help wanted

Jeffco superintendent opening to post with $300,000 as base pay

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee speaking to reporters in early 2017 (photo by Eric Gorski).

Jeffco school board members agreed to advertise a $300,000 base salary for the district’s next superintendent — an increase from what the current superintendent is now paid — on the same night they voted to close a school as part of nearly $11 million in budget cuts.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board accepted the salary recommendation of Ray and Associates, the firm hired to conduct the search for a new superintendent. The same firm was hired by the previous board to lead the search that resulted in the hiring of the current superintendent, Dan McMinimee.

In January, the board voted to open a search for a new Jeffco Public Schools superintendent while McMinimee, hired by a board majority that was recalled in 2015, had six months left on his contract. McMinimee continues to lead the district during the search for a potential replacement.

McMinimee, who was hired in the summer of 2014, has a base salary of $220,000 with up to an additional $40,000 in performance pay and another $20,000 in benefits. In October, the board approved giving McMinimee $20,000 of his $40,000 in potential performance pay dollars, bringing his year’s pay to $240,000 plus benefits.

Gary Ray, the president of Ray and Associates, presented salary estimates for superintendents of other similar districts across the country to suggest the $300,000 amount.

Among the examples cited were an estimated salary of $318,000 for the superintendent of Austin, Texas, schools, leading a district of about 85,000 students, and an estimated salary of $327,000 for the superintendent in Memphis, leading a district of about 110,000 students.

Ray said that because of the size of Jeffco, which enrolls more than 86,000 students, the board should consider national salaries, not just those of neighboring districts.

“I do think it’s important that you have a salary that’s competitive so it sends a message that you know what the market is,” Ray said.

He also assured the board that the final salary amount would be adjusted based on qualifications. When McMinimee was hired, the base salary had been estimated originally at $280,000. Before his final contract was signed, the board adjusted the amount, moving some money into benefits and performance pay.

Board member Brad Rupert said he liked the chance to adjust.

“I want to make sure we have a number out there that is sufficient to start the conversation with the best possible people,” Rupert said.

Susan Harmon agreed, making a point to say, “We’re not making a job offer, we’re just putting an advertisement out there.”

The board’s discussion Thursday did not require a vote, but was intended to direct the search firm as it launches the application process to find a superintendent.

The discussion happened during a work session before the regular meeting in which the board heard hours of public testimony and then wrestled with decisions on school closures and other budget cuts. McMinimee gave the board with an alternate proposal that scaled back the originally proposed cuts.

The cuts that did move forward Thursday totaled nearly $11 million and along with other savings, gave the district $19 million toward the $25 million district officials want to commit to raise salaries for district employees.

When the board voted last month to launch a search for a new superintendent instead of renewing McMinimee’s contract, which expires at the end of June, board members said they didn’t have problems with McMinimee’s performance.

They cited concerns with the process under which he was hired with a split vote after being named the sole finalist, and questioned if another person would be better at the job.

Ken Witt, who served as board president in 2014 when McMinimee was hired, said Friday those are “hollow and baseless accusations.”

“I’m very proud to say we did include the community, solicited feedback and we used a national search process,” said Witt, who was swept out of office along with two other conservative board members in the 2015 recall election. “I think we did exactly what was appropriate.”

So far, the process appears it will follow a similar path under the same firm.

An online survey is expected to launch Monday so the public can weigh in on which qualities are important for a Jeffco superintendent. An online survey was also conducted in 2014.

Members from the search firm also will meet with some community groups and host focus groups. Then, as the search firm narrows down a list of finalists, the board will get to interview candidates. Ray reiterated what district staff had previously told the board — that candidates need privacy and it may not be possible to publicly name more than one finalist.

Young Voice

A Detroit high schooler is among 13 young adults steering two national student protests against gun violence

Detroiter Alondra Alvarez is standing up for gun control

Among the 13 teens and young adults spearheading two nationwide student protests against gun violence is a Detroit high schooler who says guns have created fear in her neighborhood.

Alondra Alvarez, a senior at Detroit’s Western International High School, is on the steering committee for two student walkouts being planned in response to last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The March 14 Women’s March Youth EMPOWER Walkout will last 17 minutes to symbolize the 17 lives cut short in that shooting, while a full-day walkout on April 20 will commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

Alvarez, who says she once considered herself a “shy Latina girl,” has become a fierce warrior for young people in Detroit and beyond. She spoke at the Women’s Convention in Detroit last October and has since stayed involved in the youth initiative of the Women’s March, launched last year to resist the Trump administration.

Chalkbeat talked to Alvarez about how gun violence affects her and her city, what sets her apart from the other organizers, and the message she wants to relay.

What’s it like to be selected to be a youth leader representing Detroit for the walkout?

