6.25.15 Hate in Jeffco

We received this letter from a reader in response to an extremely offense retweet by a Jeffco Schools principal.

I never questioned the importance of my education until my 7th grade science teacher drew a swastika on my test paper with a 0% written across the top. He told me Hitler had the right idea.

With two powerful red pen marks shaping a symbol of hatred, he erased a child’s belief that teachers are to be trusted and that trying my best was valuable.

I went from straight A’s to ditching regularly before my brain had any time to process. I had to. Processing that event meant facing the fact that the very person educating me believed me to be worthless purely because of my cultural and religious roots.

I never told anyone. I didn’t want my parents to worry and I didn’t believe anyone at school would help. If my own teacher could behave that way, I was afraid of how others might truly feel about me being Jewish.

Now, I am a stronger person. I’ve identified myself as a teacher and parent for many years and today I’m identifying myself as an advocate for the students at Connections Learning Center (CLC) in Jefferson County.

CLC is a school designed to give a second chance to students who have been expelled from a Jefferson County school. To that end, their principal, Lisa Mumma, principal at Jeffco’s Connections Learning Center, is responsible for protecting any student who is being bullied by another student – especially if it is racially-driven bullying.

Unfortunately, instead of protecting her students Ms. Mumma recently re-tweeted the following:

You Say Not All Muslims Are Monsters… Imagine A Bowl Of M&Ms. 10% Are Poisoned…’Would You Eat A Handful’??

My heart aches remembering my skinny twelve-year-old legs climbing up the bus steps to go downtown instead of to 7th grade. My heart aches again thinking of the Muslim students at CLC as they face each new school day.

They are in a school that is meant to offer them a second chance, but if they look up, they may have to face a principal’s eyes that are full of hate for them. If they misstep, they may have to sit in a chair opposite of someone who believes them to be poison purely because of their cultural and religious roots.

CLC’s mission is to “empower students to be responsible, respectful, and to know where they are going in school and in life.” I suspect that now, Ms. Mumma has created students who only want to go away from school and life.

A student in Ms. Mumma’s school who re-tweeted that tweet might get suspended, expelled, or would at least be asked to apologize. As a principal, I believe Ms. Mumma should be held to an even higher standard by Superintendent McMinimee and the Jeffco School Board. Instead, there has been no accountability. I’m hopeful that Ms. Mumma, the superintendent, and Jeffco School Board members will choose to acknowledge the importance of her hateful act and work to rectify it.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

2.25.15 – BOE Feb. 19 meeting notes

UpdateAs noted in the pre-meeting agenda commentary, there was a lot going on at this board meeting. Some of these topics will be addressed again at the March 5 regular board meeting, though it’s not clear what direction the board will take on any of them.

Agenda Item 2:01 Jefferson Articulation Area Plan
This was the first of three times where Superintendent Dan McMinimee praised the presentation group. His opening accolades of the work by the six principals on the team sent a clear message that the Board should seriously consider approving this plan.

The discussion was lengthy, outlining the plans that will impact Jefferson High School, Wheat Ridge 5-8, Edgewater Elementary, Lumberg Elementary, Stevens Elementary, Molholm Elementary, and Everitt MS. If approved, Stevens Elementary will move to the Wheat Ridge 5-8 campus, and the district is proposing moving Sobesky Academy out of its aging building to the Stevens campus. The presentation team, consisting of the principals from each of the schools, fielded the board’s questions with welcomed exuberance. They even surveyed students about the plan, using a statistical rating system for students, parents and teachers that rated their degree of acceptance of these impacts. The mantra became “I’m very excited!”

A key concern about adding 7th and 8th graders to Jefferson High School deals with their safety. These fears were addressed with diagrams of the school layout that essentially creates a school within a school, separating the younger students from the older ones most of the day.

Following the presentation, Jill Fellman asked what Wheat Ridge 5-8 Principal Warren Blair meant when he said they might need to request “Innovation Status.” Blair said while it would not be likely, they didn’t want to shut that door and wanted to be completely transparent with the community. A request for that status requires collaboration with the school community, JCEA and the BOE. Examples of items they might consider, for example, include waiver that might allow them to expand the school day or add teaching training time beyond the contract. Blair also pointed out any principal can start the Innovation Status process at any time, but it is a collaborative process that must take place with staff, community and BOE input.

John Newkirk questioned a plan that was put forward in 2006 of a similar nature and wanted to know why that did not work and how this plan was different? It was explained that former plan was for a K-8 school and not relevant to this situation.

Another major area of concern was the impact on moving Sobesky Academy, a special school that serves Jeffco students with severe emotional disabilities. Currently, Sobesky is in a building from the 1940s that is too small to accommodate the entire district population, and which also has safety code issues. Board members praised the program but expressed concern that these students may have a longer bus ride to the proposed new location on the current Stevens Elementary campus.

