9/4: Why Go to the Meeting tonight? How about 2 New Charter Apps?

school-crossingThere is a lot going on in the BoE meeting tonight (5:30 p.m. Education Center – if  you can’t make it, watch the live stream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/JeffcoBoardRoom).  We have Witt’s Compensation Trojan Horse to start things off, then a review of the Miller contract (eight months late), followed by two new Charter school applications, and then an introduction to School Based Budgeting (SBB).  It promises to be a very interesting night!

And the new Charter school applications trouble us.  They are very different from the charter schools currently in JeffCo.

The current charter schools in JeffCo are basically run by the same people who banded together to create them.  In short, these charter schools are home-grown.  Their supporters are truly ‘grass-roots’ people.  They may have issues, and we may challenge them on various grounds, but basically they are started, supported, and run by JeffCo people for JeffCo students.

Not so Alexandria Innovation or Golden View Classical.

In both cases, the management of the schools will be done, for-profit, by an outside group.  The Barney Charter School Initiative from Hillsdale College for Golden View, and STEM Ventures for Alexandria.  Basically, where JeffCo’s charter schools have historically been independent, these two would be franchises run by non-JeffCo people for their own purposes.

Why is that a concern?

Because we have no assurance that they have the best interests of JeffCo, it’s parents, taxpayers, or (most importantly) its students at heart.  With Boards that are not subject to parental control, the amount of transparency and accountability diminishes rapidly.

Alexandria School of Innovation

In the case of the people proposing Alexandria, this is especially troubling because of the near disaster that occurred when they opened up the STEM Academy in DougCo a few years ago.

We heard from parents who had enrolled their children there, based on promises made by the Brannburgs, the owners of STEM Ventures, the Charter Management Organization (CMO) that is proposing Alexandria.  Promises that they turned out not being  be able to keep.  Within the first few weeks of the school opening, many children were pulled out of the school and went back to their original schools.  The original principal left.  There are also reports that the Brannburgs’ children had paying jobs at the Academy, giving the appearance of nepotism.  Apparently the Board fights were ferocious, and eventually the Brannburg’s were off the Board.  Since then the school has stabilized and grown.

There are other things that bother us immensely.  Barry Brannburg boasts of his experience as an entrepreneur with some kind of engineering background, yet his LinkedIn page shows only STEM Ventures and the STEM Academy & High school in Douglas County.  No other background is given.

The Staff listing on STEM has no one with any specific professional educational training or background.

Their website continues to say that the Alexandria school will be opening in DougCo (you would think they would have changed that by now).  There is no mention of applying in JeffCo.

We also have concerns about the accountability of the school’s Board to the parents.  The Brannburg’s Board structure is designed to make sure that they stay in control and that the parents are never able to actually take over the running of the Board.

Section 3.2. Number, Tenure and Qualifications.

(a) The Board of Directors will consist of five directors. Three directors will make up Class A Directors. Two directors will make up Class B Directors elected from the members. Members are defined as parents or guardians of currently enrolled students of ASI as mentioned in Section 2.1. Initially, there will be five appointed Founding Board directors from the original Development Team -two of which have prospective students who will attend the school. On September 1 of the 3nd year of operation, two of these original five directors will be replaced through a general election of the members and will serve a three-year term.

Apparently the Brannburgs’ learned from losing control of STEM High & STEM Academy and have no intention of losing control of Alexandria.  It is also apparent that they have no respect for the parents of the children they propose to teach…otherwise why would they make sure that parents can never control the Board?

Another clause that concerns us is found in Appendix E, which is the legal agreement that a Board member must sign in order to serve on the Board:

Board members will not question any decision made by the Head of School – Executive Director (ED) in any public arena.

Since the proposed Head of School – Executive Director is Judy Brannburg, it is apparent that she does not want any decision she makes to be publicly reviewed, much less criticized.

So much for transparency.  And with the lack of transparency, we also lose the accountability for how JeffCo tax dollars are spent.

Golden View Classical Academy

Golden View concerns us from other standpoints.

Basically, Golden View will be run as a franchise of Hillsdale College of Michigan, a highly conservative institution.  Much like McDonalds, they have stringent rules for how their ‘franchisees’ run their schools.

For example, professional development of the teachers is to be provided by Hillsdale.  How will that work logistically? Can teachers only be trained there? If so, how does that work over time when teachers leave? Does our district pay for their private instruction through this private institution?

