9/13 Saturday Post: The Kindergarten Puzzle…Solved?

FFK Puzzle 1Since last spring, most of us have wrestled from time to time with this question: 

Why do WNM+Williams* seem to dislike poor Kindergarteners so much?

After all, even though they voted to increase the District’s goals for 3rd and 4th grade reading and math, they continue to reject a time-tested, proven strategy that is relatively low-cost, straight-forward, and fairly simple, e.g., expand free, full day Kindergarten for schools with high numbers of children on free or reduced lunches.  This is not even a new program, but rather a modest expansion of an existing one, in line with every major educational study on improving test scores.

But WNM+Williams have raised one objection after another:

March 13th – Witt led an attack on free, full day Kindergarten expansion (FFK) saying there were studies that showed such programs did not really work.  Dr. Beck, then JeffCo’s Chief Academic Officer (now superintendent of a school district in Oregon) said she knew of no study that said that, that, in fact, multiple studies show just the opposite.  (Here are links to a few articles on the subject:  Full Day Kindergarten, Early Childhood Education for Low-Income Students:A Review ofthe Evidence and Benefit-Cost Analysis, Early Childhood Education, Education Funding And Low Income Children:  A Review of Current Research)

April 3d – Dr. Beck said she had reviewed the literature and all of it said this type of early intervention pays big dividends.  Julie Williams said she thought the “only difference between half and full day kindergarten were naps, more recess, and some ‘specials’ such as music or art.”

Witt demanded of Dr. Beck to know if any of the studies she cited had been done specifically in JeffCo, and when Beck said no, Witt then said that the national studies meant nothing and he wanted to see some that were specific to JeffCo.  He then led Newkirk and Williams in voting 3-2 to remove the funding.

(Dr. Beck and her team offered to conduct that research for the board this school year if the board would allow the program to move forward but “compromise” is a dirty word to WNM + Williams.)

May 1st (Bear Creek High School and over a thousand people attending) –  Several kindergarten teachers, spoke to the board of the huge results they see in their low income students attending full day K and pleaded with the Board majority to fund the kindergarten expansion.  Most impressive, a group led by Wendy McCord Tina Gurdikian, Kelly Johnson, Terri Straut, Amanda Stevens, and Tammy Story presented a report assembled from statistical data from JeffCo that showed conclusively that free, full day kindergarten (FFK) generates a strong, consistent improvement in the test scores of children who participate (see full report here: FFDK Report).  Regardless, after a motion to restore the funding for full day K expansion by Lesley Dahlkemper, WNM+Williams voted it down saying that giving poor children free, full day kindergarten would be unfair to the parents who could afford it for their own children!

June 5th – Dahlkemper and Fellman brought the issue up again, immediately after WNM+Miller voted to increase the already increased diversion allocation of funds to charter schools to more than $5 million, using mill levy funds and thus breaking promises to voters and the community.  Obviously, if the District had additional money available for the charters, then there had to be some available for poor children. This time Newkirk, in typical Newkirk fashion, threatened to cause general chaos (this seems to be his MO) by questioning the entire FFK program, and said he threatened to explore canceling all of it and ‘repurpose’ the funds. Witt, again, led voting down the expansion of Free Full Day Kindergarten to poor children, 3-2.

With all the above, one has to wonder, what do WNM+Williams have against poor children in desperate need of a good start?  There are hundreds of vulnerable five and six year olds who are this year missing out on the benefits of full day of Kindergarten.  This is an educational deficit that can never be made up.

Why do WNM + Williams not care about the future of these children?

Or maybe they care about something else more…perhaps something that would increase the number of charter school expansion?

Our first clue to this was actually posted before JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch was even existed. You can find it in the following video posted on YouTube by Transparency JeffCo.  Pay very careful attention to what Cindy Stevenson says at the 50 second mark and Witt’s response:

Did you catch it?

When Dr. Stevenson said there was plenty of space at Deer Creek Middle School, Witt’s reaction was, “A good place to co-locate a charter school.”  At the time, we thought it was simply a pavlovian response on his part. ‘A school building with space?  Put a charter school in it!’  It never occurred to us that this type of reaction could or would result in premeditated action…but it sure seems to.

