10/17 Post Update: Witt emails missing in CORA response!

Alert SymbolJust in from Chalkbeat:

Witt’s missing emails point to possible flaws in district policy, state open records laws

Apparently Witt and Miller failed to report at least five emails sent from his private email account that dealt with District business.

The request also failed to yield a copy of an email sent by one of Witt’s major campaign supporters discussing how to refocus the board on achievement goals and not on a controversial proposal to establish a curriculum review committee, even though Sheila Atwell, executive director of Jeffco Students First, told us she sent such correspondence.

“I’ve been emailing with him,” Atwell told Chalkbeat last month.

Click on the article title above to go to the Chalkbeat link.


 

 

10/17 – BOE Meeting Recap: The WNW+M2 Contortionist Act

contortionistThe presentations were dry.  It almost seemed that McMinimee & Morgan were trying to put the public in the Board Room asleep, or drive the live video stream audience to start playing on-line games.  

Fortunately, they did not succeed, because the twists they put the good data through was fun watching…if you didn’t care about the students.

Agenda Item 2.01 – Monitoring: Student Achievement.

Despite the fact that JeffCo scores were up.  Despite the fact that JeffCo out-performed DougCo. Despite the fact that JeffCo’s average AP score was higher than the rest of the state, the country, and the world’s average.  Despite all of this…or maybe because of it, if you went to or watched last night’s BOE meeting, you would be excused if you thought that JeffCo’s performance was the worst in the state…unless you were listening very carefully.

WNW+M² (Witt, Newkirk, Williams and McMinimee/Morgan) tried their best to downplay how well JeffCo did before they came on the scene.

Why?

Because it’s the only way they can look better next year.

WNW needs to put your critical thinking to sleep.  To do that, they need to give you ‘good news’ about their reforms next year.

Problem:  Their reforms, do not work!

All we have to do is look at at DougCo.  Their performance has been dropping so much that the District Board is now trying to get out of any meaningful testing that would allow honest benchmarking. Why? Because when compared to other districts, DougCo high schools are not doing as well as the high schools at 27 other districts.

In the U.S. News & World Report High School Rankings released today, JeffCo had seven of the top 45 high schools in the state.   Denver had five, Poudre had four, St. Vrain Valley had three  Boulder Valley had two, Cherry Creek had two, Lewis-Palmer had two, and Littleton had two. 18 other districts had one.   DougCo had none.

Even Telluride, with less than 1,000 students in the whole district, had their only high school ranked 12th. DougCo was unable to get even one of their 13 high schools in the top 45.

So it is highly unlikely that WNW+M²’s actions will result in higher scores for JeffCo either.  And their actions show that they know this!

So what can they do?

There is an old business trick.  If you can’t show genuine improvement, then make the previous performance look worse than it was.  That way when you maintain (or even lower) your actual performance, you can make it look like you improved.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, GE was notorious for doing this.  Anytime they had a great year, they would deliberately offset the excess profits by coming up with reasons to increase their reserves.  Then when they had poor years, they would release enough reserves to be able to ‘show’ that the company had still performed better than the previous year.  They thought of it a being smart.

The shareholders and the SEC thought of it as fraud, and lawsuits were filed, costing them a bunch of money.

Unfortunately for JeffCo students, when WNW+M² do it, the only recourse they will have is remediation in college, try to make it up on their own, or just go on without those skills and knowledge…and have it impact them the rest of their lives.

Another price of having WNW in charge of our children’s education.

Agenda Item 2.02 – Status Update On Assessments

The section on Assessment showed up more the ignorance of WNW, especially Julie Williams, than anything else.  Julie Williams simply could not get it through her head that for benchmark tests to be valid, such as TCAP last year or PARCC this year, teachers whose kids have taken the test cannot share the content and results of the test with teachers whose classes have not!

Pretty much everyone agrees that there is too much testing going on. There is also a growing consensus that the results of the tests are being misused, both in evaluation and funding for schools, and evaluation and paying of teachers.  At the same time, pretty much everyone agrees that some level of testing is required, otherwise you have no objective method of determining how well students are learning.  As with many things, the devil is in the details.

