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

Decision day

Unity prevails: Jeffco incumbents easily beat back challengers

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Meredith Van Deman signs the back of her 2014 mail-in ballot outside the Columbine Library in Littleton before turning it in.

The status quo has held in Jeffco Public Schools.

Two incumbents facing opposition easily defeated two challengers, ensuring that the governing board of the state’s second largest school district will remain united 5-0.

In District 1, incumbent Brad Rupert won by 20 percentage points over against Matt Van Gieson, a parent and former president of the parent teacher organization at a Jeffco charter school, Golden View Classical Academy.

In District 2, incumbent Susan Harmon claimed a similar margin over Erica Shields, a conservative Jeffco parent.

Current board president Ron Mitchell ran unopposed. The other two seats are not up for a vote this election.

The current board, supported in large part by the teachers union, was elected in 2015. That election, voters recalled three conservative board members and voted in five new members who have since hired a new superintendent, signed an extended contract with the teachers union, given some pay raises and voted to close an elementary school.

The school board incumbents raised considerably more money than the challengers, including thousands of dollars from the teachers union.

 

Keeping the peace

Jeffco voters to decide whether school board will remain united or include dissenting voices

Students at Edgewater Elementary School in Jefferson County work on iPads during class.

With little controversy, no national media attention and control of the school board not at stake, this fall’s school board race in Jefferson County has centered on whether a board that is consistently united could use a dissenting voice.

Three of the five board of education seats are up for grabs, but only two of the incumbents have challengers — a single one in each race.

A win by the two challengers, both conservatives who oppose much of what the current board has done, would not change many of the votes or direction of the school district, but it could change the conversations. Some voters now say they are weighing whether to vote to keep the stability of the current board, which often vote unanimously, or whether more diversity of thought is needed. One question is whether different voices would repeat the drama of the previous, split, school board that saw conservative members ousted in a recall election.

“Everyone in Jeffco wants us to commit to maintaining civility,” said Ron Mitchell, the board president, who is the member running unopposed. “I don’t see that changing.”

Some who support the current board say even one dissenting voice could slow down progress, distract from the current work or create doubt in voters if the district asks for a tax increase soon.

“I believe that even one or two detractors on the board will stagnate progress,” said Jeffco parent Kelly Johnson, who helped recall previous board members. “Our district has already paid too much in lost opportunities with the chaos of the past.”

Erica Shields and Matt Van Gieson, the two challengers, say they want to work with the current board.

“We are not there to disrupt,” Shields said. “We are not about that. We don’t want to return to the old type of board mentality. We want to make things better.”

The incumbents have a huge money advantage.

Those current members running for re-election — Mitchell, Susan Harmon and Brad Rupert — supported by the teachers union, have raised large amounts of money as of the last finance reports filed two weeks ago. The two in the contested race each had more than $40,000 raised, compared to about $3,200 raised by Shields and $2,300 raised by Van Gieson.

Mailers and yard signs for the incumbents advocate for all three together.

Since their election two years ago, the current board members have hired a new superintendent in Jason Glass, approved an extended contract with teachers union, given teachers a pay raise and advocated for better school funding.

Opponents Shields and Van Gieson say, recent events pushed them to consider running for school board independently, but now both also are running together, asking for voters to support them as a team.

Shields said she is running after realizing the work she does as a volunteer helping homeless people doesn’t address the root causes of the problem, which she now sees as a lack of good education opportunities for everyone.

Van Gieson, said that he hears too often from people who feel they no longer have a voice on the current school board. He said he official decided he wanted to run after a spring board meeting in which several community members asked the board not to close their schools.

School closures have not been a major issue for voters, most say, because Glass has said he would pause any school closure recommendations until district officials can create a better system for evaluating if a school should close.

Instead, campaign messages and questions at forums have centered on typical political divisions such the sources of campaign contributions, the support of teachers and positions on charter schools or private school vouchers.

“Sometimes I think there are issues created by others that are really just divisive wedges,” Mitchell said. “For example, charter schools. Every year we seem to try to drive the charter school wedge into the election.”

Mitchell said the current board is not against charters schools. In previous board discussions, Jeffco board members have expressed a desire for more authority to decide if a charter application is good enough for Jeffco, instead of just legally meeting its requirements to open.

Van Gieson, who is on the parent-teacher organization of a charter school in Jeffco, said he thinks charter schools are treated differently in Jeffco, and if elected, wants to help all schools have similar accountability.

“Where a charter school has to come in front of the board and answer for lower achievement, it would be beneficial to do the same things for neighborhood schools,” Van Gieson said.

The campaign also has included an increased focused on equity.

Joel Newton, founder of the local nonprofit Edgewater Collective, joined Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children to hosted, for the first time, a forum just for discussions on the needs of diverse learners. In previous years, the Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children has hosted a similar forum alone.

“I don’t think that was part of the conversation in the past,” Newton said. “The interesting thing now is both sides have a piece of the puzzle. One side talks about school choice…the other side makes the argument that poverty is the real issue.”

Glass, the superintendent, has emphasized the importance of the school district working with community partners to tackle poverty and other out-of-school factors that impact learning.

Tony Leffert, a Jeffco parent who lives in Golden and supports the new superintendent, said the issue on his mind is keeping the current board on track. He said adding a dissenting voice to the board, could set up a possibility for the minority opinion to take control of the board in two years.

“Given the last school board election that we had, every school board election is important in Jeffco going forward,” Leffert said. “We do not want a repeat of that again.”

Clarification: This story has been updated to note that a forum on the needs of diverse learners, which was hosted for the first time with the Edgewater Collective, has been hosted in the past by Jefferson County Association for Gifted Children.