Total Recall

6 candidates, including longtime critic, in running to replace Jeffco school board recall targets

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
School board recall candidates Matthew Dhieux and Susan Harmon chat with incumbent John Newkirk after a candidate forum.

Six Jefferson County residents have collected enough signatures to be considered for the school board if an effort to recall three of its current members is successful, the clerk’s office said.

The final candidate to file paperwork before Monday’s deadline was Jefferson County parent Regan Benson, a special education advocate and longtime rabble-rouser in the district. She joins Paula Noonan and Ron Mitchell in the race to replace school board president Ken Witt in the southern part of the county that includes most of Littleton.

Benson’s candidacy adds a new wrinkle to the charged election: The board members facing recall have been criticized for taking right-wing stances on charter schools and the district’s budget, but Benson, who has ties to the Tea Party, might be even more conservative.

Benson made headlines in 2012 when her son was arrested for wearing an anti-Obama shirt to school on a day when First Lady Michelle Obama was visiting. Authorities eventually dropped the charges and, in a settlement brokered by the American Civil Liberties Union, the district agreed to pay the Benson family $4,000. Benson’s subsequent clashes with school administrators and with former superintendent Cindy Stevenson at one point led her to be banned from her son’s high school.

Since then she has gone on to create the Every Student Matters Project, a nonprofit that advocates for students with special needs.

The other five candidates to replace school board members who are facing recall had already filed their paperwork.

If the voters choose to recall John Newkirk, they’ll be asked to choose between Matt Dhieux and Susan Harmon. Brad Rupert is the lone candidate running to replace school board member Julie Williams.

In the recall election, voters will decide whether to recall each of the three school board members individually and then pick a replacement. Rupert, Harmon, and Mitchell are running as a joint slate backed by prominent Jefferson County Democrats including U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter.

The organization that spurred the recall claims that Witt, Williams, and Newkirk have wasted taxpayer dollars, disrespected the community, and met illegally in private. The recall targets counter that they’ve authorized building a school without increasing the district’s debt, given teachers raises, and opened access to school board meetings by streaming them live on the Internet.

In addition to the hotly contested recall effort, four candidates are also running for two open seats on the board. Ali Lasell and Kim Johnson are running to represent the northwest corner of the county that includes most of Arvada. Tori Merritts and Amanda Stevens are running to represent the central portion of the county that includes most of Lakewood.

Under state law, Monday was the deadline to file paperwork to be a candidate in the recall election. No other resident has an outstanding petition, a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office said.

But a conflict between state law and the constitution could still disrupt the election and potentially add more candidates to the ballot.

That’s because the Colorado Constitution allows residents to petition onto the ballot until 15 days prior to the day of an election — or Oct. 19 for this election. But state law set Monday as the deadline to declare an intention to run.

The secretary of state pointed to this conflict in a letter to both the Jefferson County and Broomfield County clerks, but ultimately, the secretary’s office approved election plans for both counties.

Still, someone who wants to join the ballot in the next few weeks would have grounds for a legal challenge. Such a challenge prevented mail-in ballots — which tend to be for Democratic candidates — from being used in the 2013 election to recall two Democratic lawmakers who helped pass gun-control legislation.

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.