This is something that will not be resolved by WNW’s favorite ‘overly simplified solutions for complex, difficult problems’ approach.

But they will try.

(Personal note: WNW’s approach to educational solutions reminds me of when my younger sister was 11, and she tried to make tapioca pudding while our parents were away.  After rattling around in the kitchen, she came and joined the rest of us watching TV.  A few minutes later, smelling smoke, I ran into the kitchen and saw flames coming out of the pan!  I quickly put a lid on the pot, smothering the flames.  When I looked in the pot, I saw a pyramid of burned, dry ingredients.  “Penny,” I said, “why didn’t you put in the milk?!”  “I didn’t know I needed to,” she said.  “Well, how do you think it gets to be like a pudding?”  “I thought it just happened!” she exclaimed.  

Let’s hope that JeffCo does not get too singed from WNW’s thinking that education improvements ‘just happened’.)

Agenda Item 2.03 – Superintendent Goals 2014-15

This segment of video should be clipped out and sent to every MBA program in the world as a perfect example of how NOT to set management goals.

Using goals as a method of measuring and managing performance has a long history.  Business practice guru, Peter Drucker helped popularize the approach by describing it as “Managing By Objectives” or MBO in 1954.  It has long since become a mainstay of American business practice, despite newer management theories becoming popular.

For it to work, the goals of the individual must be aligned with, but not be the same as the goals of the organization.

There is a very good reason for that separation.  When an individual’s goals are the same as the organization, there is no focus for the individual on manner, method, or approach.  For example, the Board has a goal of improving 4th grade scores.  If McMinimee has that as the same goal, then every idea he has about achieving it the Board has to review and agree to.  This means McMinimee has to waste time and energy managing the Board instead of the District, and the Board starts getting into actual management of the District instead of simply setting policy.

How does this happen?

Let’s assume that McMinimee’s goal is the same as the District’s for 4th grade math scores.

McMinimee Goal:  Improve 4th grade math scores by X% points.

Okay.  How?

Now McMinimee has to come up with a plan…and then take it to the Board for review. They will want changes, he makes them and goes back, they want some more, he makes them and goes back.  They approve them…and the first trimester is already over.  There is very little he can do now to influence the events.

When review time comes, he points this out.  The Board, not wanting to seem unfair (okay – a stretch for this Board!), decides to give him credit for trying hard.  Or not.

Bottom line though, the District did not benefit by this management technique!

Let’s try it a different way:

The Board tells McMinimee to come up with five specific objectives that will help the District reach its overall goal of improving 4th grade math scores. The parameters for doing this include not increasing teacher workload, nor costing more than $750,000.

McMinimee spends time with his staff over the summer, developing an approach to do that.  In August, at the first Board meeting of the school year, he proposes the following objectives for himself:

  1. increase the amount of classroom time spent on math by 5%;
  2. reduce classroom sizes for K-4 grades to less than 22 students;
  3. make sure that 95% of K-4 teachers acquire an additional 4 CE credits in elementary math instruction.

(Please note that the above is meant simply to be example.  By no means are we saying this is the way to accomplish it.)

The Board now decides if this is the approach they want to take.  If they say, ‘Yes’, he goes ahead.  If they say ‘No’, they then provide him with additional feedback on the boundaries for his actions.

In either case, there is no confusion on what McMinimee will be doing, or how it will be measured.  The objectives or goals for McMinimee are specific, quantitative, and directly measurable.

Needless to say, this is not what happened.

There was talk about sliding scales.  Ranking him from 1-5 then 1-4 on achievement (?).  Then averaging the numbers together?  There began to be arguments about which Board goals should be assigned to him.  You could see the effort dissolving.  The goals are just a nebulous and vague as before.  McMinimee has no specific direction on what his range of actions can be.  And there is nothing measurable that can be used to monitor his progress.

(Note:  The following paragraphs were added following two excellent comments on our Facebook link.  Hat Tips to Clint Bodine and Gail Baird Kramer!)

There are two other problems with making personal goals identical with the organizational ones.

