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!

Is change in the air for Jeffco Schools 2017?

urgentIn case you haven’t heard, Jeffco Schools announced Tuesday the Jeffco School Board will vote on whether to start a search process for a new superintendent at their Jan. 12 regular board meeting.

For some — perhaps most — of our readers, this is long-awaited news. Others may be wondering why.

What’s not yet clear is whether this means that board members are seriously contemplating not renewing Superintendent Dan McMinimee’s contract, or whether they’re just fulfilling their promise to be transparent and accountable with board decisions and are providing ample notice so the community can be a part of the process and offer their input on the decision.

Although some Denver news outlets are reporting that McMinimee’s contract will not be renewed, Chalkbeat took a more nuanced approach and suggested that it was possible the board could still choose to renew his contract at the meeting.

No decision has been made yet, so news coverage stating that McMinimee’s contract will not be renewed is mere speculation and is either irresponsible journalism, or based on unprofessional comments from some at the district. Jeffco School Board members have held two executive sessions to discuss the contract, most recently on Dec. 15, but any vote to renew or not renew has to take place in open session, preferably with time for public comment and thoughtful, articulate board discussion. That is now scheduled for the Jan. 12 meeting.

Also from the same press release:

“It was clear during our executive sessions that the board felt we should explore our options to support the vision and direction of our school district,” said Board President Ron Mitchell. “This is a very difficult discussion, especially since Dan has led Jeffco Public Schools through some challenging times and we all appreciate his work.

…. Now that the current Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education has served over a year, the Board president expressed his expectation that the Board will have a full discussion regarding the desired direction of the district at the Jan. 12 meeting.

“If the Board decides to begin the search for a new superintendent, that action should not be viewed as a commentary on the Board’s estimation of Dan’s abilities or his performance in the role of superintendent,” explained Mitchell. “Board members expressed a desire to have a broader discussion about the Board’s vision for the district and type of leadership needed to make that vision a reality.”

As a refresher, Superintendent McMinimee was hired in 2014 as the sole finalist of a $40,000 national superintendent search. Before his hiring, he had spent several years working as an administrator in Douglas County, and many suspected that now-recalled board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams hired him in part because he had been the lead negotiator in Douglas County when they cut ties with the union. He was hired on a 3-2 vote in a meeting in which Witt shut down public comment after a mere 45 minutes. WNW eventually approved a three-year contract with a base salary of $220,000 and bonus pay of up to $40,000 based on goals set by the board.

This year, McMinimee received $20,000 in bonus pay based on the goals set by the previous board before the November 2015 election. McMinimee and the board discussed potential goals for 2017-18 at a recent meeting, and suggested that many of the goals McMinimee suggested should be a routine part of his job. They directed him to select different, more aspirational goals at a future meeting.

Board members also had a long executive session at the end of the Dec. 15 meeting to discuss the renewal of McMinimee’s contract, which ends on June 30, 2017. The board needs to make a decision by the end of March, but stated they wanted to start those discussions now. We saw a lot of chatter on social media about the 3-1/2 hour length of the executive session and what that might mean, but no one knows for sure.

JCSBW fervently hopes that a comprehensive, articulate, and thoughtful discussion will ensue at the Jan. 12 meeting in order to better explain what board members are thinking. Among other things, the Jeffco School Board needs to clarify:

  1. Specifically what they envision for the future of Jeffco Schools, and specifically what they want from a leader charged with carrying out that vision. (Emphasis on “specific,” because the press release is so vague that it could mean anything.)
  2. Specific areas in which McMinimee’s performance has fallen short, and why the board thinks different leadership may be a better option.
  3. What options the board has for selecting a new superintendent, how much those options cost, and why any additional cost is justified.

Three board seats are up for election in November, so it is extremely important that the board members be as transparent as possible as they move forward with this decision.

The average Jeffco voter will want to know why this board decided to renew or not renew McMinimee’s contract — and they’ll need to understand why it’s not a waste of money to spend several thousand more dollars on another superintendent search three years later. Three years ago, that search cost $40,000. If McMinimee’s contract is not renewed, that means taxpayers have paid an additional $13.3k per year on top of his salary.

We know many families, principals and teachers in Jeffco have not been pleased with McMinimee’s time here, and feel he is not the best candidate to lead our schools. However, that is not clear to the average voter or even the average Jeffco Schools family. We have no doubt that the anti-tax forces in Jeffco will waste no time in pointing to waste, lack of transparency, and vindictiveness if board members do not clearly make the case for whatever decision they reach on Jan. 12.