I feel really honored. Of the Women’s March Youth, I’m the only Latina and the only person representing Detroit. A lot of times youth in Detroit are not really represented. I feel if I represent my community, then that will help other people want to get involved. I’m a person of color, and we share similar experiences. We know how gun violence influences our community, and we know it affects us. Since I’m involved, that will make other people who look like me want to get involved.

How do you believe gun violence affects Detroit?

It makes it really unsafe. I know every night, gunshots are fired around my neighborhood. It made me fear my neighborhood growing up, and I wouldn’t go out late at night. It shouldn’t be like that. We should be able to walk around our neighborhood at night or anytime and not have that fear.

The walkout will be held one month after the Parkland school shooting, a place where many people assumed such an incident could never happen. How do you feel Detroit is different than a city like Parkland?

Detroit is different because most of us are aware random shootings can happen. We are aware of our surroundings, so we check all students to make sure something like that doesn’t go down. At school, we all get checked because there are metal detectors. So there are less chances of something like that happening. I don’t want to say something like that couldn’t happen, but metal detectors lower the chances of somebody shooting up the school. It makes us feel safer.  

How does it make you feel to be a youth leader and a voice against gun violence?

It actually makes me feel really good. I don’t do it for myself. I do it for the youth in my community. It’s a really good feeling. I do it for the youth in my community because there’s a lack of resources that I’ve seen. The system is not meant for people of color, and it’s made me go out of my way to be a role model for people, to be involved with higher education and seek change. I want to help youth know that even though the system is not for you, you can overcome that and be whatever you want to be in life.

What message do you plan to relay during the walkout?

I came up with a quote this week, and it’s called “Another Bullet, Another Life.” We can’t control bullets, but we can fight for gun control because the gun violence is getting out of hand. All these school shootings are happening, and with gun control we can avoid some of these issues.

How did the news of the Parkland, Florida, shooting personally affect you?

It was really devastating. It was Valentine’s Day, the day people like to show affection. I can’t imagine losing a brother, sister or son or someone close to me on that day… Knowing it was the 18th school shooting this year — that’s just crazy, and we’re not doing anything to control it. It really breaks my heart.

Movers & shakers

Former education leaders spearhead new Memphis group to zero in on poverty

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Klondike-Smokey City is the first Memphis neighborhood targeted by Whole Child Strategies to coordinate the fight against poverty.

In a “big small town” like Memphis, neighborhoods are a source of pride and strength for residents in one of the poorest cities in America.

Natalie McKinney

Now, a new Memphis nonprofit organization is seeking to address poverty by coordinating the work of neighborhood schools, businesses, churches, and community groups.

Natalie McKinney is executive director of Whole Child Strategies, created last fall to help neighborhood and community leaders chart their own paths for decreasing poverty, which also would increase student achievement.

“There’s a lot of people ‘collaborating’ but not a lot of coordination toward a shared goal,” said McKinney, a former policy director for Shelby County Schools.

McKinney doesn’t want to “reinvent the wheel” on community development. However, she does want to provide logistical resources for analyzing data, facilitating meetings, and coordinating public advocacy for impoverished Memphis neighborhoods through existing or emerging neighborhood councils.

“Poverty looks different in different areas,” she said, citing varying levels of parent education, transportation, jobs and wages, and access to mental health services. “When we get down and figure out what is really going on and really dealing with the root cause for that particular community, that’s the work that the neighborhood council is doing.”

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Luther Mercer

Her team includes Luther Mercer, former Memphis advocacy director for the Tennessee Charter School Center, and Rychetta Watkins, who recently led the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Mid-South, along with Courtney Thomas, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Tenice Hardaway.

Whole Child Strategies is supported by an anonymous donor and also plans to raise more funds, according to McKinney.

The first neighborhood to receive a grant from the nonprofit is Klondike-Smokey City, which includes a mix of schools run by both Shelby County Schools and Tennessee’s Achievement School District. The group is drilling down to find out why students in those schools are missing school days, which will include a look at student suspensions.

At the community level, Whole Child Strategies has canvassed Agape Child & Family Services, Communities in Schools, City Year, Family Safety Center, Klondike Smokey City Community Development Corp., Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, and Seeding Success for ideas to increase transportation, reduce crime, and provide more mental health services.

For example, Family Safety Center, which serves domestic abuse survivors, now has a presence in schools in the Klondike-Smokey City community. McKinney said that’s the kind of coordination she hopes Whole Child Strategies can foster.

One need that already is apparent is for a community-wide calendar so that meetings do not overlap and organizations can strategize together, said Quincey Morris, executive director of the Klondike Smokey City Community Development Corp.

“I think like any new thing, you have to crawl first,” Morris said. “And I think the more that the community is informed about the whole child strategy, the more that we involve parents and community residents, I think it will grow.”