help wanted

Jeffco superintendent opening to post with $300,000 as base pay

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee speaking to reporters last month (photo by Eric Gorski).

Jeffco school board members agreed to advertise a $300,000 base salary for the district’s next superintendent — an increase from what the current superintendent is now paid — on the same night they voted to close a school as part of nearly $11 million in budget cuts.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board accepted the salary recommendation of Ray and Associates, the firm hired to conduct the search for a new superintendent. The same firm was hired by the previous board to lead the search that resulted in the hiring of the current superintendent, Dan McMinimee.

In January, the board voted to open a search for a new Jeffco Public Schools superintendent while McMinimee, hired by a board majority that was recalled in 2015, had six months left on his contract. McMinimee continues to lead the district during the search for a potential replacement.

McMinimee, who was hired in the summer of 2014, has a base salary of $220,000 with up to an additional $40,000 in performance pay and another $20,000 in benefits. In October, the board approved giving McMinimee $20,000 of his $40,000 in potential performance pay dollars, bringing his year’s pay to $240,000 plus benefits.

Gary Ray, the president of Ray and Associates, presented salary estimates for superintendents of other similar districts across the country to suggest the $300,000 amount.

Among the examples cited were an estimated salary of $318,000 for the superintendent of Austin, Texas, schools, leading a district of about 85,000 students, and an estimated salary of $327,000 for the superintendent in Memphis, leading a district of about 110,000 students.

Ray said that because of the size of Jeffco, which enrolls more than 86,000 students, the board should consider national salaries, not just those of neighboring districts.

“I do think it’s important that you have a salary that’s competitive so it sends a message that you know what the market is,” Ray said.

He also assured the board that the final salary amount would be adjusted based on qualifications. When McMinimee was hired, the base salary had been estimated originally at $280,000. Before his final contract was signed, the board adjusted the amount, moving some money into benefits and performance pay.

Board member Brad Rupert said he liked the chance to adjust.

“I want to make sure we have a number out there that is sufficient to start the conversation with the best possible people,” Rupert said.

Susan Harmon agreed, making a point to say, “We’re not making a job offer, we’re just putting an advertisement out there.”

The board’s discussion Thursday did not require a vote, but was intended to direct the search firm as it launches the application process to find a superintendent.

The discussion happened during a work session before the regular meeting in which the board heard hours of public testimony and then wrestled with decisions on school closures and other budget cuts. McMinimee gave the board with an alternate proposal that scaled back the originally proposed cuts.

The cuts that did move forward Thursday totaled nearly $11 million and along with other savings, gave the district $19 million toward the $25 million district officials want to commit to raise salaries for district employees.

When the board voted last month to launch a search for a new superintendent instead of renewing McMinimee’s contract, which expires at the end of June, board members said they didn’t have problems with McMinimee’s performance.

They cited concerns with the process under which he was hired with a split vote after being named the sole finalist, and questioned if another person would be better at the job.

Ken Witt, who served as board president in 2014 when McMinimee was hired, said Friday those are “hollow and baseless accusations.”

“I’m very proud to say we did include the community, solicited feedback and we used a national search process,” said Witt, who was swept out of office along with two other conservative board members in the 2015 recall election. “I think we did exactly what was appropriate.”

So far, the process appears it will follow a similar path under the same firm.

An online survey is expected to launch Monday so the public can weigh in on which qualities are important for a Jeffco superintendent. An online survey was also conducted in 2014.

Members from the search firm also will meet with some community groups and host focus groups. Then, as the search firm narrows down a list of finalists, the board will get to interview candidates. Ray reiterated what district staff had previously told the board — that candidates need privacy and it may not be possible to publicly name more than one finalist.

Speaking Out

Students demand a say in New York City’s school integration plans

PHOTO: Joe Amon/Denver Post

New York City students will rally on the steps of City Hall on Saturday afternoon, calling for action to integrate schools and demanding that students have a voice in the process.

