Jeffco Interrupted

Dahlkemper won’t seek re-election to Jeffco school board

Lesley Dalhkemper, who makes up half of the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education minority bloc, announced Sunday she won’t seek re-election in November.

She made the announcement on her public Facebook page.

“This fall, our daughter Grace will enter middle school. Middle school is a critical transition. [My husband] and I want to be fully present for her,” she said.

Dahlkemper also cited her work at the Colorado Education Initiative, an education nonprofit that works with schools and districts, as another reason why she won’t seek re-election.

Since the 2013 reconfiguration of the Jefferson County school board, Dahlkemper and her colleague Jill Fellman have become heroes to the teachers and parents who vocally oppose the board’s new conservative majority. Both women have been greeted with applause upon arriving at school board meetings.

“It’s an honor to work side by side with the finest educators, parents and students in Colorado,” Dahlkemper said in her statement. “In just a few weeks, we’ll celebrate the accomplishments of our high school graduates who inspire us and remind us that our future is in very good hands. We have much work ahead – addressing overcrowded schools; closing the achievement gap; ensuring all schools are engaging and inclusive; and fairly compensating our teachers to recruit and retain high quality staff.”

Fellman has not announced whether she’ll seek re-election.

Here’s Dalhkemper’s full statement:

Dear friends,

It is often just one exceptional teacher who makes a difference in a student’s life.

In Jefferson County, we have exceptional students and educators with strong support from families and community members. We know that great schools are the foundation of great communities.

Our high school graduation rate has increased, while dropout and remediation rates have decreased. Several of our high schools appear on national “best of” lists every year. Jeffco teachers have been nationally recognized for their innovative work. Our students are solving real-world problems, even working with NASA to launch experiments in space.

These results are thanks to collaborative leadership over the years grounded in setting clear goals, finding common ground and always placing children first.

Since 2011, I have had the privilege of serving on the Jeffco school board. Our decisions affect the lives of more than 84,000 students and communities as diverse as Conifer, Edgewater and Westminster.

Serving on the board of the second largest school district, working full-time in a leadership position for a statewide nonprofit, and being a good mom leave little time for anything else – let alone running a countywide campaign.

This fall, our daughter Grace will enter middle school. Middle school is a critical transition. Mike and I want to be fully present for her.

For these reasons, I have decided not to seek a second term on the Jeffco school board. My commitment to our schools will remain strong long after I leave the board in November. My role will just look a little different.

It’s an honor to work side by side with the finest educators, parents and students in Colorado. In just a few weeks, we’ll celebrate the accomplishments of our high school graduates who inspire us and remind us that our future is in very good hands.

We have much work ahead – addressing overcrowded schools; closing the achievement gap; ensuring all schools are engaging and inclusive; and fairly compensating our teachers to recruit and retain high quality staff.

Above all, we have to listen – truly listen – to our community.

Thank you so much for your support. It has meant more than I can say.

With warm regards,

Lesley

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.

year in review

A new superintendent and a new vision for Jeffco schools in 2017

PHOTO: Denver Post file

Jeffco Public Schools started the year making big news when its board of education decided to open a search for a new superintendent. Former Superintendent Dan McMinimee left the role in March before a new leader had been hired.

Just before he left, McMinimee proposed to the Jeffco school board a plan to close five schools as a way to save money so the district could raise staff salaries as the board had directed.

The schools recommended for closure served a disproportionate number of low-income students and housed several centers for students with special needs. They also included a high-performing school. Officials said they did not consider academic achievement in selecting the schools.

In addition to closing five schools, the proposal suggested cuts to other programs, including one for helping students develop social and emotional skills and one that helped students struggling with reading.

But in a last-minute move, the superintendent altered the proposal during a school board meeting just before the board was set to vote. In the end, the board voted to close one elementary school and spare four others as well as the programs.

A few months later, the school board selected Jason Glass as the district’s new superintendent. Glass, who was a superintendent in Eagle County at the time, had a history as a reformer helping create pay-for-performance systems. But he changed his support of some reforms after learning about education systems around the world.

One of the first changes Glass announced in Jeffco was a timeout on any school closure recommendations while district officials review and create a new process for deciding if school closures are necessary and if so, which schools to close.

Glass also published his vision for Jeffco, which will have the district take a closer look at inequities and outside factors that affect students, such as poverty. At least one school was already experimenting with that work by moving to a community school model. And the district was already considering outside factors as they were rolling out restorative practices, which change how school leaders respond to student discipline issues.

More recently, Glass asked the board, which will remain the same after the November election, to consider an expansion of school choice in Jeffco with proposals to create new options schools such as an arts school to help attract new students to the district. District officials may release more information about that plan and other changes, like a study on high school start times, in the coming months.