7.3.15 On Independence Day and Jeffco Schools

Dear Readers:

Our message today is brief. So much has been written about our schools and most readers here know many of the details. So today we share a single concept that hearkens back to our nation’s founding.

It is entirely appropriate to observe that the main power dynamics around the founding of our nation in 1776 are still being replicated today, in our own neighborhoods and in our schools. So much has changed, but human nature has not.

When celebrating Independence Day and thinking about our nation’s birth and freedom this weekend, recall that the basic problems described in the Declaration of Independence were related to outsiders ruling the emerging nation. They were not liberal issues or conservative issues. The Colonial Governors were sworn to the British Crown, and so those Governors and the authorities under them were loyal to their financiers across the Atlantic, not to the people they served. Sometimes that resulted in benefits for colonial Americans, sometimes it didn’t, but the colonial American people grew tired of being ruled by the outsiders. It wasn’t that the British wanted to simply share good ideas or work in partnership with colonial Americans, it was that they wanted to fully control them. Too often that meant that the needs and desires of American subjects weren’t heard or attended to. Americans yearned for that freedom and then fought tooth and nail for it, even against a well-financed empire.

As Americans, we prefer self-rule. Still, we know that the main financiers of the Jeffco School Board Majority’s election in 2013 were from outside of Jeffco. They have hired attorneys and communications professionals from outside of Jeffco. A disproportionate amount of their counsel comes from organizations and individuals based outside of Jeffco. We know that some in Jeffco support their agenda, and just as happened in the 1700s, those who do are paraded before our eyes to make it seem like these leaders do have broad local support. They back it up with stretched stories of magnanimity and successes, twisting information to manipulate as many people as possible. Yet we know that their loyalties are with these outside financiers: people who don’t have kids or jobs or histories or roots in Jeffco. We know that the independent-minded citizens of Jeffco would prefer their own excellent, if imperfect, schools, than schools controlled by those outside our community who do not really care about what’s best for us. These outsiders will try to crush this rebellion with funds, and winning won’t be easy.

While watching fireworks, we are asking you to consider what you can do in the coming weeks and months as we try with all our might to free ourselves from these strangers controlling us with their money, and their locals who have sworn allegiance to their ideas and that money, rather than to our real needs as a community. Our needs may be answered by conservative or liberal ideas, but they need to be our own.

Unlike in 1776, this fight will ultimately culminate at the ballot box. Still, it will take real sacrifice and real courage, but we think that the desire to be free of the control of outside forces is as powerful a motivator today as it was 240 years ago.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

7.2.15 JCSBW GUEST COLUMN CONTEST!!

JCSBW GUEST COLUMN CONTEST!!

Introducing JCSBW’s “Jeffco Community Supports the Recall Guest Column Contest! (Non-‘Union Operative’ Version)”

Why? Recently, Lisa Pinto, former Communications Director and political appointee for Jeffco Schools, proclaimed on radio that the recall can only be the work of union operatives, also implying that opposition to the recall can only stem from the teachers’ union. WNW’s sycophants at Jeffco Students First keep mindlessly parroting the same talking points too. Clearly they either lack good data about the opposition, or have too much of an active imagination. Time to both get serious and have some fun with this.

Who? Open to all Jeffco community members, except for Jeffco staff. Sorry teachers and other Jeffco staff; we’ll give you a turn later, and we do encourage you to keep submitting to Jeffco Exodus in the meantime. Contact us if you are a teacher but not a member of JCEA.

What? We are seeking submissions of between 100 and 300 words that include two things. First, you should convey that you’re not a member of JCEA, and that you don’t have any particularly close ties to it. Second, tell Jeffco why you support the recall in a few simple points. We will publish up to 10 throughout the coming months. Posting will be completely at our discretion.

When? Submissions must be received by August 1.

How? Submit to JeffcoOpportunity@gmail.com. We will do only light editing; any heavy editing will be returned to you for final approval. We understand the paralyzing fear out there, so your name may be included or kept anonymous at your discretion, but please be sure to let us know if you are a parent or community member and the general part of Jeffco (north, south, central, mountains) where you reside. We will not share your identity with anyone without your permission.

Analysis: Are Sensational Board Majority Stories Distracting From, or Highlighting, the Dismantling of Jeffco Public Schools?

The board majority’s actions keep producing headlines that capture the attention of the general public, and not just those in the school district or others that follow their actions closely. To insiders, it’s a daily occurrence: the board majority or the district’s new top staff make inexplicable mistakes that are alarming, or say or do things that further the idea that their end game is ultimately to privatize the public school system. We suspect that the board majority’s privatization goal stays mostly under the radar.

Still, some of their bizarre actions have captured a wider audience, garnering media attention because they either sit at the intersection of one of our nation’s cultural wars, or because the action would have direct and immediate impacts on a lot of families. Who can forget this sampling of these headline-grabbers?

-Last fall, Julie Williams proposes a committee to review the AP U.S. History course out of concerns that the course is not patriotic enough and emphasizes social conflict and civil disobedience. This is followed by mass student walkouts during which Ken Witt calls the students “pawns.”

-This winter, John Newkirk and Dan McMinimee attend and speak at a community forum hosted by the Evergreen Tea Party and co-hosted by the “American Freedom Party,” an avowed white supremacist party that does have a foothold in Colorado and a presence in Jeffco. Although labeled a mistake, questions remain about how such a mistake could possibly have been made and why no one caught it.

