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!


 

6.25.15 Hate in Jeffco

We received this letter from a reader in response to an extremely offense retweet by a Jeffco Schools principal.

I never questioned the importance of my education until my 7th grade science teacher drew a swastika on my test paper with a 0% written across the top. He told me Hitler had the right idea.

With two powerful red pen marks shaping a symbol of hatred, he erased a child’s belief that teachers are to be trusted and that trying my best was valuable.

I went from straight A’s to ditching regularly before my brain had any time to process. I had to. Processing that event meant facing the fact that the very person educating me believed me to be worthless purely because of my cultural and religious roots.

I never told anyone. I didn’t want my parents to worry and I didn’t believe anyone at school would help. If my own teacher could behave that way, I was afraid of how others might truly feel about me being Jewish.

Now, I am a stronger person. I’ve identified myself as a teacher and parent for many years and today I’m identifying myself as an advocate for the students at Connections Learning Center (CLC) in Jefferson County.

CLC is a school designed to give a second chance to students who have been expelled from a Jefferson County school. To that end, their principal, Lisa Mumma, principal at Jeffco’s Connections Learning Center, is responsible for protecting any student who is being bullied by another student – especially if it is racially-driven bullying.

Unfortunately, instead of protecting her students Ms. Mumma recently re-tweeted the following:

You Say Not All Muslims Are Monsters… Imagine A Bowl Of M&Ms. 10% Are Poisoned…’Would You Eat A Handful’??

My heart aches remembering my skinny twelve-year-old legs climbing up the bus steps to go downtown instead of to 7th grade. My heart aches again thinking of the Muslim students at CLC as they face each new school day.

They are in a school that is meant to offer them a second chance, but if they look up, they may have to face a principal’s eyes that are full of hate for them. If they misstep, they may have to sit in a chair opposite of someone who believes them to be poison purely because of their cultural and religious roots.

CLC’s mission is to “empower students to be responsible, respectful, and to know where they are going in school and in life.” I suspect that now, Ms. Mumma has created students who only want to go away from school and life.

A student in Ms. Mumma’s school who re-tweeted that tweet might get suspended, expelled, or would at least be asked to apologize. As a principal, I believe Ms. Mumma should be held to an even higher standard by Superintendent McMinimee and the Jeffco School Board. Instead, there has been no accountability. I’m hopeful that Ms. Mumma, the superintendent, and Jeffco School Board members will choose to acknowledge the importance of her hateful act and work to rectify it.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!


 

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.


 

4.15.15 New changes to BOE retreat speakers

cipherIn our last post, a Jeffco parent questioned why GOP Chair Steve House had been tapped to speak about innovation in education at a JeffCo School Board retreat this Thursday. We had the same question.

On Monday, Colorado Pols reported that House had withdrawn from the retreat.

But in true board majority spirit, new speakers have been added since Monday. In addition to the already-scheduled speakers, Tony Lewis and Scott Fast, three others have been added:

Michael Cushman, senior fellow, DaVinci Institute
John Evans, Ph.D., J.D., executive director, School Leaders for Colorado
Tammy Thorn, School Leaders for Colorado

School Leaders for Colorado is an alternative licensure program for principals. One new initiative they are touting is “Troops to Principals,” which they describe as a principal leadership training program former members of the Armed Forces of the United States. “Potential candidates may hold the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel, or master sergeant with thirty to thirty-five years of military experience. They may come from the National Guard or the Reserve. They may be recently retired or have working experience in other careers. Their military experience has taught them one important thing—leadership.” Even better, they can complete the program in just 9 months!

Their presentation for the board is here.

A reader also inquired about Scott Fast’s education qualifications. Here’s what we do know. Fast has an education blog, and is a nationalist strategist for innovateducate. Rumor also has it that the Accenture Foundation, of which he is a retired executive director is a major contributor to the KIPP charter schools. He provided this document to the board as “pre-meeting reading.”

Never a dull moment here folks!

The meeting will be streamed, or you can attend it live in the Education Center board room in Golden.

Keep fighting, JeffCo!