Radio Jeffco: Interview With Beloved Former Arvada West Teacher Shannon MacKenzie

Incredibly strong story by Radio Jeffco.

Click on the link below to actually listen to the voice of a beloved and highly effective Jeffco teacher (Shannon MacKenzie, English teacher at Arvada West) that left because of the board majority. Her stories embody so much of why this recall is necessary. Please share broadly.

Shannon MacKenzie

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Our mission is to share the voices of Jeffco residents concerned about outsiders trying to take control of our schools and community.


 

Story #2 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Expensive “National” Superintendent Search Turns Up One “Finalist”…Someone They Already Knew From Dougco

“I don’t know anything about Dougco.”–Ken Witt

McMinimee

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #2:

What Happened: The Jeffco School Board’s Superintendent search in the spring of 2014 started out with a seemingly reasonable step: the hiring of Ray and Associates as a consultant to guide the board through a search for the district’s new Superintendent, the CEO and face of the school district. A $40,000 price tag for Ray and Associates may seem steep, but it is so important to get the right leader for a school district the size of Jeffco, no one complained.

The first problem was that there were already whispers, by the time Ray was hired, that Dan McMinimee from Douglas County would be Jeffco’s next Superintendent, as he had been so loyal in helping to get to the holy grail in Dougco: the complete dismemberment of the teachers’ association, the “reformers” obsessive, main idea for improving education.

The second problem was that Ray and Associates recommends multiple finalists when working with school districts to select superintendents, but WNW strongarmed the situation so that only one “finalist” was presented, over the objections of Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman.

The third problem was that we know that many qualified applicants from around the nation applied for this premier position, yet WNW saw fit to say that Mr. McMinimee was the only one qualified to be a finalist. There is no other explanation for this other than a union-busting political alignment. It is simply impossible to believe that there were no more qualified applicants than Dan McMinimee, or that he was awarded the job for any reason other than that he shares the simplistic view that the way to improve your kid’s education all hinges on getting rid of the teachers’ union.

WNW left no other finalists to compare and contrast with McMinimee; they didn’t want transparent public debate. They went through the motions with Ray and Associates to make it seem like they did a national search. They were called on it. It didn’t matter. In the end, WNW voted 3-2 to make him Superintendent, without even close to adequately defending how he was the most qualified, despite all of the irregularities in the process.

Why It Mattered: Waste. Transparency. If this had been an appointment for a mid-level position, maybe no one would have noticed.

Transparency Problem 1: One of Ken Witt’s earliest public comments was “I don’t know anything about Dougco,” in response to those concerned that WNW would just implement a “Dougco-style” playbook. What a lie. Most people suspected that it was a lie; this move confirmed it.

Transparency Problem 2: The whole “one finalist” move. Ray and Associates is an experienced superintendent search firm that recommends bringing multiple finalists to the community for a reason. Why pay $40,000 for process recommendations that you’re going to ignore?

Transparency Problem 3: While WNW was trying to convince Jeffco that McMinimee is a modern day Aristotle despite his thin experience with anything other than school district administration, those looking into his background were pointing out his thin experience in almost every area other than union-busting. If WNW had campaigned on that platform, then McMinimee would be an appropriate choice. They didn’t, and he wasn’t.

Transparency Problem 4: Those whispers even before the application process started that McMinimee had already reached a backroom deal with WNW. Those smiling faces promising transparency in 2013 were only that…smiling faces promising transparency.

Of course, there’s the waste involved in hiring Ray and Associates to run this process. Spending $40,000 on a national search firm when you already know who you’re going to pick? Is this really the same group that complained about items as small as $100 here and there in the previous administration? They really should have just announced the hiring of McMinimee and saved the taxpayers $40,000. But that wouldn’t have been too transparent.

The biggest problem with this, aside from the huge additional trust deficit with WNW, is that such a wide swath of our community sees McMinimee as an illegitimate puppet, a yes-man only. Whatever his competencies may or may not be, the process left so many of us with the idea that, politics aside, Jeffco could have had a much more qualified leader for our schools, even among very conservative candidates if that’s what WNW wanted.

Of all people, McMinimee should be the angriest that the hiring process was so sloppy as to tarnish his entire tenure from the get-go, with doubts forever about his relative qualifications. When you’re making $280K, though, you can probably just live with that tarnishing and retire early.


