Big decision

One year after recall election, Jefferson County school board weighing superintendent’s fate

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

The Jefferson County school board has begun discussions to decide the fate of Superintendent Dan McMinimee, one year after voters ousted the conservative board members who hired him.

McMinimee was a controversial pick when he was hired in summer 2014. He had no experience as superintendent, and had previously been an assistant superintendent at the Douglas County School District — a district that had ended negotiations with its teachers union.

The recall campaign at times focused on McMinimee and his salary package. But when the recall was successful, new board members said they would give the superintendent a chance.

McMinimee’s $220,000 contract expires June 30 and board members must decide if they will renegotiate a contract with him or launch a search for a new superintendent.

If the board decides to retain McMinimee, they must notify him in writing by March 31 under the terms of his contract.

Jeffco school board members held an executive session last week during a conference in Colorado Springs in which they started discussions on the superintendent’s contract, a district spokeswoman said. The board is scheduled to go into executive session again Thursday to continue the discussion.

“You don’t wait until the contract expires,” Ron Mitchell, the Jeffco school board president, told Chalkbeat. “Should the board be thinking we want to go in another direction, that requires a fair amount of prior planning. That’s the rationale for the timing — the only reason we’re beginning those discussions.”

If the board wanted to part ways with McMinimee before his contract expires without attempting to fire him with cause, the district would need to pay him the amount of one year’s base salary, according to his contract. If the superintendent wants to terminate the contract, he would have to give the board six months notice or be charged for damages.

McMinimee said Wednesday that he would like to stay in the district and hopes the board can make a decision soon. He said he expects a chance at Thursday’s meeting to address any board concerns.

“We have a significant amount of work we have to get started in January,” McMinimee said. “This needs to get resolved so we can focus on that.”

After the start of the new year, district staff will be working on drafting next year’s budget and finding ways to cut back on projects that would have been funded if the district’s bond and mill levy requests had prevailed at the ballot box last month.

In the last few months, board members and McMinimee have discussed his performance during open meetings as part of his evaluation process.

In September, the board finalized one evaluation used to determine if McMinimee was eligible for up to $40,000 in bonuses tied to district goals. The evaluation, required by his contract, determined that he helped the district reach more than half of the goals, including raising scores on state tests and on the ACT test, and creating school accountability teams at every district school.

McMinimee received the lowest scores of partially effective on three out of the 12 goals including one related to creating a new charter school application process, and for mixed results increasing the number of third-graders meeting or exceeding expectations in reading.

Based on the review, McMinimee received $20,000 in performance pay.

After that evaluation, the board started the work of setting the superintendent goals for next year. McMinimee presented a draft of his suggested goals at a meeting two weeks ago.

During that discussion, board members pushed back on the draft, suggesting that some of the goals McMinimee had set should be expectations of his job, not additional goals for bonuses. They asked for more goals that can be tied to reliable data.

Under McMinimee’s tenure, the second largest school district in Colorado has made changes to a group of schools on the district’s more impoverished eastern boundary, including expanding Alameda and Jefferson high schools into seventh through 12th grade campuses.

The district has also moved toward giving principals more autonomy. That included a switch to a student-based budget system that provides schools a set amount of money per student and more flexibility in spending. The recent defeat of the district’s bond and mill levy requests mean some plans for new schools and for renovations will be put on hold.

“I’m thankful the board gave me an opportunity to continue and work on some of the initiatives we were already doing — things like the Jeffco 2020 Vision,” McMinimee said, referring to the district’s goals and strategic plan, which predates last year’s election.

“I’m very proud of the work that my staff has done,” he said. “I don’t know of many people that would have held in there with some of the things that have happened. And I’m referring to my cabinet. I’m very proud we have not wavered.”

New Hire

Corporate leader tapped to handle facilities, business for Memphis schools

PHOTO: Daarel Burnette
Administrative offices for Tennessee's largest school district

Shelby County Schools has hired a corporate executive in Memphis to oversee its business operations.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Beth Phalen

In her new role with Tennessee’s largest district, Beth Phalen will oversee facilities planning and maintenance, nutrition services, district purchases and contracts, transportation and risk management.

She was most recently executive vice president of strategy and operations for ISS Facility Services and before that served as vice president of business operations at Memphis-based ServiceMaster.

Phalen fills a vacancy open since mid-2015 and rounds out Superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s leadership team. Hopson took the helm in 2013 as the district’s first chief after the former Memphis City Schools merged with legacy Shelby County Schools.

The hire comes as Shelby County Schools is reshaping its facilities footprint and seeking to maintain a large number of aging buildings. The district also is seeking to diversify its business contracts to include more minority- and women-owned businesses.

Phalen replaces Hitesh Haria, now with Oakland Unified School District in California. Cerita Butler, the district’s director of business operations and procurement, has served as interim chief.

Movers & shakers

McQueen selects new chief of staff from State Board team

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen is introduced in December 2014 as Tennessee's new education commissioner by Gov. Bill Haslam.

Laura Encalade is the new chief of staff for the Tennessee Department of Education, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Monday.

Laura Encalade

Encalade isn’t moving far. The director of policy and research for the State Board of Education since 2015, she led projects including the state’s standards review process for math, English, science and social studies and the redesign of Tennessee’s teacher prep report card.

A native of Memphis, Encalade previously worked at the Department of Education as deputy director for the state’s $500 million Race to the Top grant and the director of educator talent. Prior to living in Nashville, she taught seventh- and eighth-grade social studies in St. Louis.

Encalade begins her new job on Feb. 27 and replaces Jayme Place Simmons, now Gov. Bill Haslam’s special assistant for strategy and policy.