“Young people all around the city are asking for more equitable public schools — schools that enroll a student population that reflects our city diversity and schools that have both the proper resources and support,” according to a statement released by the students.

The demonstration is being organized by IntegrateNYC4Me, a citywide student-led group, with support from Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters, New York Appleseed, and Councilman Brad Lander’s office.

New York City’s schools are notoriously segregated. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the education department have promised to release a “bigger vision” plan by June to address the problem. But the details have largely been kept secret, and desegregation advocates have called for the public to have a role in drafting the proposal.

Now, students are also demanding a say.

“We hope that we will call attention to the necessity of including student voices in the creation of the policies that will affect us the most,” according to the group’s statement.

The rally will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, click here. To follow on social media, search for #WhyIMarch and #IntegrateNYC4Me.

Dealing with discipline

Former Newark schools chief Cami Anderson’s new mission: getting schools to rethink student discipline

PHOTO: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen
Cami Anderson when she was superintendent of schools in Newark, New Jersey.

After a rocky tenure as superintendent of the Newark Public Schools, Cami Anderson is now working with charter networks and school districts to reform school discipline, she told Chalkbeat.

Called the Discipline Revolution Project, Anderson’s new initiative aims to help schools reduce suspensions and move away from exclusionary discipline practices.

“There’s an increasing awareness in the reform community, charter and district, that our punitive approach to discipline is very costly to some kids, but there’s not enough talk about what we’re moving towards,” she said in an interview at the New Schools Venture Fund summit. “There’s too much talk about what we’re moving away from.”

Anderson is the former Newark schools superintendent who was appointed in 2011 just as the district received a highly publicized $100 million gift from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Her work in Newark, especially a plan to close a number of the district’s schools, made her a lightning rod for controversy until she resigned under pressure in 2015.

Her new focus on school discipline comes as charter schools have faced pressure to reduce their suspension rates, particularly so-called “no excuses” charters, which often produce high test scores and use a strict disciplinary approach.

Anderson sees an opportunity to get schools to change their practices and wants to ensure discussion translates into action.

“It seems like a conversation is happening … and it’s an important opportunity,” she said. “I want to make sure it’s filled with content. My big fear is that it will stay as a philosophical [one].”

Anderson convened a group of leaders last week from charter networks and school districts, including from Denver Public Schools, Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District and charter networks such as Uncommon Schools and Summit Public Schools.

Specifically, Anderson is hoping to offer tools for leaders interested in improving discipline practices, help schools use discipline data more effectively, and facilitate discussions among school and district leaders.

Charter schools, like traditional public schools, are dramatically more likely to suspend black students and students with disabilities. Advocates argue that exclusionary discipline hurts students and feeds a “school-to-prison” pipeline. This has caused a number of school districts and some charter school leaders to vow to reduce suspensions and emphasize alternatives like restorative justice.

Others within the charter movement have pushed back, including Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz.

“Lax discipline won’t strike a blow for civil rights,” Moskowitz wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Instead it will perpetuate the real civil-rights violation — the woeful failure to educate the vast majority of the city’s minority children and prepare them for life’s challenges.”

Anderson says she’s not saying suspensions should be eliminated altogether, but that schools should put a greater emphasis on preventing student misbehavior in the first place. She also argues that suspensions are simply an ineffective way to address misbehavior.

“Students have to be accountable for their behavior. They just need to be accountable in a way that that they’re going to learn from it,” Anderson said. “Putting them out is almost never the way for that to happen.”

Indeed, there is little evidence that exclusionary discipline has its intended impact, though there is also limited rigorous research on the efficacy of alternatives.

After leaving Newark, Anderson started her own education consulting firm and has worked with charter schools on improving their services for students with disabilities. Anderson said she doesn’t know yet whether her school-discipline initiative will grow into a standalone organization. Last week’s convening, essentially the project’s launch, was funded by the New Schools Venture Fund and the Walton Foundation. (Walton is also a supporter of Chalkbeat.)

“Part of it is going to be responding to what people say they got out of it and what they want moving forward,” she said.