4/12 Saturday Post: What Can I Do?

A commentary from Jeffco Guardian:

“What can I do?”

This is the number one question heard these days when the topic of the ongoing and controversial Jeffco board majority actions comes up.  It comes from everyone:  parents, teachers, grandparents, coworkers and neighbours.  People are feeling helpless and, unfortunately, somewhat hopeless.  They see a the Board majority of WNW pushing forward their own agenda regardless of what anyone says about it.  They do this under the pretense that they were elected to do just that.

These feelings of helplessness and hopelessness are very understandable.  But I would venture to take that further and say that these emotions can also be very motivating!

The first thing to tell someone when you hear this question is that you understand how they feel, and that they are not alone.  There are many, many others who feel the same way.  I wish we could tell people that we have the ability to rein-in WNW and control how they vote, but the sad truth is until they do something blatantly illegal or so crazy that it gets district-wide attention , we can’t.  However, we must remind ourselves that they are human and, if we speak their language and do so respectfully, we can try to appeal to their humanity.  I believe they know – on some level – that forcing their agenda down our throats is wrong.  They want data so let’s show them data, and let’s do so respectfully.

Before I get into recommendations of things you can do, I should first address another related concern I’ve heard:  “I don’t feel like I know enough about what’s going on yet to be able to have an intelligent conversation about my concerns with the board.”  I totally understand this hesitation and concern.

When I first started digging in, I had never attended a board meeting before and didn’t know all the jargon.  Honestly, there’s still SO much I don’t know; it’s overwhelming sometimes.  My recommendation is to start with what you do know.  Start by calling board members and sending them emails.  Ask for an explanation. Tell them that you want to understand  their perspective.  Ask for more information and their viewpoint on specific things, such as charter school equalization.  Ask how that reallocation of funds will affect neighborhood schools.  Share with them your and your child(ren)’s experience(s) at your school.  Share with them the successes and the challenges your school’s teachers and administrators face.

Ask about the employee compensation issue & budget negotiations – why the impasse?  Do not feel like you need to present all the facts in the letter.  Bottom line is that you deserve their perspective, and they have an obligation to you as a taxpayer to explain themselves.  I encourage people to be respectful and not belligerent in any way. The likelihood of receiving a response is magnified if you come across as you are:  a concerned citizen who wants an explanation.  Best thing to do is just sit down and write your first letter – you have to start somewhere!  Below are the District’s instructions for emailing or ‘snail-mailing’ the Board, plus the guidelines the Board has what correspondence will be published and what will not:

Public correspondence received by the Board of Education office at board@jeffco.k12.co.us or 1829 Denver West Dr., Golden CO 80401 is available for public viewing.  If addressed to individual board members and not provided to the Board office, the correspondence will not be included….

Letters addressed to the Board of Education that contain the name of a student or involve a student issue are not available to the public (* unofficial).  The Board does not respond to anonymous letters or letters that are copied to the Board but not addressed to the Board.

Hopefully you’ll get a response – please let us know if you do!

So, that said, here are some specifics:

  1. Approach the board.  This can look a lot of different ways:  come to board meetings, sign up to speak during meetings, email board members, call them.   We need to let WNW know – on a regular and consistent basis – that we are not ok with how they are manhandling the district.
  2. Keep reading.  Read blog and facebook posts.  Read articles on the reform movement elsewhere in Colorado and the nation.  Read local newspapers.  Peruse the web and look for data that substantiates positions you support or don’t support.  For example, look at the research that shows the advantages of early literacy and full-day kindergarten if you are for providing free full-day kindergarten to Jeffco schools with a population that is 35% or more free & reduced lunch (e.g., low income).
  3. Contact your state representative and senator.  Let them know that education is important to you.  Give them specific examples from your/your child’s experience regarding how budget cuts over the past several years have affected education in your school.  Tell them that paying down the negative factor is important to you so funding can be restored to our schools.
  4. Talk to…well, everyone!  Don’t be shy.  It’s easy enough to start a conversation by just asking, “so what do you think about what’s been going on with the Jeffco School Board?”  If they have an opinion, great – conversation is started.  If they don’t know what’s going on, that’s great too!  You have an opening to tell them what’s been going on and ask them if you can email them with updates!  Develop a distribution list of your own.  You don’t have to start your own blog (unless you want to!) or write your own email updates if you’re too busy – just forward those you receive to your network of friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors.Keep the conversation going.  The reality is that most people in Jefferson County either are not aware of the strife surrounding this new board majority or are not clued in yet as to how it affects them if they don’t have children or grandchildren in the schools.  It’s important for those folks that you emphasize the fact that if our local schools tank, so will our home values.  Businesses look at the health of our school district when determining whether to locate or remain here.  Did you know that by the year 2020, 75% of entry-level jobs will require a college degree?  Our schools better be healthy if we are to meet this demand!
  5. Try to resist the urge to let them divide us!  We are all Jeffco:  neighborhood schools, GT, SPED, charter schools, option schools!  I have been feeling a lot lately that one of the underlying goals is to cause divisiveness and competition amongst our populations – all of us fighting for our “fair share” of the pot.  We ALL need to be successful if Jeffco is to be successful!  Don’t fall prey to this trap.  We need to remain unified and supportive of one another.