-This spring, John Newkirk proposes jettisoning large portions of a district plan to address underperforming schools in the Jefferson articulation area in favor of moving two other schools without adequate research, vetting, or analysis, and for reasons that were not clear. Sustained outrage over a lack of thought or planning around the proposal causes the board to scrap the idea, and even the members of the community group that had originally proposed the alternative rescinded their support of the plan.

-Last week, Julie Williams shares a message on her Facebook page that promotes far-right views about the “Day of Silence,” including the suggestion that parents keep their kids home from school because the Day of Silence “teach[es] children to support and embrace the unnatural and unhealthy homosexual-bisexual-transsexual agenda.” Mass media and social media again catch fire over these comments. She later apologizes, saying she hadn’t read the post before reposting it and calling it a mistake. Nevertheless, see above (the white supremacist group). That’s a lot of accidents in a few months.

This is just a sampling. To be sure, these are important issues that deserve scrutiny. They offer a window into the board majority’s lack of competency and naked political motivations. They also each ultimately have real, practical effects on our students, teachers, and the community.

Nevertheless, we wonder: are these stories making the general public more watchful?

Or are these tabloid stories intended to distract the general public from the more general, policy-oriented steps that the board is taking to seemingly to dismantle the schools in order to make way for a private system?

After all, as many “insiders” realize, the board is not behaving very conservatively. It approves loans to poorly performing charters, often doesn’t follow its own governance policies, and its key staff appears to be hired more for political reasons than for their merit. Even more concerning, staff morale appears to be at an all-time low. Many of our most talented teachers are leaving at a record clip, while the board majority continues to fight with student groups on another front.

Everything is run through a legal filter that lacks transparency, and the board majority seems to think that the teachers’ association serves only nefarious purposes, rather than working for reasonable working conditions so that our teachers can concentrate on teaching. They put off building new public schools despite the exhortations of long-time key staff and local business leaders about a coming train wreck. Thinking that they have a mandate (and almost unlimited outside funding), the majority keeps doing whatever they want, claiming to listen to the community when in fact it appears to be the same few inside supporters appearing at public comment, and a whole lot of money backing them from places like Texas and Colorado Springs.

The general public knows the shocking headlines, but do they really understand what’s happening to our district over the long-term? If they do understand, will it be enough to withstand the avalanche of Koch and related money coming for this fall’s elections?

One could argue that the sensational headlines put the general public on notice and create an air of distrust. While many voters are still entirely disengaged with what’s happening with our school board, more and more people have heard one or more of these troubling tales. If an uninformed and uninvolved voter hears one of these stories, unfortunately it may be easy to dismiss as an isolated incident. On the other hand, when the stories start adding up, it creates an atmosphere of distrust for the board majority, and then suddenly the majority’s other decisions don’t seem as trustworthy to the general public either. That’s a lot to overcome.

An opposite argument can also be made. Because the media hasn’t been covering plummeting teacher morale or the board’s financial irresponsibility, voters with little connection to the schools might think of the board as bumbling, but generally headed in the right direction. Does the average voter really care that the board rejected the findings of a neutral federal fact-finder, no matter how important that decision was to our community? Do the majority of voters strongly oppose tying pay to performance? (Do they even kow how pay for performance works?) Are they concerned about the treatment of public comment time at board meetings?

Some are aware, but we think that many are not. Does all the coverage of the sensational stories make the general public think that there’s not more going on, because the attention is diverted? Do voters not see that the board majority is being coached to dismantle the schools slowly, and mostly non-sensationally? Or are they already too saturated with the sensational stories rapidly cascading out of the district to realize there is a deeper story?

Whatever the case may be, we don’t think that Jeffco voters will be pleased to wake up with a decayed school system and most of their best teachers gone. We don’t think that businesses will be happy, once the real estate boom has slowed, to learn that people don’t want to settle down or do business in Jeffco because the school system is not highly regarded. We do not want to be associated with incompetent and partisan leadership. We don’t think that Jeffco wants their schools to be modeled in cookie-cutter fashion after the schools in Dougco. Jeffco is independent; Jeffco was fooled in 2013 but won’t be fooled with the disastrous results that occur with the implementation of unproven philosophies crudely rammed home.

The truth is, we don’t know if the stories that raise the eyebrows of the general public distract from, or shine light upon, the real issues.

In our minds, this questioning does underscore two strategies that need to be in place more moving forward.

First, we need to tie the policy shenanigans more to headlines. We need to tell stories of the individual human cost of what’s happening. We need to see more significant actions that are visible and dramatic reminders of what is happening.

It is easy to think of policy disagreements as only having incremental impact, but we need to translate policy impacts into a steady stream of headlines that feature personal stories, or stories of mass disenchantment. The public forms its opinions primarily from mass media still, and the mass media covers the sensational stories. Fact-finders and changing pay scales do not make for sustained headlines. Personal stories of excellent teachers leaving Jeffco, student action, or mass teacher departures for more supportive environments, get the media’s attention.

Finally, as we were reminded just this week, it will take money to tell these stories. We are not affiliated with JCEA or any other organization, so we don’t know what their plans are for this fall’s critical elections. We do know that the board majority’s allies at the Independence Institute called for $300,000 in donations to fight the imagined “’Leftists’ iron grip” in Jeffco. Candidates this fall will have to stave off Independence Institute money in addition to huge money that will be coming in from other outside sources, but well-hidden, just as it did in 2013.

For Jeffco to keep fighting effectively, it will take generating more media attention through the sharing of real stories or clever activism, and for all parties to fund reasonable and competent candidates this fall so that those stories can be shared.


 

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!