Readers, we also encourage you to communicate with the board, either during the public comment session at the Jan. 12 meeting or by writing the board before the meeting. You will be able to sign up to speak at public comment beginning on Monday, Jan. 9, and we’ll update with a link once that is available.

You can email the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, or email the board members individually using the links on the Jeffco School Board members page. It’s vitally important for the board — and the greater Jeffco community — to hear what you think and why.

Jeffco Proud!

3.17.2016 BOE MEETING PREVIEW

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The Jeffco School Board will hold a study session this Thursday, March 17, beginning at 5:30 pm. If you cannot attend, you can stream the meeting online. Key matters include:

Jeffco’s Early Childhood Education Program

The Board will hear the latest regarding Jeffco’s growing Early Childhood Education (ECE) Program. This includes preschool, Kindergarten and before- and after-school programs. The Board will also meet ECE community partners during this update.

We’re curious to know the impacts to enrollment in Full-Day Kindergarten (FDK) as a result of the requirement that free FDK be provided to all students on free and reduced lunch (FRL). This is something that hasn’t been clear, so we’re wondering:

  • How many schools were providing free FDK to all students prior to SBB who have stopped doing so, specifically due to the percentage of FRL students in their school? Our understand from last year was that there were 40 schools providing free FDK that went down to 25 schools after the implementation of SBB.
  • As we understand it, schools receive additional funds for free lunch kiddos, but not for reduced lunch kiddos. Therefore, schools have to provide the funds for school fees and free FDK for reduced lunch kiddos from their general fund. How is this impacting schools and what is being done to relieve this pressure?

We’re also wondering if the district or new board has considered a tiered system of charging for FDK like the one Denver Public Schools implemented, which bases tuition upon the size of the family relative to their gross income and ability to pay instead of a flat $300/month fee? Or is there a way the district could move toward offering free FDK for everyone, perhaps on a 5- or 10-year implementation plan? (The ideal situation would be that the state allocates funding to allow all districts to offer free FDK, of course, but we’re well aware of the ongoing state funding problems.)

2nd Quarter Financial Report

Jeffco Chief Financial Officer Kathleen Askelson, a representative from the District’s auditor and members of the District’s Financial Oversight Committee will share the latest financial news. The report identifies funds, departments and/or schools to monitor closely throughout the year.

We’re pleased to see no charter schools are borrowing at the end of this quarter, and Collegiate Academy has closed its line of credit with the District. Budgeting for the 2016-2017 school year will continue to be a hot topic. Stay tuned.

District Accountability Committee

Next, Jeffco Chief Effectiveness Officer Terry Elliott and District Accountability Committee Chair Julie Oxenford-O’Brian will update the Board on the District’s Unified Improvement Plan before it is submitted to the Colorado Department of Education.

Legislative Update

Jeffco’s Lobbyist, Ed Bowditch, will update the Board on legislation affecting schools, districts and education.

When Cindy Stevenson Left Jeffco…

Two years ago, when the Board approved former Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s early release from her duties, Witt, Newkirk and Williams insisted on barring her from volunteering or being employed in Jeffco Schools in the future.

Paragraph #12, page 5 of 8 of that agreement reads, No continuing right of employment by the District. Dr. Stevenson agrees that she will not apply for or otherwise seek re-employment or seek to volunteer in the District, (emphasis added) including its charter schools until December 31, 2018, and that, in the event she does so, it will be a material breach of this Agreement, and the District and its charter schools will have no obligation to consider her application.”

At the March 3, 2016, meeting, Ron Mitchell asked that this be reviewed by district legal counsel to see if that prohibition could be changed. At the last meeting, Mitchell said he didn’t think that was a typical element of an agreement and that it seemed needless. We are interested in understanding whether that clause can be changed or eliminated, and what the board may have in mind.

We’ll also note for the record that Stevenson is currently employed as Director of the CASE Leadership Initiative, so we don’t think this is a move to reinstate her as superintendent. Barring her from even volunteering in the district, however, was always clearly meant to be spiteful by WNW.

Employee Negotiations

The meeting wraps up with an update on Employee Negotiations – the teacher contract. The Board will hear from Chief Human Resources Officer Amy Weber and contract attorney Jim Branum. The next negotiations session will take place Monday, March 28.

Jeffco Student Headed to Scripps National Spelling Bee – AGAIN!

