on boarding

In Jeffco school board election — the one that’s not the recall — three vying for seats

Did you hear about the school board race in Jefferson County?

No, not the potential recall. The other one. Like, the regularly scheduled school board election that happens every two years.

So far, three candidates have announced their intentions to run for two seats on the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education. Both seats are open because current board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper are not seeking re-election.

Competing for Fellman’s District 3 seat are former commercial real estate manager Kim Johnson and former teacher Ali Lasell. District 3 covers most of the northwest corner of Jefferson County, including the city of Arvada.

And so far running unopposed for Dahlkemper’s District 4 seat is former teacher Amanda Stevens. District 4 includes most of the city of Lakewood, which is directly west of Denver.

Ali Lasell
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Ali Lasell

Because both of the open spots are currently occupied by members of the board’s left-leaning minority, the outcome won’t upset the current balance of the board, which has been run by Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Those three board members won their seats in 2013 and are now subject of a recall effort by a group of parents, community members, and teachers. If the recall effort is successful and placed on the November ballot, Jefferson County residents will have the opportunity to reshape the school board entirely.

Both Lasell and Stevens have been vocal critics of the school board’s majority. But in interviews with Chalkbeat, both said they want to run positive campaigns. And while they support the recall effort, they say they’re focusing on their individual campaigns.

Kim Johnson
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Kim Johnson

When asked where there was agreement between themselves and the board majority, Stevens applauded board member Williams for her deciding vote to expand a science and technology program at a local middle school. She also said she appreciated Witt standing up for the Colorado Academic Standards during a discussion earlier this year.

And Lasell said she believed Williams was a true advocate for students with special needs. She also said she shared a desire to be fiscally responsible like Witt and Newkirk.

Johnson, in an interview, said she couldn’t answer where she would side with the board’s majority, because too often the information she would want to influence her vote wasn’t presented at school board meetings.

Amanda Stevens with her daughter
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Amanda Stevens with her daughter

“I consider myself good at asking the right questions, listening carefully, and making rational decisions,” Johnson said. “It’s not about ideology for me.”

All three candidates are mothers of Jeffco Public Schools students and hope that civility can be restored after the November elections.

“I’m not interested in my kids or the other 86,000 kids in Jefferson County being a proxy for a political battle,” Stevens said. Adding, “I might have to be the first to compromise.”

Among the issues the candidates wish to address if they’re elected:

  • Lasell said she’d like to review how Jeffco recruits and retains teachers, which includes the district’s evaluation system.
  • Stevens said she’d like to provide more access to extracurricular opportunities to student’s from low-income homes.
  • Johnson said she’d like to establish a five-year plan supported by the entire board to address overcrowding in many of the district’s schools.

The candidates appear to agree broadly on some of the hottest topics in education. Each believe there has been too much testing, the state should fund schools more, and that charter schools and parent choice are important. As the campaign progresses, it will be the finer policy stances that will separate the candidates.

“I’m where everyone is on testing — there’s too much,” Lasell said.

“I would be really happy to see what I could with a fully funded school,” Stevens said.

“Choice is a critical piece of the Colorado education system,” Johnson said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported Kim Johnson’s previous career. She was a commercial real estate manager, not a broker. 

planning ahead

New superintendent’s vision for Jeffco: It’s not just what happens in school that matters

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

In a vision document meant to guide Jeffco Public Schools for the next several years, Superintendent Jason Glass is underscoring the importance of boosting student learning by addressing issues that reach beyond the classroom.

Glass took the top job in the state’s second largest school district this summer. The new vision document, released Wednesday, has a strong focus on equity, improving students’ learning experiences and working with outside groups to help create “a Jeffco where no child suffers from hunger, preventable illness, lack of dental care or lack of mental health supports.”

Though the plan draws on previous district planning documents, it is more specific in parts and carries a strong emphasis on addressing out-of-school issues, a big emphasis of Glass’s since before he assumed the role.

“This was not intended as some jarring change,” Glass said in an interview. “But I think it provides greater clarity.”

The structure of the plan divides the work into learning, conditions for learning and readiness for learning. The first two sections focus on work happening inside schools, while the third section points to “decades of education research which confirms that the biggest indicators of student success are related to out-of-school factors and the student’s environment. ”

Some of the work under the readiness for learning section — such as expanding social and emotional support and parent and community engagement — is not new. But using schools as “community hubs,” and having a section on expanding early childhood education is new compared to the existing Jeffco Vision 2020 authored by former superintendent Dan McMinimee.

The two vision documents share similarities.