Golden View and Hillsdale boast how their “Classical” curriculum is so superior.  How has it be shown that it has the ability to close the achievement gap? Are there independent reports that indicate this?

The report implies that the curriculum is still being developed. How will applicants know what the final curriculum will look like if they attend? Without that information, how will parents know if their child will be prepared to enter a tier 1 university?

It does not look like this school will prepare students to take AP level classes, nor are they available at this school. Why not? Colleges look upon these favorably. Gifted kids should have them in their portfolio. High schools that do not offer IB or AP classes are not looked upon as favorably by top colleges.  They also tend to be more skeptical about the rigor of the students preparation.

Golden View plans to open as a K-10 school, yet there seems to be no plan to make sure that students leaving the 10th grade there will be ready for the 11th grade curriculum in a JeffCo high school.  This raises the possibility that the  students would likely need to do remedial work in order to achieve  their high school diploma at Lakewood, or D’Evelyn, or Columbine.

Finally, there is the emphasis on teaching from a Judeo-Christian/ Greco-Roman viewpoint.  In our opinion, this borders on the teaching of religious principals with public taxpayer dollars.

Summary

In so many ways, Jeffco has been very lucky with its charter schools.  They have been rooted in the local community, run by local people for the benefit of their own children.  Now a new phase is starting, one that has been seen elsewhere and is beginning to show an ugly face – the corporatization of charter schools and the running of them for either profit or religious/political indoctrination.  Alexandria and Golden View seem to us, to be examples of this forked development.  We should tread very carefully, with eyes wide open, and a very skeptical ear.

Show up at 5:30 so we all can

Keep Fighting, JeffCo!


 

8/16 Saturday Post: “All children deserve a great school in their neighborhood”

This is a quote posted on the main webpage of the Cherry Creek School District.  It is from their Superintendent:

“All children deserve a great school in their neighborhood, one they can walk or ride the bus to with their friends. These friendships between children and their families unite communities and make them stronger.”

Dr. Harry Bull, Superintendent
Cherry Creek School District

In contrast, what does the WNW-dominated JeffCo Board and contraversial new superintendent want for Jefferson County?  From their current actions and statements, they seem to be wanting parents to drive all over our gigantic school district in search of the greatest school for each of their children as they expand the CHOICE mantra in our county.  Does this seem practical, fair, reasonable, an efficient and equitable way to allocate taxpayer dollars across the district, or a guarantee for success?  Does it encourage community engagement in all schools for a stronger Jefferson County, or are they trying to divide us by creating different and random outcomes all over the place?

Once again, Jeannie Kaplan of Denver tells it like it is in the Denver public schools. Her August 14, 2014 blog titled “STOP,” gives us a great analysis of how reform is going in Denver.  It is not going well at all.  They keep expanding all of the failing charter school models.  The reformers seem to be completely ignoring the results.  It is like they are on a treadmill-to-no-where.  She is advocating that we stop the reform process, because it does not seem to be working.   Is this what we want in Jeffco???  Have a look at what she has to say about the STRIVE schools in particular.

Note, also the recently added comment on Jeannie’s website from Valentina Flores (8/15/14), the newly elected Board Member to the Denver Public Schools.

“At Thursday’s , August 14, 2014, Colorado State Board of Education meeting, many State Board Members called the Reform Movement a failed movement due to the negative and dismal results of a 2010 – 2014 Longitudinal Study that CDE conducted and presented to the Board on student academic growth during these five years that reform has been in progress. The charts showed a downward trajectory in almost all subject matter for most of our Colorado children.”

We have all heard about the failures of the DougCo model.  Now we have examples from Denver as well.   Denver’s Reform Movement has been declared an official failure by many, and it is quite obvious that WNW wants to treat JeffCo to a similar reform failure rollout that could prove costly to us as taxpayers.

Next Saturday, August 23rd at 9:00 a.m. in the Board Room at the Education Center, is the first Board meeting of the new school year and the first with McMinimee officially as the new superintendent.  Among other issues they plan on reviewing is GP-17 Community Engagement.  So far, every change WNW has made to the District’s ‘engagement’ with the community has been to reduce it as much as possible.

Let’s all show up and demonstrate by our presence to WNW and everyone else that engagement is a two-way street, and they cannot turn it into a one-way dead-end.