This summer we decided to go back and reread a lot of the material that had been produced during the budget cycle.  It was then that we stumbled on the second and decisive clue.  If not a smoking gun, it at least, is a recording shots fired in the dark.

We began rereading the self-titled “Minority Report” written by Tom Coyne and Rachel Swalley (a copy can found here: SPAC Minority Report).  Both of these people were specifically placed on the Strategic Planning and Advisory Committee (SPAC) by Witt & Associates.  On the bottom of page 11 of this 70 page report, we read:

…SPAC received a proposal from District staff for an additional $600,000 to be spent on adding 13 more full day kindergarten classrooms at five schools. However, this issue was not on the Choice Committee’s agenda, despite the fact that the availability of classroom space is a critical constraint on their potential options and ultimate recommendation to the Board.” <emphasis added>

This report was given to the Board on March 6th, one week before WNM+Williams first voted down the FFK expansion.  It was made available to the Board members prior to that. We believe that when WNM+Williams read those two sentences, they deliberately decided to short-change the most vulnerable in our society, in order to further their own peculiar sense of ‘equity’.

Even then, they could have come right out and said why they were turning down the FFK expansion.  WNM+Williams have the votes to do almost anything they want.  But, as we have seen for nine months now, for some reason, WNM+Williams seem to need to believe that their true agenda and motivations are always hidden or masked.

So instead, they hurled one absurd objection after another at the staff and teachers.  As soon as the District staff refuted the first one, they hurled a second.  When teachers and parents refuted that one, they came out with a ridiculous ‘fairness’ argument.  When that was shown to be farcical, Newkirk resorted to threatening the entire program if any further argument was made.

And they won.

There is no expansion of Free, Full Day Kindergarten in JeffCo this year.  Those classrooms with WNM+Williams precious emptiness will be empty all year.  WNM+Williams undoubtedly hope that some outside corporate group will see the opportunity to use public school property to launch a charter school…and make money off it.

And this, we believe, is the most likely reason Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams voted against the best interests of almost 300 At-Risk children.

Is there even more to it? Perhaps….

Former Jeffco BOE member Laura Boggs has regularly disparaged schools with high proportions of low income students, asking pointed questions about race, ethnicity, and crime.  Her questions often seem to presuppose that those children, many of whom are English Language Learners, do not deserve a public education.

Boggs is staunch supporter of WNM+Williams and is reputed to have met repeatedly with Witt, who is also reputed to be something of a follower of hers.  It would not be much of a stretch to think that WNM+Williams feel the same way.

Whatever the motive, WNM+Williams action has put many of our low income schools at greater risk of not being able to improve test scores, which may lead some even to be declared ineffective for those children.  The consequence?  Given this Board, those schools will then be turned over to charter schools, who very well may offer the same free, full-day kindergarten that WNM+Williams have rejected.  Except, of course, this time WNM+Williams will cheer them on, since instead of having FFK funding spent by public schools, it will be spent by quasi-private ones, many of which will be run by for-profit companies.

In the meantime, we will have lost another year’s worth of desperate children.  None of which will matter to WNM+Williams as they seek to implement their radical political “reform” agenda.


So what are you going to do about it?

If you have not emailed the Board.  If you have not called your local office holders and candidates (see these lists: 2014 Jefferson County Election Candidates State Officials Jefferson County Officials).  If you have not contacted your friends, family, and colleagues.  If you have not stopped people in the street, in the stores, in our schools, and told all of them about the atrocities that this new majority is visiting on the children of JeffCo, now is the time to do so.

Join us, as we

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!


* – As we noted in our 9/8 post, it seems only appropriate that we change our acronym. Miller is now is acting more obviously as a peer of Witt and Newkirk instead of a subordinate contractor..  Whereas Julie Williams is behaving more like a bewildered, but loyal tag-along.  She apparently takes the betrayal and neglect by Witt and Miller as a minor thing.

Note:  JeffCoSchoolBoardWatch.org is a group of volunteers who work hard at keeping people informed about the actions and probable consequences of the new majority on the School Board.  We do not accept donations, nor are we a political organization.  We see ourselves as an information source for the community.

However there is a group that also has a charter to keep people informed about WNM+Williams and does accept donations:  SupportJeffcoKids.org.  If you want to get involved more in the fight against this ongoing atrocity, please visit their site.