Both suggest the use of so-called “multiple pathways” to offer students a variety of ways to learn and reach graduation. But Glass gets more specific, mentioning apprenticeships, internships and partnerships with community colleges to increase early college credit options.

Both documents also mention the need to incorporate technology for student learning and the need to hire and retain high quality educators. Glass goes further by suggesting the district must commit to paying teachers and staff “a fair, livable and reasonable wage.”

Glass’s vision also notes that the district must find a balance between giving schools flexibility and having district-wide direction. Several metro-area districts have been moving for years to give school leaders more autonomy to make decisions, especially through innovation status.

In an interview Tuesday, Glass said that flexibility in Jeffco schools already exists, and that he would allow principals to keep flexibility in hiring and budgeting. But, he said he’ll have to evaluate whether more or less flexibility is better, saying, “both or neither” are possible.

But in keeping with a new value he’s adding in the document for having an entrepreneurial spirit he adds that innovative thinking toward the same district goals, will be encouraged.

“So long as there is a north star we’re all looking toward,” Glass said.

The former vision document included a strategic plan that laid out a rubric with goals, such as having all students completing algebra by the end of ninth grade by 2017. Other metrics were not as detailed, only pointing to certain reports, like attendance or discipline reports, to look for progress.

The Jeffco district will contract with a consultant, Deliver-Ed, that will evaluate the district’s ability to execute the new vision plan.

The group is then expected to provide some recommendations and help the district create a more detailed strategic plan with clear performance metrics and ideas for how the budget will affect the district’s work. Glass said he expects the detailed action plan to be completed by March or April.

Asked whether the plan is also meant to lay out the need for more local funding through a future ballot measure, Glass said that work is separate. He said the work laid out in the vision plan will happen regardless of more or less funding.

“We’re going to take whatever resources we have, at whatever level, and we’re going to execute what’s in this plan,” Glass said.

Glass has toured the district holding public meetings to gather input for the document. Now that it is created, the components of the vision plan must still be vetted by the community, Glass said.

It will start with Glass hosting a Facebook live event at 11 a.m. to discuss the vision document.

different voices

Jeffco superintendent extends listening tour through event targeting multilingual community

Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass talks to community members at Arvada K-8 during a Many Voices event. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

In an extension of his district tour, new Jeffco Superintendent Jason Glass on Monday answered questions about biliteracy, equity gaps and school financing in the first of three “many voices” events.

The events are meant to give the multilingual and non English-speaking community an opportunity to speak out on issues. About 35 people showed at the auditorium at Arvada K-8 Monday, including a handful who listened to Glass through a translator on a headset.

Glass said he heard more questions about equity and language issues than he had on previous stops on his tour to get acquainted with different parts of the sprawling, 86,000-student district. Roughly 10.5 percent of Jeffco residents speak a language other than English at home, according to Census data.

When Glass was hired, and as he moved into the position, he said he would make equity issues a priority. He often talks about disparities in Jeffco school buildings, with some in desperate need of updates and others that are “fantastic” — and did again Monday.

He also answered a question — familiar to many Colorado superintendents — about why marijuana tax revenues aren’t helping with significant building needs.

One man asked if Glass was interested in offering Jeffco students a biliteracy seal, an endorsement that proves graduates have mastered two languages. Glass, as leader of Eagle County schools, helped that district become one of the first in the state to offer the seal.

“I think it has a positive aspect, just cognitively,” Glass said. “And I think it’s a huge advantage when kids go out into the workforce. I think we should move this forward.”

Glass also mentioned he’s looking into different ways schools might address students’ differing needs. He cited community school models, which bring in community organizations to help provide health care and other services to students and student-based budgeting, which involves allocating more or less money to certain students depending on need, following them to whichever school they attend. But Glass said the key is not to lower expectations.

When a woman asked what he’s noticed visiting Jeffco schools, Glass said he’s seen a lot of hard work and professional talent. But he said he has also seen a lot of worksheets.

He told the group he’d like to see better student engagement through more hands-on learning.

A mom of a kindergartener told Glass she wanted more school communication to know what her student is learning and how well he is doing. Glass agreed.

“That needs to be a priority for us is how we view our partnership with our parents,” Glass said.

At the end of the event, Glass noted similarities in the hour-long discussion and previous ones he hosted.

“The thing that we keep coming back to, that can unite us, is the student experience,” Glass said.

Glass said that although many things can be done in different ways, if student experience doesn’t change, reforms won’t make much of an impact.

The next two multilingual events are scheduled for: 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2 at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School and 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 10 at Alameda International Junior-Senior High School.