  1. If the organizational goals are achieved, how do you know it was due to that person’s efforts? It’s a bit like making an NFL Quarterback’s bonus be based simply on whether the team wins or loses the next game.
    –  It sounds good up front, but what if the team wins because their defense runs an interception back for a touchdown, while the Quarterback fumbled three times?  Does the Quarterback deserve the bonus?
  2. The other problem is that there will be no valid way of comparing test scores from last year to this year.  Last year, the test was TCAP.  This year the test will be PARCC.   If the scores go up, then McMinimee can take credit.  If the scores go down, then McMinimee can blame it on the fact that the new test is different and harder than the old.
    –  It is like a person flipping a coin while saying, “Heads I win, tails you lose.”  Only in this case, it’s JeffCo that’s guaranteed to lose.

We wish we could say that this was all WNW’s fault, but Dahlkemper and Fellman fell into the trap as well.  They tried to get more specific, but by agreeing to unify McMinimee’s goals with the District’s goals, it made for a dramatic blurring of the line between policy makers and policy implementers.

The biggest blame, though, lies with Witt.

He touts himself as a highly experienced business person, someone who has ‘run big businesses’ (although which ones and how are vague).  Yet he fails in one of the most basic functions of a manager.

One wonders what his subordinates…and superiors really thought of him.

But it is not too late.  There is two weeks to the next meeting.  McMinimee could understand the false position these goals place him and the District in.  Witt could go back and read his Management 101 textbook.  Julie Williams might realize that this is not how her goals in her dental office are set.  All of this could change.

But it probably won’t.

Mismanagement, WNW style.

<sigh>

Let’s keep fighting, JeffCo.  84,000 students deserve better than this!

 


 

10/15 Post – Why Tomorrow’s BoE Meeting Will Probably Be Interesting….

Comedy Tragedy
If you looked at tomorrow’s (Thursday) meeting agenda, you might be excused for thinking it will be a bit on the “oh, hum” side.

But it actually will probably be a lot more interesting than you might think.  There may even be some good laughs at the end.

(5:30 p.m. 5th Floor Board Room, Education Center, 1829 Denver West Drive, Bldg. 27, Golden, CO – Agenda review here.  If you can’t make the meeting, you can get a live video stream here.)

The first two agenda items will be interesting because McMinimee and Morgan (M²) will have to somehow simultaneously take credit for JeffCo, where they did not work yet, somehow out-performing the District they were working at (DougCo)!  Then, at the same time, find some way to blame those same successful practices and previous leaders for, as of yet unrevealed, ‘failures’ that the lower performing DougCo did not avoid???

In short they have to claim the responsibility for the good stuff they had no part of, while avoiding any responsibility for any possible bad stuff they were a part of!  All at the same time!  All while the District they used to work at, and whose performance they did have responsibility for, did not do as well as JeffCo for which they had no responsibility!

Huh?

This will be a verbal acrobatic and magic show that, if they pull it off, should surpass even Penn & Teller performing with Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas!

When it comes to the next item, we do have one small confession.

We have spent the last nine months watching and listening to the prevarications, dissembling, deliberate misstatements, and false impressions of Witt, Newkirk, and Williams.  At some point during this time, just as happens to people who clean zoo cages on regular basis, we have developed not only a bit of a tolerance of the odor of their verbal and administrative leavings, but actually have a sneaking appreciation for the various textures, flavors, and sheer quantities they are able to produce!

So we await almost eagerly to see if they will come up with a new odor or texture variant, or if they will stick to the old standby of simply making misleading statements using misquoted facts taken out of proper context, mixed with half-truths.

The humorous part (if you appreciate theatrical Farce), will be during Agenda Item 2.03 when McMinimee tries to pretend that he actually thought about what goals he should have and WNW try to pretend that these goals are actually going to be important in his ‘review‘.

First of all, the document “Possible Superintendent Goals” was added in haste after the original agenda was published without it.  Secondly, if you read the document, you find that someone simply took the already stated goals for the Board and District and either restated them verbatim or simply inserted “Provide leadership to” in front of it! 