On a lighter note, we’d like to congratulate Jeffco Schools student Sylvie Lamontagne who will represent Colorado in the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the second year running. Lamontagne, an eighth grader at Creighton Middle School, competed last year and finished 9th out of 285 spellers at the national bee. This is the first time in 20 years that Colorado has had a back-to-back champion, thanks in part to a change in the rules that allows a winner to compete again in the contest. Her winning word was “ossifrage.” Good luck at the national spelling bee!

JeffCo Proud!

 

3.3.16 BOE meeting preview

Here’s a brief run-down of the agenda for the Thursday, March 3 regular meeting. The study session begins at 5:30 and the regular board meeting begins at 6:30 pm.

Your Childs Education

Here’s the link to stream the meeting:  http://new.livestream.com/accounts/10429076/events/3542310

Study Session: Safety Update

District staff have reviewed the Claire Davis Safety Act and the combined and consolidated recommendations from the Arapahoe High School reports. They will talk to the board about the pieces that apply to Jeffco Schools and how recommendations will be implemented. As of this posting, no attachments have been included for this agenda item..

Honors, Recognition and School Reports

The board will honor Sargent Wayne Holverson of the Jeffco Sheriff’s Office for his leadership over the past three years heading up the School Resource Officer (SRO) unit, his SRO work nearly 17 years ago following the Columbine tragedy, his September 2013 work to evacuate more than 120 students and staff from Mt. Evans Outdoor Lab School due to impending flooding, and his general dedication to protecting our students.
The board will also recognize Jeffco Schools’ Employee Assistance Program for receiving the Outstanding EA Program award from the Colorado Employee Assistance Professionals Association chapter. Kathleen Remington, EAP manager, was awarded the Daetwiler Award for an outstanding professional member.

That’s followed by individual member school reports and public comment. Sign up here to address the board during public comment part 1, but remember that only this part is reserved only for items on the agenda. If you want to speak on other items, sign up for public comment part 2.

Consent Agenda

You can review the Consent Agenda items here. Among other items, the consent agenda includes revisions to several board policies to provide clarity, consistency and alignment with state statute. We’ve read through the proposed changes and would like to call your attention to these changes in particular:

GP-06(3)(d): “Regardless of the method, once an item is removed from the consent agenda, it will be added to one of the discussion sections of the meeting in session. The discussion time limit for the item will be determined by a majority vote of the Board. After discussion of the removed consent item, Board members may take a position on the item in the same or next regularly scheduled Board meeting.” This clarifies this procedure. Board members can pull an item off of the consent agenda for discussion, and even if this is the first time they discuss the item, they can still vote during the meeting or they can opt to postpone the vote to allow time for additional information gathering.

We also noticed in GP-06(4) that it seems public comment will only occur during regular business meetings as there is no mention of public comment during study sessions. As a reminder, the previous board voted 5-0 in favor by the previous board. We’d encourage the board to review this policy further and edit to include that public comment will be permitted during study sessions where a vote will be taken to ensure the public has an opportunity to comment before a vote is taken.

GP-13 has been revised to include additional members of Jeffco Schools’ constituency in the District Accountability Committee. One member of the Jeffco PTA and a CSEA member (classified staff such as bus drivers, janitors, etc.) have been added. Additionally, instead of at-large representatives only being appointed by the board, the policy is being revised to clarify that there will be up to 10 representatives with effort made to represent the diversity of stakeholders.

8.01 Academic Goal Update: Career, Workforce and Post-Secondary Readiness-Graduation, Dropout and Remediation Rates

District staff will share during their presentation there are many positives to be proud of, such as a five-year trend of on-time graduation rates shows an overall improvement of 3.8 percentage points for the district with significant improvements for student subgroups (e.g., free and reduced lunch, minorities, and English language learners). In addition, the remediation rate trend shows an overall general improvement with a decrease of 5.1 percentage points for the district.

However, there is always room for improvement. The district must continue to examine and strive to close performance gaps, such as those between white and Hispanic/Latino students and graduation rates between males and females.

In addition, we’d love a little more information about remediation rates. Currently, the remediation rate only reflects Jeffco graduates who attend a public college or university in Colorado. Remediation rates for students who attend a private college or university, or who attend college out of state are not included in this rate. It’s also not clear whether the remediation rate as reported includes only Jeffco students who have graduated in the last four years or whether it includes any Jeffco graduate who tests into a remedial course. Does it also include Jeffco graduates from the ’80s or ’90s who may be going back to school for a career change? 