Lesley Dahlkemper urged more community input and the team outlined plans to incorporate parents in both summer and beginning of the year orientations. The principals were very honest in saying there is still much work to do but they cannot move forward without Board approval at the March meeting. The unified principal team was a major selling point for board members.

Agenda Item 2.01: Interest Based Bargaining Overview
This was an overview of the bargaining system that the district has used for a number of years. Dennis Dougherty, facilitator, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, explained the process step by step to the board:

1) Define the Issue
2) Share Interests
3) Generate Options
4) Evaluate Options
5) Craft Solutions

He continually reiterated that if either side comes to the table with a solution rather than a proposal, the IBB process would not work. He also described in detail the pre-preparation that involves team training and even the room arrangement for the discussion of the topics. The bottom line is that in order for this to work, the following needs to happen:

1) Trust between parties
2) Buy-in by everyone
3) Commitment by all members
4) Openness to options and alternatives.

Members of JCEA offered their view of the process and why they think IBB best bargaining method. At the end of the discussion, Ken Witt said he trusted his negotiating team to figure out the best method. He refused to allow questions or comments from other board members, stating that it was merely a training session. Dahlkemper in turn, insisted on her right to speak and added her own favorable impression of the process from when Jeffco Schools and JCEA have used IBB in the past.

Agenda Item 2.03: Teacher Licensure Process: Alternative Programs
Currently, there are nine teachers in the district — seven in charter schools — that have an alternative license. Basically this means the individual has a bachelor’s degree and has passed a content area test.

It was hard to gauge exactly where this conversation was headed except for this question by Newkirk, “Are we using Teach for America?” Jeffco does not use TFA, in part because TFA was originally organized to fill teacher shortages in inner cities. Jeffco Chief Human Resources Director Amy Weber also pointed out that historically, Jeffco has had a rich pool from which to hire teachers. Hmmm.

Julie Williams asked about Warren Tech. It was explained that Warren Tech falls into a different category and does not require an alternative license. Some of the Warren Tech instructors qualify for vocational certification, which allows them to teach using their area of expertise.

Williams also wanted to draw a comparison of highly effective teachers in our public schools compared to those in our charter schools. Weber very pointedly explained that we can’t compare highly effective teachers to charter schools because the charter schools are waved from a form of evaluation that would rate them. Cha Ching! Witt wants more information on this issue.

Agenda Item 2.04 Student Based Budgeting Update
There are plenty of questions to ask on this subject. This was a very detailed presentation explaining the formula for determining the amount of money a school receives to follow-through on their own budget planning.

This presentation team began by explaining the old-central office approach of allocation vs. local school control of academic funds. There point was the “once size fits all” did not’ work. During the presentation, sometimes it was confusing to know which funds belonged to the individual school and which monetary role still belonged to central office.

Fellman raised concerns that Jeffco’s sense of community could be undermined as each school has autonomy, and that the district might miss out on efficiencies of scale if schools are making individual purchases of supplies, textbooks and other programs. Dahlkemper brought up the concern that some schools will choose to drop their kindergarten program if they do not have enough kids. There were also concerns about whether the system could be “gamed.”

For example, could a school that wanted to expand its art classes cut back on music classes to do so? The answer is that no, each school has a strict set of guidelines they have to follow cutting back on any of the three elementary-mandated “specials” would not be allowed.

Many of the rules are linked to the current JCEA contract, and the big money question is what could happen regarding those restrictions should the contract not be renewed.

When Williams asked how this was going to impact the at risk or special needs students, the presenters pointed out that under this system, because of Federal funds to those groups, they may actually have more money to spend on services.

It’s also having an impact on full-day kindergarten in Jeffco. This deserves a much longer post. For now, suffice it to say that the number of schools offering free FDK is dropping from 40 Jeffco Schools to 26/31. Why the split number? Of the 31, 5 are schools that anticipate their entire kindergarten population will qualify for free FDK as free- and reduced-lunch children. The other 26 are using SBB dollars to provide free FDK. The rest will charge the $300/month number that has been set by the district as the kindergarten fee. This deserves a separate post and we will address it again in the following weeks.

Another big question: Will schools opt to get rid of an expensive teacher to hire two less expensive teachers? The current answer is no, an average salary is assumed for all teachers. What that seems to mean is that staffing for teachers is not being done by real dollar amounts, at least this year. It was a question that surfaced repeatedly.

Our best understanding is that, for example, a K-6 school with two classrooms per grade would state they needed 14 full-time teachers, and that in the current SBB system, the district would translate that as a standard money amount, regardless of whether that school’s specific teachers are more or less experienced. Any “shortage” would be made up by the fact that at other schools, some teachers are less experienced and lower on the pay scale, so it all works out at the district level—hence the “average salary.” McMinimee said he didn’t want schools to be in a position of choosing quality over quantity. It should be interesting to see how it plays out this year.