Imagine if the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company had done this prior to meeting his or her Board of Directors to discuss his or her year’s “goals”.  At the very least, it would have immediately initiated a intense discussion about the relative seriousness with which the CEO took the process.  Or imagine that it is the case of a high school student turning in the outline of semester project. The conversation with the teacher would probably start with the teacher asking the student, “Just how dumb do you think I am?”

In our opinion, this response indicates how much serious thought Mr. McMinimee has given to the idea that he will actually be held accountable for his and the District’s performance, i.e., none.

Thus the stage of WNW’s farcical production of “Impress us now, Mr. McMinimee!” is set.  All we await are the willing actors from the dark comedy troupe of Witt, Newkirk, Williams, & McMinimee.

As lovers of the theatre, we would not want this stage act to fail!  So, in keeping with role of the prompter, below we have some possible ‘improv’ or ‘cover’ goals that WNW+McMinimee could use if they forget the ones they cribbed from Board and District goals:

Suggested 2014-15 School Year Goals for the Superintendent

  1. Mr. McMinimee is successful in expanding the number of AP courses offered in the District, including the AP U.S. History, while also increasing the number of students who take the courses and score at least a ‘3’ on the AP test.
  2. Going into the 2015-16 school year, Mr. McMinimee is successful in keeping the certified teacher attrition rate at or below the state average.  Achieving this would indicate that JeffCo is being successful at keeping the most highly qualified and experienced teachers.
  3. Mr. McMinimee redesigns Jeffco’s current full-day Kindergarten enrollment process to provide more equitable access for ALL Jeffco families based on income, resulting in an increase of at least 25% of the number of full-day Kindergarten students who also qualify for Free or Reduced Lunches.
  4. Mr. McMinimee is successful in leading the District and guiding the Board in its processes to the extent that the League of Women Voters issues a new letter (here is the current one), praising the District and Board for their open and transparent processes and the dramatic increase in involvement and receptivity to the concerns of the public.
  5. Mr. McMinimee is successful at reducing the percentage of JeffCo students who  leave the district by at least 25%.
  6. Mr. McMinimee persuades Witt, Newkirk, and Williams that they do not need a private attorney paid for by public tax dollars, and the (questionable) services of Mr. Miller are dispensed with.

So, just in case Witt, Newkirk, Williams, or McMinimee forget their lines, please be prepared in the audience to help them out by feeding them one of the above!

And remember!  We can still have fun, even when we are…

Fighting Back, JeffCo!

 


 

League of Women Voters Says JeffCo Has A Governance Problem!

League of Women Voters sloganAt the Sept 18th Special Board Meeting,

a delegation from the League of Women Voters met with the JeffCo School Board, with the purpose of asking the following questions of the Board members:

1. What are your plans to address the needs of all students in Jefferson County, including children of poverty, English Language Learners, special needs children, and students in pre-school?
2. How are the governing policies for the Board of Education developed, implemented and amended?  Are these policies the backbone of governance?
3. What processes does the Board of Education use in responding to advisory boards, staff recommendations, surveys, and public comment?
4. What strategies are you planning to use to reassure the community that you are placing a priority on maintaining the reputation of high standards and effective governance in Jefferson County Public Schools?
5. Discuss the roles of the superintendent and the Board of Education and how they interrelate in the decision making process?

If you want to watch the video from the meeting, click here: Stream: 9.18.14, pt 1 of 3

If you want to listen to the audio recording, click here: Audio: September 18, 2014, pt 1 of 2

On October 6th, the League sent a letter to the JeffCo Board of Education listing their findings and concern:  League Responses to School Board Actions.

The letter opens with the following title and first paragraph:

Letter from LWV to Jeffco BOE: Follow Your Own Policies!

Controversy about the Jefferson County Board of Education’s actions has made local and national news lately. However, the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County feels that beyond specific issues, there is an underlying problem in the board’s governance.

And then finishes with:

The League supports strong adherence to Colorado’s Sunshine Law. The time has come to bring openness and collaboration back to the operations of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

One by one, WNW and their backers have been alienating group after group of concerned citizens in Jefferson County.  Now a legendary non-partisan organization, the League of Women Voters, has confirmed what many of us have been saying since last December…Witt, Newkirk, and Williams have been breaking the Board’s own policies, have been practicing  poor governance, and it is time that they stop!

