Dan The Man

In split vote, Jeffco board hires new superintendent

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Dan McMinimee met with the Jeffco community in 2014 before being hired as Superintendent.

Update at 9:45 p.m.:

GOLDEN — Dan McMinimee’s welcome wagon traveled a bumpy road to the Jefferson County school district’s headquarters here Tuesday night.

The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night voted, 3-2, to hire McMinimee as its next superintendent, despite an overwhelming outcry of concern from rowdy community members in the audience.

McMinimee sat stoic in the front row of a packed board room as his neighbors, potential employees and employers raised questions about his credentials and whether he was worth the $280,000 salary advertised.

“A lot of interesting things we saw tonight, I guess,” McMinimee said after the meeting adjourned.

The crowd behind him chanted “stand up for kids,” a rallying cry of sorts for the Jeffco teachers union and its supporters.

The board and McMinimee must still finalize ​specific terms of the ​contract. The board is expected to vote on a final contract at its June 5 meeting.The vote came after about an hour of public comment and several rounds of amendments — ​”friendly”​ and otherwise — from board members on the terms of McMinimee’s contract. None of the amendments — which included limiting the contract to one year, lowering the base salary, and including specific performance goals — were adopted.

​Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against hiring McMinimee. However, Dahlkemper publicly pledged to work professionally with “whomever the board majority hires.”

Twenty-two individuals and groups spoke on McMinimee’s status as the sole finalist for the superintendent position, which has been open since February.

Five spoke in favor of the board hiring McMinimee, including a Dougco employee, Tom Lawson.

“Dan’s always been a champion for our teachers,” Lawson said.

The rest generally opposed McMinimee’s hiring, or at least requested the board put a hold on hiring McMinimee until after the community could vet more public finalists.

“From the nationwide search, why only one finalist?” asked Craig Middleton, a Jeffco parent. “How many other candidates were interviewed for this position, or were there no others? Or did the other candidates politely decline when you explained they would have no voice in their position.”

A staff presentation after public comment noted that the board, in an earlier executive session, interviewed five candidates.

Original post

The $280,000 question tonight before the Jeffco Public Schools isn’t whether Dan McMinimee will be the suburban school district’s new leader — with the apparent blessing of the board’s three-member majority, it’s a foregone conclusion.

Instead, the question is whether his appointment will be unanimous, as so many hoped it would be, or split along ideological lines, as so many recent votes taken by the Board of Education have been.

McMinimee is the sole finalist for the position, which has been vacant since the end of February. His nomination, which came after a three month search that cost the district $40,000, was made on 3-2 vote.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who opposed naming McMinimee as the sole finalist (they wanted to see more options made public), are keeping their votes close to their chest.

Both board members, who were strong supporters of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, have pledged to keep an open mind on McMinimee.

“I’m not prepared to say [how I’ll vote],” Dahlkemper said last week.

Stevenson’s tumultuous exit in February was a flashpoint in recent struggles between the board’s conservative majority and some Jeffco constituencies.

A unanimous nod from the board would go a long way in repairing relations not just among the board members, but also for the community, insiders and observers said.

“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” said Bill Newman of the search firm Ray and Associates, Inc., throughout the search process.

Even though McMinimee’s resume — which includes stints as a teacher, coach, principal, and central office administrator — meets much of the criteria members of the Jeffco community wanted, his ability to unite the district is in question because of his tenure in the nearby school district Douglas County.

Dougco’s decidedly conservative board and its reforms have made headlines throughout Colorado. And critics of those reforms are wary the Jeffco board majority is laying the groundwork to take similar steps.

Jefferson County has had no shortage of anxiety since the November election when the board’s current majority — board president Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — was elected by wide margins. Critics of the board’s majority worry their platform of expanding school choice, linking teacher pay to student test scores, and beefing up funds for charter schools, are unnecessary reform tactics influenced by a larger conservative agenda.

Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School —  with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board's minority.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School — with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board’s minority.

Douglas County, where McMinimee has worked for the last 12 years, has already put into place many of those strategies. The board ended its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union and put into place a voucher program that would have allowed some students to attend private schools using tax payer dollars.

McMinimee represented the board in 2012 during contract negotiations that ended in a stalemate. And the legality of the district’s voucher plan, which never went into effect, is expected to be considered by the Colorado Supreme Court this summer.

The finalist has said both publicly and during the interview process that he’ll work to unite the board and community by spending “quality time” with each board member and by touring the district that spreads from the Littleton to Westminster and from Lakewood to Evergreen.

But McMinimee’s bonhomie and rhetoric have not seemed to sway some skeptics.

More than 3,000 individuals signed a Change.org petition during the Memorial Day weekend asking the board to ditch McMinimee and revisit the application pool. And emails opposing McMinimee’s appointment addressed to Jeffco board members and copied to members of the media have trickled into email inboxes since he was named as the sole finalist.

“Please go back to the drawing board,” wrote Jim Earley, a Jeffco parent, in a Saturday email to board members provided to Chalkbeat. “Please do your due diligence when considering a candidate for superintendent to present to the community.”

Besides the Dougco connection, Earley said in his email, McMinimee’s lack of experience leading a large district (Jeffco has nearly 85,000 students) and some details of his contract were unacceptable.

A draft of McMinimee’s contract was released last week after a flurry of emails from parents and teachers requested a preview.