What quietly was pointed out near the end of this discussion is that under SBB, $2 million is being transferred from high schools to elementary schools to help balance out larger elementary class sizes. Chief School Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliot explained that most high school teachers were not at the high end of their daily student count whereas a lot of elementary schools are seeing classes of 28-33 students. (There was speculation on Twitter that this was only happening in areas of new development, but that’s not the case. Many of us know multiple elementary schools that are seeing extremely large class sizes even at the K-2 levels all over the district.)

What it will mean is staff cuts at the high school. This process is a radical change and it may still be too early to measure the positive and/or negative outcomes. We need to hear from the impacted staff.

Agenda Item 2.05: Classroom Dashboard Update
Four million dollars later…and? When the presenters themselves infer that this is its own “story”, it is not surprising that some of the Board questions were digging at the past history and the money trail. Superintendent McMinimee was smart to meet Witt’s question head on when Witt, the self-proclaimed “tech guy” began to question the character of the vender, LoudCloud. McMinimee flatly stated that Witt was correct and the vendor was essentially not doing his job. He made it very clear that Jeffco and vendor are back on track.

The Board members seemed to be expecting an immediate roll out of the program (Aren’t we all?) but Dashboard is still in the design stage with bits and pieces coming together. The first pilot started in January and includes 15 schools, but many of the components of Dashboard are not up and running …yet. With so much money already invested, this seems to be a wait and see. What the Board did request is an outline of security measures for this program.

Agenda Item 2:06 Alameda Facilities Plan Update
“Are you not as excited about this as Jefferson High School or are you just tired because it is so late?” Williams asked presenters about the Alameda Plan during the presentation. The reply from Alameda Principal Susie Van Scoyk was, “It’s late.”

Yet, this plan to move Stein Elementary students to O’Connell and grades 7 & 8 to Alameda High School was not presented with nearly the same enthusiasm as the Jefferson group with their plan. It was clear in the presentation that this Alameda High School change is a tougher sell to the community, students and staff than the Jefferson Articulation plan was to their community.

Elliot provided a detailed plan that showed that the planners are trying to allay the concerns of parents with the middle school/high school merge. Alameda will use staggered schedules and lunch times as just two example of keeping the middle school students away from the upper classmen. The key here for the change is about Stein Elementary. It was presented as the best option to help this elementary school.

Also of note: an expansion to Stein Elementary was part of the failed 2008 bond package. Expanding the school now is out of the question because there are too many temporary buildings and because there’s no place to otherwise put the children while expansion might take place. Is there a lesson worth noting here?

Don’t let them forget we’re watching, and keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

The Hypothetical Dan McMinimee

broken-trust

Mr. McMinimee appears to have a full repertoire for evading questions and not committing to any particular path, presumably to not create obstacles to the ultimate political goals of the school board majority’s handlers. One of those tools he has employed more often lately is refusing to answer questions if he deems them to be “hypothetical.”

In recent conversations with teachers and the community, Mr. McMinimee has taken to setting ground rules. Some of the ground rules appear to be the usual, like behaving respectfully. Unfortunately, he is also increasingly using the manipulative “I’m not answering hypothetical questions” sleight-of-hand, and establishing that as one of his up-front ground rules.

Of course, he actually talks about hypothetical events all the time. Certainly, when he interviewed for the job he talked about hypothetical events. Certainly, he believes in the purchase of appropriate insurance for the district despite the fact that the insured events are hypothetical.

He is mandated to plan strategically, accounting for some hypotheticals.  We are sure that Mr. McMinimee plans his weekend despite some uncertainties in his plans. The “hypothetical” escape hatch might not be his most disingenuous answer, but it is perhaps the perfect example of his get-out-of-the-way-of-WNW leadership style. To be sure, there are limits to the reasonable hypothetical nature of questions, but real leadership is talking about things that really concern people and that aren’t just remote possibilities.

Yet when competent, veteran teachers ask about what life might be life after an association contract, there is some level of dismissal by Mr. McMinimee as such questions being too hypothetical. These are teachers whose long and distinguished careers are defined and undergirded by working conditions spelled out in their contract. Based on what happened in Douglas County, and WNW’s relationship with the Independence Institute and other reflexively anti-collective bargaining forces, questions about life after a teacher contract are far from hypothetical.

Mr. McMinimee bristles at the idea that there’s a lack of transparency, but his dodging uncomfortable questions with this cynical trick only deepens the mistrust. Once again, Mr. McMinimee’s shocking lack of real leadership promotes the idea that he was paid primarily to talk in circles, to shirk tough questions as deftly as possible, and to do the will of forces operating outside of Jeffco, all the while giving the appearance that he has some separation and independence from the board majority. At a meeting on Wednesday night, he answered that he sometimes stands up to some board members, but behind closed doors, of course.

True leaders give authentic and transparent answers to their employees’ questions, especially when those questions involve the conditions of their work and their livelihood. We will gladly give credit if things change. But for now, Mr. McMinimee’s weak dodges will only cement the idea that his primary goal isn’t really student achievement, but rather to get paid a comfortable salary while playing the part of a pawn. That’s not hypothetical.

Keep fighting JeffCo!