 

 

Story #3 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Williams Suggests Whitewashing Social Strife from AP U.S. History; Civil Disobedience Ensues

The Mask Came Off. The People Woke Up.

students

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #3:

What Happened: We trust that our readers are as familiar with this story as any other, as it dominated local news for a full week, captured heavy national attention, and even attracted significant international attention. A quick summary is helpful though, especially as WNW try to distort what really happened. The focal point is the exact language that Julie Williams used in her initial curriculum review proposal:

“Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”

Note that this language does not say “materials should present a balanced view of U.S. History;” it does not use any terms suggesting a mix of the good news and bad news about the history of our country. Instead, it uses simple terms that can easily be read by anyone as censoring negative aspects of U.S. History. When WNW later said that they were just seeking something more balanced than what was in the books, perhaps that was true, but that’s not the interpretation of the language that many smart people — yes, including students — derived from reading the proposal.

Fueling the fire were Williams’ bizarre follow-up comments. First there was the admission that she actually didn’t read the class framework before putting forth the proposed language. We don’t need to comment on that…

Second was an assertion that important figures in U.S. history were excluded from the course. How she could have understood that without reading the framework is head-scratcher. Worse, it’s simply without merit. The framework didn’t include every name of every important person…because it’s a framework. It’s like looking at a table of contents and objecting that a specific person isn’t listed in the TOC, even though they’re discussed in the book. Anyone teaching AP U.S. History should teach about the Founding Fathers and MLK, and our guess is that every last one does. But that doesn’t mean that those individuals are listed in detail everywhere.

Recently, the College Board, the company behind AP classes like AP U.S. History, added some of the individuals that Williams complained about into the framework. That is not a vindication of Williams or of some other Tea Party activists who made the same claim around the country. It was political appeasement that’s tantamount to adding a few specifics to a Table of Contents.

Of course, everyone knows the rest of the story, with a few teacher sickouts and student walkouts from every corner of Jeffco. More information about that sequence is contained in our Story #10, which was the whole new story created by Witt and Newkirk calling the students “ignorant” “pawns” after the walkouts. [In fact, we’d note that the votes received for these two stories put together would have made it the #1 story, but the split in votes means that they both appear in our Top 10 from our reader poll anyway.]

2013-2015 Poll Results: School Board Story #10: Witt and Newkirk Call Jeffco Students “Ignorant” and “Pawns”

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure. We presented many that didn’t make the cut; and they were troubling enough.

Why It Mattered: Two reasons: 1) the mask came off; and 2) the people woke up.

Prior to Williams’ proposal, there was still a holding out among many in the community that discontent with the school board was only related to teacher pay, and that teachers were just complaining. Insiders knew differently, but sometimes it takes an event like this for people to see the true colors of their elected officials. This wasn’t just a matter of poor wording on Williams’ part. Do you believe that if there hadn’t been community outrage, that Witt and Newkirk would have had any problem passing the language just as it was? We believe that they were all just fine with that language, and only scrapped it because of the community and national outrage. What this proposal did was give us a glimpse into who this board majority is; they are not just your pleasant locals cheerily looking for ways to be more transparent and determined to give parents a little extra choice. No, they are puppets in a national effort to try to take over school boards, privatize the districts they’re sworn to protect, and in the mean time usher in a new era of extremist indoctrination so that the next generation will align not just with healthy conservative principles like fiscal responsibility and law and order, but also with conservative ideology like a view of American Exceptionalism that somehow sees God’s light as shining solely on our country and justifying any mistakes that we’ve made. This proposal told us a lot about WNW and what they were trying to hide. For that we thank Julie Williams for not being very reflective and a loose cannon.

Second, this incident woke people up. There is a time in this fight to take back Jeffco Schools from outsiders that was pre-AP U.S. History proposal, and then there’s the time since this proposal. The difference has been stark. Before Williams’ proposal, a relatively small but energetic cadre of people were closely following the school board’s shenanigans. Since that proposal, we have a whole lot more sentinels and watchdogs throughout the county. Board meetings have been packed, and traffic on our site and many others has been double or triple what it was before. WNW had been executing the Dougco and Koch Brothers education “reform” playbook to perfection, in their minds. That playbook undoubtedly says to keep things just quiet enough to be able to deflect most criticism. This incident made a whole lot of people think “that’s not who we voted for!” and they’ve been watching much more closely ever since.

