Dan The Man

In split vote, Jeffco board hires new superintendent

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

Update at 9:45 p.m.:

GOLDEN — Dan McMinimee’s welcome wagon traveled a bumpy road to the Jefferson County school district’s headquarters here Tuesday night.

The Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education Tuesday night voted, 3-2, to hire McMinimee as its next superintendent, despite an overwhelming outcry of concern from rowdy community members in the audience.

McMinimee sat stoic in the front row of a packed board room as his neighbors, potential employees and employers raised questions about his credentials and whether he was worth the $280,000 salary advertised.

“A lot of interesting things we saw tonight, I guess,” McMinimee said after the meeting adjourned.

The crowd behind him chanted “stand up for kids,” a rallying cry of sorts for the Jeffco teachers union and its supporters.

The board and McMinimee must still finalize ​specific terms of the ​contract. The board is expected to vote on a final contract at its June 5 meeting.The vote came after about an hour of public comment and several rounds of amendments — ​”friendly”​ and otherwise — from board members on the terms of McMinimee’s contract. None of the amendments — which included limiting the contract to one year, lowering the base salary, and including specific performance goals — were adopted.

​Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman voted against hiring McMinimee. However, Dahlkemper publicly pledged to work professionally with “whomever the board majority hires.”

Twenty-two individuals and groups spoke on McMinimee’s status as the sole finalist for the superintendent position, which has been open since February.

Five spoke in favor of the board hiring McMinimee, including a Dougco employee, Tom Lawson.

“Dan’s always been a champion for our teachers,” Lawson said.

The rest generally opposed McMinimee’s hiring, or at least requested the board put a hold on hiring McMinimee until after the community could vet more public finalists.

“From the nationwide search, why only one finalist?” asked Craig Middleton, a Jeffco parent. “How many other candidates were interviewed for this position, or were there no others? Or did the other candidates politely decline when you explained they would have no voice in their position.”

A staff presentation after public comment noted that the board, in an earlier executive session, interviewed five candidates.

Original post

The $280,000 question tonight before the Jeffco Public Schools isn’t whether Dan McMinimee will be the suburban school district’s new leader — with the apparent blessing of the board’s three-member majority, it’s a foregone conclusion.

Instead, the question is whether his appointment will be unanimous, as so many hoped it would be, or split along ideological lines, as so many recent votes taken by the Board of Education have been.

McMinimee is the sole finalist for the position, which has been vacant since the end of February. His nomination, which came after a three month search that cost the district $40,000, was made on 3-2 vote.

Board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who opposed naming McMinimee as the sole finalist (they wanted to see more options made public), are keeping their votes close to their chest.

Both board members, who were strong supporters of former superintendent Cindy Stevenson, have pledged to keep an open mind on McMinimee.

“I’m not prepared to say [how I’ll vote],” Dahlkemper said last week.

Stevenson’s tumultuous exit in February was a flashpoint in recent struggles between the board’s conservative majority and some Jeffco constituencies.

A unanimous nod from the board would go a long way in repairing relations not just among the board members, but also for the community, insiders and observers said.

“We hope [the board and new superintendent] will become a team of six,” said Bill Newman of the search firm Ray and Associates, Inc., throughout the search process.

Even though McMinimee’s resume — which includes stints as a teacher, coach, principal, and central office administrator — meets much of the criteria members of the Jeffco community wanted, his ability to unite the district is in question because of his tenure in the nearby school district Douglas County.

Dougco’s decidedly conservative board and its reforms have made headlines throughout Colorado. And critics of those reforms are wary the Jeffco board majority is laying the groundwork to take similar steps.

Jefferson County has had no shortage of anxiety since the November election when the board’s current majority — board president Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk — was elected by wide margins. Critics of the board’s majority worry their platform of expanding school choice, linking teacher pay to student test scores, and beefing up funds for charter schools, are unnecessary reform tactics influenced by a larger conservative agenda.

Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School —  with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board's minority.
PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jeffco Public Schools board member Jill Fellman hosted two meet and greets — like this one on May 15 at Wheat Ridge High School — with superintendent finalist Dan McMinimee. Fellman is a member of the board’s minority.

Douglas County, where McMinimee has worked for the last 12 years, has already put into place many of those strategies. The board ended its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union and put into place a voucher program that would have allowed some students to attend private schools using tax payer dollars.

McMinimee represented the board in 2012 during contract negotiations that ended in a stalemate. And the legality of the district’s voucher plan, which never went into effect, is expected to be considered by the Colorado Supreme Court this summer.

