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.

promoting choice

Betsy DeVos defends vouchers and slams AFT in her speech to conservatives

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rallied a conservative crowd in Denver on Thursday, criticizing teachers unions and local protesters and defending private-school vouchers as a way to help disadvantaged students.

“Our opponents, the defenders of the status quo, only protest those capable of implementing real change,” DeVos told members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an influential conservative group that helps shape legislative policy across the country. “You represent real change.”

DeVos delivered the keynote speech at the ALEC meeting, where she reiterated her support for local control of schools and school choice. Citing the conservative former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, she said education should be about individual students and families, not school systems.

“Lady Thatcher regretted that too many seem to blame all their problems on society. But, ‘who is society?’” DeVos asked, quoting Thatcher. “‘There is no such thing!’”

The American Federation of Teachers, she said, has exactly the opposite idea.

“Parents have seen that defenders of the status quo don’t have their kids’ interests at heart,” she said.

AFT President Randi Weingarten threw punches of her own Thursday, calling private school vouchers “only slightly more polite cousins of segregation” in a Washington, D.C. speech.

DeVos highlighted states that have introduced vouchers or new school-choice programs including North Carolina, Kentucky and Arizona. Indiana — home to the nation’s largest voucher program — also won praise.

Data from existing voucher programs may have sparked the one critical question DeVos faced, during a brief sit-down after her speech. Legislators want to know how to respond to complaints that voucher programs only help wealthy families, the moderator, an Arizona lawmaker, told DeVos.

In Indiana, for instance, vouchers are increasingly popular in wealthy school districts and among families whose students had not previously attended public school.

“I just dismiss that as a patently false argument,” DeVos said. “Wealthy people already have choice. They’re making choices every day, every year, by moving somewhere where they determine the schools are right for their children or by paying tuition if they haven’t moved somewhere.”

Earlier this year, DeVos criticized Denver as not offering enough school choice because Colorado does not have private school vouchers. Still, presenters at the conference Thursday introduced Denver to ALEC members — conservative legislators, business leaders and lobbyists — as “living proof” that charter schools and competition work.

A local Denver school board candidate, Tay Anderson, and state union leaders held a protest Wednesday ahead of DeVos’s speech. Attendees said they were concerned that ALEC’s efforts, and DeVos’s focus on vouchers and school choice, would hurt public schools.

DeVos didn’t make mention of Denver or Colorado in her speech Thursday, but she briefly referenced the protest.

“I consider the excitement a badge of honor, and so should you,” she said.

out of the running

Denver school board candidate Jo Ann Fujioka withdrawing from at-large race

PHOTO: Daniel Brenner/Special to the Denver Post
Jo Ann Fujioka, center, holds signs and participates in a song during a Rally for Health Care earlier this month.

One of three candidates vying to unseat Denver school board vice president Barbara O’Brien has announced that she is dropping out of the race.

Jo Ann Fujioka said in an email message to supporters this week that she’s ending her candidacy because two other candidates backed out of running with her as a three-person slate. No other candidates have dropped out of the race.

Fujioka, a former Jeffco Public Schools nurse and administrator who lives in Denver, said consultants hired by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association “pressured the other two candidates to withdraw from the slate and then informed me, ‘You bring nothing to the table.’”

Fujioka declined to name the other two candidates or the consultants. Asked about Fujioka’s withdrawal, union president Henry Roman said, “We have strong candidates in every district.”

Four seats on the seven-member Denver Public Schools board are up for election in November. All seven seats are currently held by board members who support the superintendent’s vision, which includes embracing school choice and replacing low-performing schools.

Three incumbents are running for re-election. In the fourth race, the incumbent has endorsed a candidate. Every race is now contested, and every race includes at least one candidate who disagrees with the superintendent’s vision.

Fujioka was running for the at-large seat held by O’Brien on a platform of opposing school closures and new charter schools. Fujioka said her strategy from the beginning was to form a slate of four like-minded candidates. (Until recently, only three races were contested, which is why she said the proposed slate had three members.)

The idea, she said, was that the slate would stand together against the district’s reforms, which she and others have sought to tie to the policies championed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

DeVos is best known for supporting private school vouchers, which DPS opposes.

“There’s a national anti-voucher, anti-DeVos, anti-Trump feeling,” Fujioka said. “…The fact that there are lots of activists against it, coupled with a ticket of four people saying, ‘This is what we’re railing against,’ that’s the advantage I see.”

Running individual campaigns against the incumbents would be more difficult, she said. When it became clear the slate wasn’t going to happen, Fujioka said she decided to withdraw from the race altogether — and explain her reasoning in a message to supporters, which she also posted on her website.

“It isn’t just that I quit,” she said. “That’s why I put that out there.”

O’Brien, who previously served as Colorado’s lieutenant governor for four years, responded to Fujioka’s statement with a press release saying she was disheartened to learn the reason that one of her opponents was dropping out of the race.

“Too often, women in politics find themselves facing unreasonable institutional barriers,” O’Brien said. “It’s discouraging, misguided and just plain wrong. … That a fellow progressive voice was forced to exit the race because consultants told her, ‘You bring nothing to the table,’ is more of the same that women in public service, and everywhere, have to tolerate.”

Fujioka called O’Brien’s statement “the sleaziest piece of campaign propaganda” she’d seen.

“I am appalled at Barbara hopping on this like a vulture to make it sound like she is so empathetic to my situation as a woman, when it really had nothing to do with being a woman,” Fujioka said. “Such a blatant appeal to women is shoddy at best.”

O’Brien said her statement was heartfelt.

Two other candidates confirmed that they’re still in the running against O’Brien: northwest Denver father Robert Speth, who narrowly lost an election to a school board incumbent in 2015, and former DPS teacher Julie Banuelos.

In the race for the board seat representing northeast Denver, two candidates — Tay Anderson and Jennifer Bacon — are challenging incumbent Rachele Espiritu.

In central east Denver, candidate Carrie A. Olson is challenging incumbent Mike Johnson.

And in southwest Denver, candidate Xochitl “Sochi” Gaytan is challenging candidate Angela Cobian, who has been endorsed by the board member who currently holds that seat.