job of doing that. I believe that I have seen growth in Mr. McMinimee over the last year as we have worked with him. I think he has grown and, in many ways, become a better superintendent over the last year.
Having said that, I listen to people, and I ask myself, “What is this issue really about?” And I actually shared with Dan early on in my relationship with him that I thought he needed to work on rebuilding, or building, trust with all of our constituent groups. And that’s a big assignment when you’re in Jefferson County. We have a lot of them. I know he took me seriously and tried to do that. And yet, I had people come to me fairly regularly and ask me this question. They would say, “Is Mr. McMinimee really on our team, or is his value system the value system of the last board of education?”
I was asked that a lot, and I would say to people, “I’m checking that continuously, and I believe Mr. McMinimee is working for us and working collaboratively with us.”
I still believe that. I truly believe that he did that. So I share that story with you because there are people in our constituents group who do not trust that Dan can lead the direction this board wants us to go. That is still a factor.
And so, when trust becomes a question. And it is still a question for too many, I think, of our constituents. When that is a factor, then it is very difficult for those groups of people to find a leader to be inspirational and highly motivating. They’re always sitting there in the audience with a question mark in their mind rather than simply responding.
And so, I think there’s one other thing I want to say. One of the newspaper articles I read said this was all about evaluation and we should just do the evaluation and make a decision. So, I just want you to think theoretically with me for a moment. So what if we did on a percentage scale — and we wouldn’t — but what if we did? And we said, “OK, you know, we have a ‘C’ average superintendent.” Well then, what do you think ‘C’ average is? Maybe you think it’s 60 percent. Maybe you think it’s 70. I don’t know. What if I said, “Well, we have a good superintendent.” And you said, “Well, that’s, you know, that’s at least 75 or 80.”
And then what if I said to you, however we did that rating, wherever we found that scale to be, might we be searching for some other level on that scale? So, tying it strictly to evaluation is a very difficult process. I’m trying to use that as an example. You know, to me it’s a scale. There is a scale of performance. It’s not “average.” It’s not just “above average.” It’s a scale, there is a scale of performance. It’s not “average.” It’s not “just above average.” And then the question becomes, “Is there another leader that could be more effective and lead us and our 86,000 students to a brighter future?”
And those are kind of the thoughts that have permeated my mind for the past few weeks.
Is there other discussion from the board?
Harmon: I just want to be clear in this national search then, to your point and to other people’s point, anyone can throw their hat in for this search.
Mitchell: Absolutely, if we vote to do this, Ms. Harmon, I think it should be publicly said that Mr. McMinimee could choose, you know, to apply. I would welcome that. I think there’s some things that might make him say, “Thanks for the invitation. I’m not interested.” But if he were interested, I would personally welcome that, yes.
JCSBW note: After more discussion, which we have not transcribed here, the Board voted 5-0 to move ahead with a search for a new superintendent.
As always, the meeting was archived on the Jeffco Schools website, and you can watch the full meeting at this link.
The board is currently working on plans to incorporate as much public input as possible into the process. We will continue to update you as we learn more details. Meanwhile, you can always write to the board with your thoughts about what qualities an ideal superintendent will have at firstname.lastname@example.org.