We are not alone, so let’s

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!

 


 

10/14 Post – Julie Williams, Are You Listening Yet?

woman_writing2Today we have open letter from a JeffCo parent who took the time to investigate Julie Williams’ wild accusations about the AP U.S. History program. 

In every case when someone actually checks the APUSH guidelines against Williams’ allegations, the allegations are found to be untrue.  But our Julie does not appear to allow facts to sway her made up mind.  Perhaps Ms. Simon can change her mind?

From: Kristen Simon
Date: Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 5:25 PM
Subject: Review of the APUSH Framework
To: “board@jeffco.k12.co.us” <board@jeffco.k12.co.us>

As promised I read the framework and I was shocked by two things.

1. Julie Williams could not take the time to read the framework before writing (creating, publishing) her proposal. I believe a lot of the subsequent interviews would have been much different had she read the framework at some point beforehand. It was 149 pages, I read it in one evening. As I stated to Mrs. Williams when she was asking if she could have my support during her election, “I need to read up on the issues and see where I stand”.

This whole débâcle could have been prevented with just an evening spent reading the actual framework. I watched the YouTube video posted on various sites as a rebuttal to the protests. Mrs. Williams quoted the video almost verbatim.

2. It is almost as if the framework was confused for a history book. As I read it, it forced me to think about those events. I am not a history geek and I took the bare minimum of history classes in college. I did take an US History class at Northern Arizona University. It appeared that a lot of the same subjects were covered in the APUSH proposal.

Now, please note I grew up in a very red state and I was raised by Republican parents. I do not feel that one single history class turned me liberal.

First, I would like to share my brother’s point of view.  He is history geek and a Republican. This is what he said about history:

“Individuals are not as important as the backdrop that spurred the events. We all know how bad the Nazis were, we know who the bad guys are, know the dates, locations and events but never believe for one second that in the same situation we could become Nazis. Even though in my life time we have witnessed 4 genocides that matched the scale of the Nazis. How does it keep happening unless we are not really learning the lesson or the only ones that are listening are the ones spurring the events?

History should place an individual in that class room in 1933 Germany, with the propaganda, poverty and hysteria. Know that their friends, family and role models are falling in line. History is not about political correctness. Feeling guilty, judgment. It’s a study of human behavior under certain circumstances. Understand that if transformed into a student in Nazi Germany most of us would collaborate.”

When asked if it was promoting an anti-American agenda or critical thinking (he replied), 

“It all depends on the instructor, but yes, as it’s designed would actually give history a functional purpose. It’s tricky. We have to own our past, how much time should we spend condemning the actions if we are still directly benefiting from them, and it’s reversal would cause us great hardship. We know it was wrong to take the land from the Indians without direct compensation but would we be willing to give up our homes to do the right thing I really don’t think it’s to be anti-American to teach them not to repeat the past knowing that in the same reality we would have done the same thing as our ancestors.”

My brother an Air Force Veteran earned two Associate Degrees, a Bachelor’s Degree in History and his Master’s Degree all while serving our country. He is both educated and a pretty damn good American. I am going to trust his opinion. Also, he posts little known facts about history everyday. I am continuously learning.

Now, my opinion.

At first glance the APUSH framework has an introduction that explains how it is to be used. It does put a lot on the teachers to cover the topics. However, the one quote that keeps sticking out from Julie Williams regarding our Founding Fathers and MLK is that they are omitted. In the introduction page 37 (I apologize I looked at the page that was listed on my computer not the actual page) Martin Luther King Jr. was in fact mentioned:  For example, AP teachers reviewing the concept outline clearly identified which concepts called for inclusion of Civil Rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but they were uncertain what examples might be effective for the teaching of Concept 8.2.III.C (attacks on postwar liberalism).

Therefore, the Committee inserted a gray box for that concept, suggesting the examples of Students for a Democratic Society and the Black Panthers.

In no way does this signal that it is more important to teach the Black Panthers than Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather, this gray box signals that AP teachers were already confident in their inclusion of King and Parks elsewhere in the outline, but uncertain where they might choose to include the Students for a Democratic Society.”