The finalist has said both publicly and during the interview process that he’ll work to unite the board and community by spending “quality time” with each board member and by touring the district that spreads from the Littleton to Westminster and from Lakewood to Evergreen.

But McMinimee’s bonhomie and rhetoric have not seemed to sway some skeptics.

More than 3,000 individuals signed a Change.org petition during the Memorial Day weekend asking the board to ditch McMinimee and revisit the application pool. And emails opposing McMinimee’s appointment addressed to Jeffco board members and copied to members of the media have trickled into email inboxes since he was named as the sole finalist.

“Please go back to the drawing board,” wrote Jim Earley, a Jeffco parent, in a Saturday email to board members provided to Chalkbeat. “Please do your due diligence when considering a candidate for superintendent to present to the community.”

Besides the Dougco connection, Earley said in his email, McMinimee’s lack of experience leading a large district (Jeffco has nearly 85,000 students) and some details of his contract were unacceptable.

A draft of McMinimee’s contract was released last week after a flurry of emails from parents and teachers requested a preview.

According to the draft, which is still subject to further negotiations and a separate June 5 vote, McMinimee will be paid $280,000 a year for five years. That’s about $80,000 more in base-pay than Stevenson, the district’s last superintendent. Stevenson was eligible for $30,000 in bonuses but had to pay for her own expenses, while the draft contract for McMinimee does not outline any performance-based bonuses and he will be reimbursed for some expenses.

If approved, McMinimee’s base salary will also be more than New York City School’s chancellor Carmen Fariña, who earns $212,614 per year, and Chicago Public School’s CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett, who earns $250,000 per year.

Previously, all members of the board agreed to the increase in base salary during the recruitment process.

But board member Fellman said, in retrospect, the board might not have had all the information needed to when it agreed to increase the base salary for the position.

“Right now, I’m more critical of the process than of Mr. McMinimee,” she said in an interview Tuesday morning.

The board’s discussion and vote will follow 45 minutes of public comment, which is expected to begin after 6:30 p.m. More than 60 peopled have signed up to address the board. Departing from standard procedure that has allowed some board meetings to go on for hours, individuals will have only two minutes to speak while groups will have five minutes.

diverse offerings

School leaders in one Jeffco community are looking at demographic shifts as an opportunity to rebrand

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
A student at Lumberg Elementary School in Jefferson County.

Along the boundary between the two largest school districts in Colorado is a corridor of Jeffco schools unlike most others in that largely suburban district.

These schools near the Denver border are seeing drops in enrollment. They have a larger number of students who are learning English as a second language and a larger number of families living in poverty. The schools traditionally have performed lower on state tests.

The school principals who got together recently to talk about strategies for improving their schools say there’s one thing they know they’re doing well: creating biliterate students.

But the demographics around the schools are changing, and now school and district officials are looking at how they can respond with new programs to attract newcomers to neighborhood schools while still serving existing families.

“It’s almost like there’s two Edgewaters,” Joel Newton, founder of the Edgewater Collective, told principals at the meeting last week. “The area is gentrifying crazy fast.”

Five of the six dual language programs in Jeffco Public Schools are located in Edgewater and Lakewood. They were created, in part, as a response to the needs of the large numbers of students who do not speak English as a first language.

Three elementary schools that feed into Jefferson Junior-Senior High School in Edgewater are working on rebranding their schools and seeing if they can create a two-way dual language program that can also benefit native English speakers and keep more of them in the neighborhood schools.

“All three of the elementary schools have the same offerings,” said Renee Nicothodes, an achievement director for this region of schools in Jeffco. “Are we offering what the community wants? Are students choicing out or is gentrification forcing them out?”

Currently the dual language programs at Molholm Elementary, Edgewater Elementary, and Lumberg Elementary are all one-way programs, meaning that all the students in the program are native Spanish speakers. They receive all instruction in both Spanish and English.

A two-way dual language program, which the district runs in two other Jeffco schools, requires mixed classrooms where half of the students are native English speakers and the other half speak Spanish as their first language. Students receive instruction in both Spanish and English, but in the mixed classroom, the idea is that students are also learning language and culture from each other as they interact.

Educators believe the changing demographics in Edgewater might allow for such a mix, if there’s interest.

Jeffco officials are designing a community engagement process, including a survey that will gauge if there are enough families that would be attracted to a two-way dual language program or to other new school models.

