over and out

Jeffco schools’ CFO resigns amid “a lot” of change

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Jefferson County teachers and residents packed the June 5 Board of Education meeting when the board discussed the district's budget. Jeffco Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis announced she's leaving the district today. Her office is responsible for the district's budget.

Jeffco Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Lorie Gillis is leaving her post to join the city management team in Arvada, Jeffco officials announced today.

Gillis is Jeffco’s second high-profile administrator to leave since last year’s reconfiguration of the district’s school board and the subsequent departure of Superintendent Cindy Stevenson. Jeffco’s chief academic officer, Heather Beck, left at the end of the school year to become a superintendent in Oregon.

Gillis’ exit comes at a precarious time for the school district. Last week, the Jefferson County Board of Education approved a drastically new compensation system for teachers that will likely take months to sort through. Her office, as well as the human resources department, will play a crucial role in the rollout of the new system that links bonuses to teacher evaluation ratings.

Gillis, like many, was caught off guard when she learned the specifics of the plan outlined by board chairman Ken Witt. At the board meeting, last month, in which he proposed the new system, she characterized it as “a lot” of change.

Gillis declined to say whether the new conservative board majority had any influence on her decision to leave the school district.

“It was just something I didn’t want to pass up,” she said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “[Arvada] is incredibly well run and fiscally sound. It’s just an exciting opportunity.”

A transition plan has not been discussed yet, Gillis said. But her departure is unlikely to prolong teachers’ wait for their bonuses.

Gillis is also leaving as the district gets to work on its 2015-16 budget, which her office is responsible for overseeing.

Last school year, the budget process dragged out through June. In the end, Gillis and her team were left crunching numbers at the last minute as board members debated their priorities through the evening.

“We have a rock solid financial team at the district,” she said. “That helped with the decision making [to leave]. We have strong folks to step up.”

Gillis has worked for Jeffco since 2002. Since then, she has overseen the district’s financial services, as well as human resources and information technology.

“Lorie has worked tirelessly on behalf of Jeffco students and staff keeping the district financially sound.  She has always been a great steward of taxpayer dollars and has taken that role very seriously over the years,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. “While I’m saddened by Lorie’s departure from Jeffco, I know that she leaves an enduring legacy of financial excellence and transparency.  This is a great opportunity for her and I join many others who wish her only the very best as she begins a new chapter in her professional life.”

Gillis’ last day has not been finalized but is likely at the end of the month, she said. She begins her new job in Arvada, where she lives, Oct. 13.

getting to know you

New Jeffco superintendent has more questions than answers in tour of district

New Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass at the Boys & Girls in Lakewood (Marissa Page, Chalkbeat).

New Jeffco Public Schools Superintendent Jason Glass introduced himself to the community Monday with an eight-site swing through the sprawling district, asking the same three questions of community members at every stop.

At a late afternoon visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver in Lakewood, the former Eagle County schools chief asked more than 50 residents, parents and teachers for feedback on what the 86,000-student district should keep doing, stop doing and start doing.

That was in keeping with what Glass promised this spring when he was tapped to succeed Dan McMinimee, who had led Jeffco since 2013. Even before officially starting, Glass met with staff and visited schools. He told Chalkbeat in May he would not start with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said in the spring. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

In Lakewood, much of the hourlong discussion evolved around expanding community partnerships and supporting students with diverse needs, which Glass said were common themes he heard throughout Monday. Glass has said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs.

“We only have so much energy, time, resources to spend, and we want to make sure that those are pointed toward the real concerns — issues and vision for the community,” he said in an interview. “We only can get to that by talking to people and finding out what that really is.”

No labels

How Jeffco’s pick for superintendent changed his mind about education reform

Jason Glass, the sole finalist for the superintendent position in Jeffco Public Schools, toured Arvada High School last week. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

When Jason Glass was recruited to oversee more than 300 Iowa school districts as the state’s director of education, he was known for his work in Colorado’s Eagle County tying teacher pay to student performance.

The Republican governor who appointed Glass in Iowa called him a “reform-minded leader” and put him to work to explore similar models for Iowa’s teachers.

Over time, both while in Iowa and after returning to serve as superintendent of Eagle County Schools, Glass changed some of his thoughts on education reform. He said it happened while he was looking at education systems around the world and found that many of the popular reforms in the U.S. “were not a strong ingredient” in other systems around the world. Addressing student needs was, he said.

“Unless you’re doing something to impact poverty, you’re really not changing outcomes,” Glass said. “It changed my focus.”

Glass’s views are front and center as he is set to take on a more prominent role as the next superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, the state’s second largest school district. Pending contract negotiations and a final vote Tuesday night, he will begin the role July 1.

Glass was the sole finalist of a school board that won election with support from a coalition that included well-connected parents and the teachers union.

In Eagle County, Glass is admired by the local union. He said he no longer believes in performance pay for teachers, but advocates for other ways to pay teachers other than under traditional models. He’s been critical of testing in Colorado. He believes charter schools should meet high bars, including showing quality in instruction.

“I’m most interested in getting something done,” Glass said. “That can take on different forms.”

Jeffco board members who picked Glass as sole finalist for the job praised his ability to work with different people, his work on rolling out a biliteracy seal in his district to encourage bilingual students and for “doing his homework” on Jeffco’s master plan.

The Jeffco board launched a national search earlier this spring to find a new leader.

The last superintendent, Dan McMinimee, was hired by a previous school board in a majority decision by three conservative board members who were later recalled. Three of the five current school board members are up for re-election this November.

“I really admire this board,” Glass said. “It took a lot of courage for them to run.”

Even before officially starting, Glass has been meeting groups of staff and visiting schools. On Thursday, he visited Arvada High School, where two students gave him a tour of the school and told him about the programs they say make their school great.

Glass was quiet, mostly listening to the students and asking occasional questions.

He said he won’t start work in Jeffco with an agenda.

“I’m going to spend a few months working on that relationship-building to really understand the decisions that have been made and the context,” Glass said. “From that point forward, who knows where that will go?”

He said he will consider whether Jeffco could offer a biliteracy seal — a credential given to graduating students who meet requirements to prove they are fluent in two languages.

Talking about his views on budget issues facing most Colorado districts, Glass said districts should explore working with outside groups that can help address children’s non-academic needs — services that cash-strapped districts often have to cut.

Glass said it is clear the district needs someone to unite the community.

“It’s a place that needs a strong leader, a relationship-builder,” Glass said. “Those are skill sets that I have and areas that I’ve been successful in.”

His job application highlighted that voters in Eagle County in November approved a tax increase for the district. Jeffco failed to pass two tax increase measures in November.

Charlie Edwards, the president of the Iowa State Board of Education, agrees that Glass has learned to work well with various groups.

Edwards said that when Glass started in Iowa and was working to create a statewide model of teacher pay and to create new academic standards, the hundreds of school districts used to having local control were skeptical.

“There was initially quite a bit of resistance,” Edwards said. “He worked through a lot of it. It was not an easy sell.”

Now people describe Glass as a supporter of teachers.

When he returned to Colorado after working in Iowa, Glass negotiated a contract with the school district that tied his own pay raises to teacher pay raises. It was something important to the community at the time, Glass said, because they worried about a previous leader that took pay raises while teacher salaries lagged.

Glass also rolled back the performance-pay model that he helped create as the district’s director of human resources. Now, teacher pay is more traditional but with some added performance bonuses.

“He is very supportive of what we do,” said Megan Orvis, president of the Eagle County Education Association.