I took that to mean that most students would have already learned about MLK and Rosa Parks (2nd grade at Sheridan Green Elementary as I am sure it is the case with most Jeffco schools).  Is it the words “liberal or Democratic” that are the problem? If so, maybe the proposal should have reflected that. Again, easily prevented if the framework had not been “skimmed over”.

It is true Columbus is not mentioned in the framework which starts in 1491, but ask any school child when Columbus “sailed the ocean blue” and I’m sure you’ll get the correct response. Not sure why Columbus not being included is controversial since he never did make it to continental America in the first place. Included in the framework: Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, American Revolution.

Now, Mrs. Williams is correct that the founding fathers are not mentioned by name, however, can we really have a conversation about the American Revolution without George Washington? To include such obvious people would make the framework an actual book. Also, it is an insult to both the teachers in Jeffco and the students to assume that

a) The teachers would have a conversation about the Bill of Rights without a mention of Thomas Jefferson and

b) That our best and brightest students do not know who Thomas Jefferson is. (Sheridan Green Elementary students learned about the founding fathers in 6th grade).

To continue on, Lincoln is mentioned by name as well as his Gettysburg Address, Civil War and I am not sure why but, Women’s Rights enters the picture in this time frame.   Entering the 1940’s we have the New Deal, Pearl Harbor, the A-Bomb and the “Most Powerful Nation on Earth” is an exact quote.

Now, we get to the part that seems to bring the most controversy: the 1950’s and 1960’s, Civil Rights Act, Black Panthers (Gray box item) and the new Conservatism.  This is followed by Reagan and the end of the Cold War. This framework even encompasses the attacks on the September 11, 2001 which a lot of the current APUSH students were old enough to remember what it was like on that day.

I guess I was not shocked by anything in this framework. Reading the sample questions appeared to be a good indication if the student has understood the events, what was going on during the time and not just memorized a bunch of names and dates. The rubric on grading the test was also insightful, it appeared that if you could back your argument up with the “whys” there was no wrong answer. Two people can see the same event completely different. To observe this point, Google the reactions from around the world in 9/11. Also, I admit my reaction is different than my friends who walked through lower Manhattan September 11, 2001. History is subjective and to ban it is nothing short of criminal.

When I was in school, we would have to turn in outlines of the papers we were instructed to write. That outline was the basic idea of what I was going to write about. Names and dates were often omitted, because that would be in the paper. I look at the framework as an outline, I trust our teachers to teach. I also expect our students to be critical thinkers and question the who’s, why’s and how’s all along the way.

Since you have decided that this Curriculum Committee will go through, I would like to volunteer to be the District 1 representative. Not because, “I have nothing better to do” but because I feel it is important to actually read the document and understand it, as I have done. Especially since there seems to be no qualifications for this committee.

Of course, Julie Williams has been the star of this event.  She has been on television several times, has had internet memes created about her, even open video letters to her from CNN news hosts.  She has eclipsed Ken Witt’s role and John Newkirk’s, but they bear responsibility as well.

The fake ‘compromise’ (it’s not a compromise if the opposition does not agree to it), still gives Julie everything she wants…the political ideological litmus test is now just hidden instead of being in plain sight. The altered committee is no longer a District committee making professional decisions on curricula and it’s supporting texts, but is a Board committee, reporting directly to the Board, and not to McMinimee.

That finessing had to take Newkirk and Witt working with McMinimee (and maybe Miller?) to come up with this camouflaged tactic…unless you believe that Mr. McMinimee developed it on his own without any consultation with his bosses before he presents it to them in public? 

That does not fit McMinimee’s style.  Everything we have heard out of DougCo about him says he does not sneeze unless it is at a politically appropriate time.  We do not think he would dare risk showing up his bosses in public that way.

WNW+M3 desperately want this controversy to go away.  They desperately want the students to settle down.  They desperately want the media to go back to sleep.

In short, they are desperate.

So show up Thursday, and let them know their desperate hopes are not going to come true.

Time to show them how…

We Can Fight, Jeffco!