According to the draft, which is still subject to further negotiations and a separate June 5 vote, McMinimee will be paid $280,000 a year for five years. That’s about $80,000 more in base-pay than Stevenson, the district’s last superintendent. Stevenson was eligible for $30,000 in bonuses but had to pay for her own expenses, while the draft contract for McMinimee does not outline any performance-based bonuses and he will be reimbursed for some expenses.

If approved, McMinimee’s base salary will also be more than New York City School’s chancellor Carmen Fariña, who earns $212,614 per year, and Chicago Public School’s CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett, who earns $250,000 per year.

Previously, all members of the board agreed to the increase in base salary during the recruitment process.

But board member Fellman said, in retrospect, the board might not have had all the information needed to when it agreed to increase the base salary for the position.

“Right now, I’m more critical of the process than of Mr. McMinimee,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.

The board’s discussion and vote will follow 45 minutes of public comment, which is expected to begin after 6:30 p.m. More than 60 peopled have signed up to address the board. Departing from standard procedure that has allowed some board meetings to go on for hours, individuals will have only two minutes to speak while groups will have five minutes.

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How Jeffco’s pick for superintendent changed his mind about education reform

Jason Glass, the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, toured Arvada High School last week. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

When Jason Glass was recruited to oversee more than 300 Iowa school districts as the state’s director of education, he was known for his work in Colorado’s Eagle County tying teacher pay to student performance.

The Republican governor who appointed Glass in Iowa called him a “reform-minded leader” and put him to work to explore similar models for Iowa’s teachers.

Over time, both while in Iowa and after returning to serve as superintendent of Eagle County Schools, Glass changed some of his thoughts on education reform. He said it happened while he was looking at education systems around the world and found that many of the popular reforms in the U.S. “were not a strong ingredient” in other systems around the world. Addressing student needs was, he said.

“Unless you’re doing something to impact poverty, you’re really not changing outcomes,” Glass said. “It changed my focus.”

Glass’s views are front and center as he is set to take on a more prominent role as the next superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. Pending contract negotiations and a final vote Tuesday night, he will begin the role July 1.

Glass was the sole finalist of a school board that won election with support from a coalition that included well-connected parents and the teachers union.

In Eagle County, Glass is admired by the local union. He said he no longer believes in performance pay for teachers, but advocates for other ways to pay teachers other than under traditional models. He’s been critical of testing in Colorado. He believes charter schools should meet high bars, including showing quality in instruction.

“I’m most interested in getting something done,” Glass said. “That can take on different forms.”

Jeffco board members who picked Glass as sole finalist for the job praised his ability to work with different people, his work on rolling out a biliteracy seal in his district to encourage bilingual students and for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s master plan.

The Jeffco board launched a national search earlier this spring to find a new leader.

The last superintendent, Dan McMinimee, was hired by a previous school board in a majority decision by three conservative board members who were later recalled. Three of the five current school board members are up for re-election this November.

“I really admire this board,” Glass said. “It took a lot of courage for them to run.”

Even before officially starting, Glass has been meeting groups of staff and visiting schools. On Thursday, he visited Arvada High School, where two students gave him a tour of the school and told him about the programs they say make their school great.

Glass was quiet, mostly listening to the students and asking occasional questions.

He said he won’t start work in Jeffco with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

He said he will consider whether Jeffco could offer a biliteracy seal — a credential given to graduating students who meet requirements to prove they are fluent in two languages.

Talking about his views on budget issues facing most Colorado districts, Glass said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs — services that cash-strapped districts often have to cut.

Glass said it is clear the district needs someone to unite the community.

“It’s a place that needs a strong leader, a relationship-builder,” Glass said. “Those are skill sets that I have and areas that I’ve been successful in.”

His job application highlighted that voters in Eagle County in November approved a tax increase for the district. Jeffco failed to pass two tax increase measures in November.

Charlie Edwards, the president of the Iowa State Board of Education, agrees that Glass has learned to work well with various groups.

Edwards said that when Glass started in Iowa and was working to create a statewide model of teacher pay and to create new academic standards, the hundreds of school districts used to having local control were skeptical.

“There was initially quite a bit of resistance,” Edwards said. “He worked through a lot of it. It was not an easy sell.”

Now people describe Glass as a supporter of teachers.

When he returned to Colorado after working in Iowa, Glass negotiated a contract with the school district that tied his own pay raises to teacher pay raises. It was something important to the community at the time, Glass said, because they worried about a previous leader that took pay raises while teacher salaries lagged.

Glass also rolled back the performance-pay model that he helped create as the district’s director of human resources. Now, teacher pay is more traditional but with some added performance bonuses.

“He is very supportive of what we do,” said Megan Orvis, president of the Eagle County Education Association.

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  • The KIPP charter network urged its schools to act after Terence Crutcher, a KIPP dad, was killed by police in Tulsa. (Chalkbeat)
  • What that action looked like at KIPP Tulsa College Prep, where at least 10 students are related to Crutcher. (Tulsa World)
  • A teacher at the school went viral after sharing her experiences talking to students — and her advice to “love and love hard.” (Facebook)
  • Great teachers are experts at having hard conversations. Here’s their advice to America. (Chalkbeat)
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  • Two seasoned education policy wonks are leading Donald Trump’s education transition planning. (Politics K-12)
  • Why is Tennessee’s first single-sex charter school thriving? Not for the reason you might think. (The Atlantic)
  • Efforts are underway to improve black students’ experience at a diverse school where they still come out behind. (Bloomberg)