5.22.2015 Clear your Tuesday calendar

We know that many of you, like us, are deep in the glut of end-of-school concerts and activities, but things are heating up just in time for Tuesday’s board meeting. Here’s a brief summary of what’s been going on the last couple of weeks.

May 7 – The BOE majority votes to move $15 million from the budget “underspend” (dollars that aren’t already allocated) all for a new school in the NW Arvada area. The problem? There are many. Among them: $15 million is still $10 million short of the amount the district estimated for a K-8 school in the area. In addition, the vote puts less into district reserves than originally planned, and crushes all other options for those dollars. District staff had recommended the $13.5 million be distributed to teacher compensation, students, facilities and reserves. For more details about that discussion, check out the Jeffco Schools Examiner story.

Witt also targeted a high school student for the “crime” of clicking the favorite button on a tweet that came from the parody @notlisapinto Twitter account. During the meeting, which went way into the wee hours of May 8, he said he would not meet with Jeffco Students for Change because he claimed that their leader had favorited a Facebook post that contained a racial epithet aimed at a Jeffco staffer. Well, as it turns out, (1) it was Twitter, not Facebook, (2) there were no racial epithets, and (3) it’s a violation of board policy and probably a number of other laws to put the full name of a Jeffco student up on the screen in full view of the board room during the board meeting.

Angry? Us too, though we also wonder whether it was meant to be a distraction for what came next.

May 12 – The district’s new compensation plan was put on hold by a Jeffco judge, who ruled that the district may not pay new hires under that plan–at least if they were hired after May 1. It’s unclear what will happen to those hired between the decision and the May 1 date. For more details, check out Chalkbeat’s fine article.

May 18 – Jeffco refuses to host a bill signing for Governor John Hickenlooper at Lakewood High School, claiming that it would be too inconvenient with students taking finals and would create a security staff shortage (or something along those lines). So, hosting Katy Perry last year (an event early in the morning that the governor also attended, by the way) isn’t a problem, but a bill signing is. Please. We have amazing security experts in Jeffco. They would handle it fine–if only they’d been given the opportunity.

May 20 – Contract negotiations with JCEA took a turn, after the district realized it needs some plan to pay those new hires. Again, check out Chalkbeat for the details.

May 21 – Jeffco’s talks with JCEA stall. We’re sure you’re shocked. Not surprisingly, the district continues to maintain the position that they want to remain competitive for new hires, never mind the salary gap and the fact that our veteran teachers are not being recognized in any way for sticking with the district through the years of pay freezes. The JCEA Twitter feed is one among many that gives a feel for Thursday’s conversation, but you can also watch the video feed here or read the Chalkbeat article.

District officials blame the budget–and this is where your help is needed. The first hearing for the budget is this Tuesday, May 26 (note the date change!). It’s time to help the school board remember what its priorities should be: compensating our teachers fairly and focusing on the classroom. Instead, they’re claiming the budget is too small to give much if anything to veteran teachers, but that apparently isn’t stopping them from awarding a $5,236 raise to Chief Communication Officer Lisa Pinto.

Wait, you say? How is she getting a raise when she clearly has not proven to be a highly effective or even effective employee? Where’s the data that her position has improved student achievement–which is Witt’s usual rallying cry? Instead, she’s increased the amount of negative press that Jeffco has, including the May 19 Denver Post editorial by the criticizing the district’s refusal to allow the bill signing. Pinto didn’t make that call, but her response to the governor’s office was far from professional (as is any communication that begins with the phrase “for your information”). She is not effective and by Witt’s own rules, does not deserve a raise until she becomes effective. We’re still waiting.

If you don’t like what’s going on, it’s time to speak up. Sign up for public comment here (and if you do, plan for public commented to be shortened to 1 minute for individuals). Can’t make it to the meeting? Write the board at board@jeffco.k12.co.us, and mark off June 11, which is the date of the second budget hearing.

Finally we’re sorry to report that Lesley Dahlkemper will not run for her seat again this November. She made that announcement on her Facebook page on May 3. But all is not lost, as Jeffco parent Amanda Stevens will run for that seat. Amanda has been a strong voice for our students at board meetings, and we hope you will like her Facebook page and support her in every way possible through the coming months.