A Conservative Board? Not hardly…

fiscal conservativesDefinition of a Conservative (per Merriam Webster):

Believing in the value of established and traditional practices in politics and society” …
a:  tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions : traditional
b:  marked by moderation or caution <a conservative estimate>

c:  marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners

My oh my… has this so-called conservative board moved far away from the traditionally defined conservative!

The media continually refers to the new school board majority as conservative, but I have a hard time seeing how they are conservative.  To me their agenda and their handling of financial matters seems RADICAL, not conservative.  It seems like a lot of time-honored traditions, prudent, conservative fiscal measures, and general accounting principals went out the window… and with it the public’s trust.

Please, tell me how WNW’s actions are conservative?

First, we saw a long term superintendent forced out early leaving 85,000 students and 14,000 employees without a leader for 5 months, then we saw loans extended to two charter schools with questionable finances, and finally we saw the new board majority take it upon themselves to make changes to the already finalized and voter approved 3A/3B ballot initiative without the voters consent.

Additionally, the new board has been increasingly aggressive and antagonistic in its handling of the teacher contracts.  How can we expect good performance from our employees when they are being treated so abrasively?  Employees are not only supposed to be accountable for their performance, they must also be treated fairly by their employers, or the organization risks a high turnover.

True conservatives would have managed the district more prudently:

  1. Prudent, conservatively run organizations do not drive off a senior executive who was still legally and formally in charge.  They would have waited out the term till the senior executive’s retirement, learning everything they could from that person.  If they simply could not tolerate the person that long, then they would have appointed an interim executive.  A six-month leadership vacuum in a billion dollar organization is far too risky.  In fact, it was reckless.  And recklessness is abhorrent to conservatives.  The fact that nothing really bad happened is due far more to good luck than good, conservative management.
  2. A conservative bank or lending institution would have required more documentation, business planning scenarios, and most certainly would have charged interest for extending the loans made to the Mountain Phoenix and Collegiate Academy charter schools.  A risk-analysis would have been required, as well as having a ‘what happens if they can’t pay it back or fail’ plan ready.  They would not just give a check to the troubled organizations.
  3. A conservative organization knows that it’s reputation for keeping promises is it’s most vital asset.  Doing so builds trust the organization relies on. Upon that trust rides its ability to raise needed capital in the bond and capital markets.  Reneging on the promises made in the last bond election would horrify conservative management and would have only been the absolute last resort of an organization on the verge of bankruptcy.  Not one where it’s bond rating is higher than its peers and still has cash reserves.  Conservatives know that trust is built very slowly but can be thrown away by a single broken promise.
  4. A conservative board knows that its employees are its only real productive asset, and moves to keep their confidence, trust, and morale.  It does not ignore, disregard, much less mock its employees concerns and berate them in the public media.  It does not move to adopt failed management practices from twenty years ago.  It knows the wisdom of the phrase “do not bind up the mouths of the kind that tread the grain”.

I think the definition of a conservative has become substantially warped over time in our country.  I personally would welcome a return to more conservative practices that we all could live with.

Board Mtg 1/30/14 – Summary

Below is a review of the Jan 30th Special Board meeting held at the Education Center in Golden (near Denver West off of I-70).

The first part of the meeting was held in Executive Session (no public viewing) and covered the status of negotiations with the different employee associations.  At 6:30 p.m., the public part of the meeting was convened.  Overall, there appeared to be a strong interest in anything charter school related. Continue reading

Our Mission

We are a group of JeffCo Community members who are concerned about the new school board members elected in November 2013.  Specifically, we are worried about the ideological direction that they may try to take the district.  It is possible that they have little or no interest in improving the existing public schools, but instead want to ‘charterize’ the school district.

There are many risks inherent in that model.  Charter schools have far fewer rules and restrictions, they do not have to take all children, and existing neighborhood schools lose funding and attention.  Additionally, Charter schools do not have the financial oversight regular schools do which can increase financial shenanigans and in extreme circumstances bankruptcies can occur.  Also, teachers can lose out, because they are no longer provided any protections against capricious actions.

Because of this children can be hurt in the process.  Having fewer rules and restrictions sounds like a great idea at first, but public schools are supposed to accommodate ALL students regardless of their religion or personal conditions such as handicapped, gifted, or coming from a broken home.  Many of the current rules in place are there to protect students and teachers of all backgrounds so that they are treated fairly and appropriately when problems do arise.

This is a brand new blog.  It is a work in progress.  Please be patient with us as we work hard to improve the site!  We will be adding new content, features, and abilities in the near future.