Story #4 from 2013-2015 Poll Results: Witt Presents “Back of Envelope” District Compensation Plan, Rams It Through Ignoring Teacher Input

Last week, we put forth a poll asking you to select the Top 10 most disturbing stories out of the 30 that we selected from the current Jeffco School Board majority’s tenure.

We are amidst counting down the Top 10, as voted on by more than 400 people. Today is Story #4:

What Happened: In August 2014, Ken Witt proposed a new district-wide teacher compensation plan. This wasn’t consistent with the usual way district-wide compensation plans are typically proposed, because (as you might gather by now is common) Witt just presented the plan with little explanation or discussion about how it was developed. The Superintendent had little to say about it. Teachers hadn’t heard of it. He appeared to have developed it with his attorney. Chalkbeat, in the article, noted that the proposal “surprised some board members, district staff, and board observers.”

The compensation package tied teacher salaries to performance, and when the teachers objected to the proposal, WNW gave a pre-ordained response: “those teachers just don’t want pay for performance.”

Among the problems with the proposal:

  • As explained above, teachers had no forewarning about the proposal;
  • Witt did not explain how he arrived at the proposal;
  • The proposal ignored a costly neutral fact-finder’s strong recommendation against allowing a “pilot” evaluation system to be used in determining teacher raises, especially after teachers were told that the pilot system was not going to be calculated into salaries for the first year;
  • Witt clamped down on public comment about it, and seemed to fully ignore teacher and board minority input.

At the following meeting, WNW passed the proposal 3-2, without an explanation of how it was derived.

The proposal did include raising minimum salaries (thereby allowing WNW to boast about “raising teacher salaries”) and did include raises for most teachers. However, the raises were mostly quite minimal, especially given that the economy was finally in recovery after years of pay freezes.

More complete coverage of “what happened” is here:

Jeffco board rejects fact-finder recommendations; Witt makes new compensation proposal

GOLDEN – Jeffco Public Schools teachers will continue to work under their 2013 compensation plan after the board of education here rejected the recommendations of a third party to provide salary bumps for teachers rated “partly effective.” Instead, teachers will receive retroactive pay increases later this fall after the Jeffco Board of Education settles the compensation matter at a later date.

Why It Matters: Transparency. Respect. Good Governance. Working Environment. Politics.

Transparency: Once again, we see WNW parading their “transparency” (look, see, board meetings are being live-streamed!) while coming up with major decisions (compensation for thousands) behind the scenes. Not explaining the rationale or the merits of such a system was about as anti-transparent a decision as we can imagine.

Respect. If you respect your employees, you explain to them why their compensation system is as it is. At the very least, you listen to their complaints. When neither of those things is done, you don’t feel respected.

Good Governance. Once again, we see major decisions being made behind closed doors, without the input of the other board members, and very likely in violation of Sunshine Laws.

Working Environment. Teachers don’t need a whole lot, but they do need two-way communication. It was evident that WNW didn’t read that part (or many others) of the business management textbook. Performance goes down when that communication is shut off. If performance has stayed reasonably high, it’s because teachers have worked hard to overcome the working environment that devalues them so much.

Politics. Remember the idea of a non-partisan school board? It’s hard but we need to try. It’s evident to us that this was the plan all along:

  1. Initiate a pay-for-performance plan without teacher input;
  2. When teachers object to problems with the plan and the lack of opportunity for input, use political jiu-jitsu and say “they just don’t want to have pay for performance” despite that not really being the case with most teachers, or the main concern.
  3. Tie the supposed hostility to pay for performance to union control.

It’s a simple political calculus. Problem is, it doesn’t work. Most teachers are open to pay for performance, and they had already started working on well-thought-out plans to implement such a system. Witt just manipulated it for political ends.

When teachers from two schools walked out the day after the proposal was approved, the predictable response from Witt was just “they don’t want pay for performance.” It was convenient politics.

This incident made it so high on our list with our voters, we think, because it affected so many and contained so many elements of the reasoning behind the recall.  Witt playing politics, acting secretly, being disrespectful, and creating a hostile work environment. And Newkirk and Williams going along with it. And Brad Miller coaching them to toe the line the whole way. This wasn’t leadership, it’s sloppy, dangerous, demoralizing puppetry that has a real impact on many lives in our community.


 

Recall 101: Your Guide to the Candidates and Issues

DSCN0244You asked and we did it: a Recall 101 page highlighting the top issues that prompted the recall.

There’s a tab at the top of our website homepage so you can access it easily and share it with others. Thanks to our readers for the suggestion!