The question, “what can I do” can easily be answered by knowing the one thing “you can’t do,” and that is to become discouraged.  Discouragement breeds complacency, which we need to avoid like the plague.  If we get complacent, WNW’s will and confidence will grow – and they will get even more bold with their maneuvers (hard to even fathom).  In fact, that is what they are counting on!

We need to take every opportunity to let this board majority know that we are not okay with the direction in which they are taking this district and our schools.  We need to call them on every questionable or out-of-line move they make.  And similarly, if we agree with or applaud something they do, let’s tell them so!  We must be in this for the long haul; they have a 4-year term…and unfortunately, they’re just getting started.

The last point that I would like to make is that you DO have a voice and you DO make an impact on the outcome here.  WNW takes you doing nothing as support for what they are doing.

Regardless of whether you have children, grandchildren, or no children in the schools, we all have a moral obligation to advocate for children, “for the least of these”, for those who don’t have a voice.  We thank you for the part you are playing and we applaud your efforts!

7 thoughts on “4/12 Saturday Post: What Can I Do?

  1. This school board majority WNW was elected by the majority of voters that election. I wonder what those voters think now about their choices. Do they feel disappointed, duped, and deceived?

    • Ever since Cindy Stevenson was forced out early, we have had many comments on our Facebook link from people who said they had voted for WNW but not regretted it deeply.

      It seems that many of the WNW voters thought they were merely voting for people who opposed Amendment 66 and would expand Charter schools. They did not realize that WNW would be coming in with an agenda created by the extreme libertarians, ala Douglas County. Of course, WNW never stated prior to the election that this is what they had in mind.

      This puts one in mind of what Robert Heinlein said in his book, Time Enough For Love: “(Y)our utterly sincere and incorruptible reform politician is capable of breaking his word three times before breakfast–not from personal dishonesty, as he sincerely regrets the necessity and will tell you so-but from unswerving devotion to his ideal.

  2. I have written 2 letters to the board and have heard nothing!

  3. I have now written four letters – guess that makes me a bit of a pest. The first three letters were dated Feb 8, Feb 18 and March 13. I didn’t hear back on any of them until this past week. And I think that’s only because I introduced myself to John Newkirk at the last meeting, and Lesley specifically followed up with John. The responses I got (one for the feb letters and one for the march letter) were completely worthless, yet they took six-eight weeks to craft. Not an apology for the delay or anything. After they were a few weeks overdue, I kept copying them once every week or two, reminding them that they owed me a response, but it wasn’t until I walked up to John Newkirk and introduced myself that I finally got a response. And I’m sure it was reluctant.

    The fourth letter was sent yesterday, so I don’t expect a response until next school year. ; )

    On the other hand, I got a very nice email message from Cindy Stevenson within the month of February, since I copied her on my Feb 8 letter (as it was about the Board’s treatment of her).

    I won’t stop writing to them as they continue to engage in blatant violations of their own policies, but I don’t think it’s going to do much, other than hopefully let other citizens know what type of behavior is on-going with these three.

    • It sounds like you are doing what is necessary – pester someone until they answer you. It’s a shame we have to do that, but such is life.

      Dr. Stevenson’s reply back to me was thorough, but not what I was looking to hear.

      So be it. Not everyone can have what they want.

      I do give her credit for addressing my question, but I feel like her program was going through no matter what I had to say.

      You probably feel the same now.

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