Newton pointed out to principals that as part of their work, they will have to address a common myth that the schools’ performance ratings are being weighed down by scores from students who aren’t fluent in English.

The elementary schools that are part of the Jefferson improvement plans in the district all saw higher state ratings this year. Molholm Elementary, one of these schools, saw the most significant improvement in its state rating.

“Our (English learner) students in our district, particularly at these three schools, are truly performing at a very high level, but it does take time,” said Catherine Baldwin-Johnson, the district’s director of dual language programs. “In our dual language programs, those students are contributing to the higher scores at those schools.”

Some school-level data about the students in the dual language programs can’t be released because it refers to small numbers of students, but Baldwin-Johnson said her department’s district-level data show that at the end of elementary school, students from those programs can meet grade-level expectations in both languages, demonstrating bilingual and biliteracy skills.

One challenge is that after students leave elementary school, there are few options for them to continue learning in both languages in middle or high school. Some middle and high schools offer language arts classes in Spanish. Some high school students can also take Advanced Placement Spanish courses.

As part of the changes the district is making for the Jefferson schools, officials are researching whether they may be able to offer more content classes, such as math or science, in Spanish.

“The vision for the Jefferson area in Edgewater is to make sure students have the opportunity to be bilingual when they leave high school,” Baldwin-Johnson said.

But the reason is also tied to students’ ability to perform in English, said Jefferson Principal Michael James.

“For our dual language kids, if they are not proficient in their home language, chances are they’ll never get proficient in English,” James said. “We have to make sure we’re developing those skills in that language so then we can transfer it to English. It’s a many-year commitment.”

Offering classes in different subjects in Spanish may still be years out.

An opportunity that will be available sooner for all students in the Jeffco district is a seal of biliteracy. The seals, an additional endorsement on high school diplomas, are being used in many other states and in a handful of districts in Colorado. They will be available for students in Jeffco starting next year if they can prove fluency in English and another language.

Idea pitch

Despite concerns, Jeffco school board agrees to spend $1 million to start funding school innovations

Students at Lumberg Elementary School in Jeffco Public Schools work on their assigned iPads during a class project. (Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat)

Jeffco school employees can apply for a piece of a $1 million fund that will pay for an innovative idea for improving education in the district.

The school board for Jeffco Public Schools on Thursday approved shifting $1 million from the district’s rainy day fund to an innovation pool that will be used to provide grants to launch the new ideas.

The district will be open for applications as soon as Friday.

The board had reservations about the plan, which was proposed by the new schools superintendent, Jason Glass, in November, as part of a discussion about ways to encourage innovation and choice in the district. The board was concerned about how quickly the process was set to start, whether there was better use of the money, and how they might play a role in the process.

Glass conceded that the idea was an experiment and that pushing ahead so quickly might create some initial problems.

“This effort is going to be imperfect because it’s the first time that we’ve done it and we don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” Glass said. “There are going to be problems and there are going to be things we learn from this. It’s sort of a micro experiment. We’re going to learn a lot about how to do this.”

During the November discussion, Glass had suggested one use for the innovation money: a new arts school to open in the fall to attract students to the district. He said that the money could also be used to help start up other choice schools. School board members balked, saying they were concerned that a new arts school would compete with existing arts programs in Jeffco schools. The board, which is supported by the teachers union, has been reluctant to open additional choice schools in the district, instead throwing most of their support behind the district-run schools.

Board members also expressed concerns about what they said was a rushed process for starting the fund.

The plan calls for teachers, school leaders and other district employees to apply for the money by pitching their idea and explaining its benefit to education in the district. A committee will then consider the proposals and recommend those that should be funded out of the $1 million.

Board members said they felt it was too soon to start the application process on Friday. They also questioned why the money could not also help existing district programs.

“I think a great deal of innovation is happening,” said board member Amanda Stevens.

Some board members also suggested that one of them should serve on the committee, at least to monitor the process. But Glass was adamant.

“Do you want me to run the district and be the superintendent or not?” Glass asked the board. “I can set this up and execute it, but what you’re talking about is really stepping over into management, so I caution you about that.”

Glass later said he might be open to finding another way for board members to be involved as observers, but the board president, Ron Mitchell, said he would rather have the superintendent provide thorough reports about the process. The discussion is expected to resume at a later time.

Stevens said many of the board’s questions about details and the kind of ideas that will come forth will, presumably, be answered as the process unfolds.

“Trying is the only way we get any of that information,” Stevens said.