The pick is in

Head of Eagle County schools named finalist for Jeffco superintendent post

Eagle County Superintendent Jason Glass on a school visit (photo from Eagle County Public Schools).

Outspoken Eagle County Schools superintendent Jason Glass is the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest district and one that has experienced political upheaval in recent years.

The Jeffco school board called a special meeting Monday to affirm the pick after two days of interviews with six applicants last week.

By Colorado law, school districts must publicly name superintendent finalists two weeks before they are appointed. During the next two weeks, the district will work on a contract proposal with Glass. The board is set to vote on the contract May 16 in a public meeting.

Jeffco board members at Monday’s meeting spoke highly of Glass, noting his work in Eagle schools on starting a seal of biliteracy and giving him credit for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s plans.

“I know it sounds funny, but I really was inspired,” said board member Susan Harmon. “And I needed to be inspired.”

Glass would not start the job before the summer.

“I am honored and excited to be considered for the position of Superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools,” Glass said in a statement released by the Jeffco district. “I am genuinely humbled to be selected as the finalist.”

Former Jeffco superintendent Dan McMinimee is still under contract with the district until the end of June, although his role was redefined so that he could step down after the board announced they would launch a search for his replacement.

McMinimee had experience as an assistant superintendent, but had never been a superintendent before being hired in Jeffco in 2014.

The school board put a premium on finding someone with past experience as a superintendent in its search for a replacement. Glass has been superintendent in Eagle County since 2013. Before that, he was Iowa’s Director of Education.

The Eagle County Schools serves far fewer students than Jeffco, but the demographics are somewhat similar.

The Eagle district has almost 7,000 students, of which about 41 percent qualify for free or discounted lunch — a measure of poverty — and about 31 percent are English learners.

Jeffco has more than 86,000 students, of which about 31 percent qualify for free or discounted lunch and about 8 percent are English learners.

Glass frequently writes editorials for the local newspaper, voicing urgency on issues such as state testing and the need to increase school funding in Colorado. He has also not hesitated to take on the State Board of Education. Last year, Glass criticized the board after it voted down a resolution supporting seals of biliteracy, the add-on to a diploma that Eagle County schools offers.

According to an Eagle County district website, Glass has a bachelor’s degree in political science, two masters degrees and a doctorate in education.

Jeffco hired a search firm, Ray and Associates, to conduct a national search for the position the resulted in 69 applicants. Eleven qualified were presented to the board, and six were interviewed.

Jeffco school board president Ron Mitchell said the board asked candidates whether they were open to being named one of several finalists. Mitchell said the candidates in general were open to the idea but only if it was an “authentic” part of the process, and not if the board had a clear favorite.

Mitchell said Glass did rise to the top and said it would not have been fair to publicly name more finalists.

“We would not have wanted the community to point us in different direction,” Mitchell said, noting that the board used input from the community in vetting the candidates.

Leadership in Jeffco has been in flux because of sharp swings in recent school board elections. McMinimee was hired after a conservative board majority took control of the board. Those board members were recalled in November 2015, replaced by three members backed by a coalition of well-connected parents, high-profile county Democrats and the teachers union.

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.