We’d really love to see if there’s a way to include data for the private and out-of-state institutions to see what Jeffco’s true remediation rate is. Currently, the only thing we do know is that the remediation rate quoted does not reflect all recent Jeffco graduates.

In addition, we noted that less than half of 2015 graduating seniors reached ACT’s college-level coursework readiness benchmark in algebra, social science and biology. ALL students in Colorado were required to take the ACT (and will be required to take the SAT instead in future years), whereas other states only require those planning to attend college to take either the ACT or the SAT.

The question again is what this data really means. Could it be that students are so accustomed to standardized testing that students not planning to attend college may not take the test seriously because it won’t have repercussions for their high school career? Also, is it possible to break down data from previous years to compare the average ACT score among those students who went on to attend college vs. those who did not?

The board and district should look into the root causes of this statistic and how this data might also play into discussion about multiple pathways for career and college readiness and judging student achievement from a body of evidence rather than a single test score — an issue that seems especially important for career-focused students such as those studying a vocation at Warren Tech. 

9. Discussion Agenda

The projected cost to build a new school at Candelas has increased from $25M to $31M. There are likely several reasons for this, the most likely culprit being inflation. Steve Bell was extremely clear that construction cost inflation was playing a role in the costs associated with the last year of repairs that were part of the 2012 3B bond in previous board presentations.  We’d guess that inflation in building costs is the reason that the cost has increased over the estimate the district staff gave the board a year ago, though we look forward to a more detailed explanation at the meeting.

If the root cause for the increase is indeed inflation, it’s more clear proof that WNW’s insistence on dragging its heels was indeed pennywise and pound foolish.

Jeffco Proud!

11.18.15 Ready for a New Era

motivation-is-when-your-dreams-put-on-work-clothes

As you can tell, we’ve been enjoying some rest the last couple of weeks (translation: we’ve been tackling all the stuff we put off until after the election, and this proves that we’re actually parents and not a funded 24/7 machine!). But we’re not going away. Yes, we’re excited about the Clean Slate. We’re thrilled that we’ll have a full set of school board members dedicated to tackling the many challenges that Jeffco Schools faces with careful consideration and community input.

But we also know that WNW supporters are incensed that voters exercised their critical thinking skills and clearly stated that partisan politics have no place in our schools. They’ve always been fired up, but their outrage took on a new level at the Nov. 5 board meeting. We’re not going to repeat their drivel here because it doesn’t deserve the light of day (and can be heard on the recording of the meeting anyhow). It’s clear that our job is not done.

What we know:

  • There are challenging decisions ahead
  • The new board members will solicit community input
  • Community input needs to be based on good information
  • WNW supporters are already working to spread their lies and rumors.

So we’ll continue to watch. For the time being, we hope to simply highlight the topics that will be addressed at upcoming board meetings and to provide a summary of the meeting afterward. We’ll try to highlight big issues and give you a more detailed picture as it comes. And we’ll let you know what else we’re seeing and hearing out there. Brad Miller, WNW’s board attorney hired under extremely questionable circumstances and the top vote-getter among a poll of our readers, has already resigned, opening the door for less partisan legal counsel and discussions.

We hesitate to say that we’ll let you know what we’re seeing from “the other side” because this is not an our side/their side fight. But — and we cannot emphasize this strongly enough — the Independence Institute, Jeffco Students First, and the Koch Brothers/Americans for Prosperity do see this as an our side/their side fight. They don’t see middle ground nor do they value it, and they are already making it clear that they will fight anything that doesn’t align to their very strict, partisan ideology with every lie and rumor they can fabricate. Jon Caldara also made it clear they intend to start working now, “ruthlessly” and “24/7” in order to be successful in 2017 when the three seats are up for election again.

We, on the other hand, recognize that there are many perspectives on education, many needs to address and insufficient resources for doing so. We hope the board members are able to successfully navigate the decision-making process and find the middle ground — and that they’re equally successful in communicating that message to the public.

We’ll continue watching and hope you’ll continue reading.

The Clean Slate members, Ali Lasell, Amanda Stevens, Brad Rupert, Susan Harmon and Ron Mitchell will be sworn in this Thursday, 11/19, at 5:30 pm in the board room. They’ll decide leadership positions, and then will hear public comment if you’d like to sign up for a slot. It should be refreshing to have five board members who care about what we think. We’re looking forward to it.