WHEAT RIDGE — The sole finalist for Jeffco Public Schools’ top spot met with members of the suburban school community Thursday afternoon to answer questions about his record and his plans for the future.
Community members asked Dan McMinimee, who currently serves as the assistant superintendent for secondary schools in neighboring Douglas County, to describe his role during tense teacher contract negotiations and his initiative to decrease class sizes in Dougco, and how he plans to work with a split board of education in Jeffco.
McMinimee was short on specifics, especially to the most targeted questions about his plans to heal the rift between some portions of the Jefferson County community and its conservative board majority. But he pledged to listen diligently and often, and quickly identify common ground in order to begin building a coalition to improve the experience of students.
“I don’t think it needs to be that way,” McMinimee said when asked about the hostile culture that has engulfed the school system. “We need to find a way to have a win-win.”
He told the crowd of more than 50: All adults need to work toward an improved climate.
“All of us have to work together,” he said. “I pledge to list to people and find solutions to move us forward. I’m committed to your kids so they can be the best they can be.”
His answers failed to appease some.
“He should have been more prepared,” said Tina Gurdikian, a Jeffco parent, who attended the meeting at Wheat Ridge High School.
McMinimee told the audience he was unfamiliar with the results of a community survey, which was referenced in several questions, that was filled out by more than 13,000 community members this year. The survey asked responders to rank their budget priorities. Critics of the board’s majority often point to an apparent disconnect between the survey’s results and budget priorities outlined by the board.
McMinimee promised to review the survey and address questions next week at his next public meeting scheduled for Monday evening.
The Jeffco board named McMinimee their sole finalist last week on a 3-2 vote.
If the board does offer him a contract, which can’t legally happen until May 24, McMinimee will find himself in the middle of a splintered system on day one.
On one side is a conservative board majority made up of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk. On the other will be the teachers union and supporters of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who guided the district for 12 years. Those supporters favored Stevenson’s approach, which was largely based on a traditional structure of neighborhood schools.
Stevenson, who was not without her critics, announced her retirement in November, just days after the new majority was elected. However, her plans to leave at the end of the school year changed in February when she announced she could no longer work with the new board.
Coupled with tense teachers contract negotiations, budget development, and a growing cacophony on social media, conflict — real or perceived — is at all time high.
“My hope is you can bring us back together and unite us,” Bob Zachman, a retired Jeffco teacher, told McMinimee. “The [fighting] needs to stop. And we need to do what’s best for the 85,000 students of Jeffco. I wish you all the best.”
McMinimee reminded the audience that if hired, he’s responsible to the board that hired him. But he said he hopes to influence all of their conversations with data and input from the public.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Tina Gurdikian is a Jeffco parent, not a teacher.