Keep fighting, Jeffco!

We cannot give up now.


 

3.29.15 Teacher Licensure Matters

Your Childs Education

A “Highly Effective Educator” in every classroom. That is the term that JeffCo Schools and the Jefferson County Education Association use to specify the kind of teacher they want in every classroom in JeffCo. But what that means seems to be up for debate, and a few more questions were raised when the board majority heard an explanation of teacher licensure after adding the topic as an agenda item for the Feb. 19 study session.

First of all, teacher licensure is a state function, not a county function. The state sets requirements, manages the applications, and the renewals. What a person needs to be licensed for a given position is set at the state level and not by the county (or district). The requirements vary by position. Most teaching positions require only a bachelors degree, in the content area of interest, but then things get complicated. A degree in education or “alternative licensure” paths are both allowed. Some state colleges and universities offer a second bachelors degree in education, for example, and a person with a BA in education can count that toward their license. Teachers who follow that path obtain the “800 contact hours,” spend time in a classroom, and learn the basic ropes. Details of such a program at the University of Colorado Boulder are found here.

Similar situations exist for alternative licensure. One slight but perhaps important distinction is that you can get endorsement in only one area for alternative licensure. So, for example, a person could not get licensed to teach both math and science. This may make hiring of teachers with alternative licensure less flexible.

With the new Board Majority, perhaps the biggest potential pitfall around licensing is the additional funding they are sending to charter schools. Charter schools can hire teachers based on their own criteria and may not even require a teacher to hold a license in Colorado. All they have to do is request a waiver from CDE, and requesting a licensure waiver is considered a “standard waiver.” Here is an example from a recent application. All proposed Jeffco charter schools have to apply to the state, and all ask for these waivers as a matter of course. Mountain Phoenix, an existing charter school, has done so. This equals more Jeffco funding potentially going to more teachers who are not licensed. But what about those “highly qualified” teachers?

To be declared as “highly qualified” in Colorado is also a state level distinction, but it is dictated by “No Child Left Behind” and other Federal guidelines. You can see some of the gory details here. To be declared “highly qualified” one needs to:

  • hold a bachelor degree or higher
  • maintain a teaching license
  • demonstrate mastery in their content area

In 2012-2013, 99.49% of classrooms in Colorado had a highly qualified teacher according to these criteria.

Now “highly qualified”, as a legal term is defined, but “highly effective” is where there is more nuance. This is part of Senate Bill 191. If you want a good bedtime read, here is a link to the final SB 191 rules.

It is interesting to crawl through this document, however, because it is completely silent on the difference between effective and highly effective. Furthermore, Jeffco’s pay plan is predicated on a pay bump for highly effective teachers relative to effective teachers. The district will literally bankrupt itself if it meets its goal of having a highly effective teacher in every classroom. It may be an admirable goal, but, if there is pay for performance, then it is an unviable approach.

A different approach, and one supported by JCEA and district staff (though maybe not by Mr. Witt) is to pay for advanced degrees. Most subject areas do not require a master’s degree (or higher) to teach or be in a given position but other jobs require an advanced degree. Speech pathologists and social workers require a master’s degree in order to practice. In addition, any high school teacher who teaches a concurrent enrollment class (in which students receive both high school and college credit), must have a master’s degree.

The district staff presented a plan at the March 5 meeting that included a bump in base salary for master’s degrees. Jeffco was compared to other local districts that do compensate master’s degrees. For Jeffco to remain competitive and be able to hire the best, most qualified candidates, it was suggested that teachers with master’s degrees receive more pay. There is data that suggests this practice improves student performance at the high school level and for minorities, and data that refutes this — sometimes in the same report.

So in summary, while teacher licensure, a state function helps guarantee that each child has a highly qualified teacher, and SB-191 purports to work toward each classroom having a highly effective teacher, the devil truly is in the details. If every teacher was rated highly effective, then the district could not afford it. A population as large as Jeffco’s teacher population guarantees a distribution of performance. The district should hire the best, nurture them, work with them to have a quality workplace, and pay them a salary commensurate with their skill and effectiveness.

Keep watching, keep fighting, JeffCo!