A different perspective on the current state of Jeffco schools

Category: Jeffco Public Schools (Page 1 of 5)

Jeffco’s Capital Asset Advisory Committee is Failing Jeffco Taxpayers

In 2018, Jeffco’s 5B Bond request for $567M ballot language included ‘spending of the proceeds of such debt to be monitored by the citizen’s Capital Asset Advisory Committee’.

Eighteen months later, with $70M in contingency already spent and initial cost estimates increased by an additional $30M, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee is failing in its task of monitoring of the bond proceeds.

Our fellow taxpayers,:

George Callahan

Kathy Hodgson

Tom Murray

M.L. Richardson

Jeff Wilhite

Megan Castle

George Latuda

Bret Poole

Brittany Warga

as a whole, have failed to be good stewards of our tax money. They have unquestioningly and nonchalantly allowed Jeffco Schools to add $50M of bond premium into a contingency slush fund, meaning that program contingency increased from an already robust $86M to an exorbitant $136M. And, they have seen an additional $11M in interest added to that same contingency for an obscene total of $146M.

As a voter I heard Jeffco Schools routinely tell taxpayers that the District had $1.3B in facilities needs. The Bond was going to be used to address only $563M of those total needs. Yet, when the District had a windfall of $50M, instead of using that to address additional needs or even replace several additional aging elementary schools, the CAAC blindly went along with the District’s overspending and allowed this money to be put into the massive contingency slush fund.

Instead of using this money wisely, it seems like the District and CAAC are going to rely on taxpayers to pass a new bond in a few years to address facilities needs that are only going to get worse.

This is just atrocious monitoring on the part of the CAAC. Jeffco taxpayers were misled by the District’s ballot language and the reasonable expectation that our fellow taxpayers would monitor the bond money like it was their own. It is painfully obvious now, that once on the committee our fellow taxpayers view taxpayer money as funny money. Shame on them.

The CAAC can’t even be certain that at the current rate of spending there will be enough money complete all projects promised to taxpayers back in 2018, as they have repeatedly failed to ask important questions regarding the overspending.

School Districts routinely complain about lack of funding. Yet, why should taxpayers increase that funding when Districts, and particularly Jeffco, are such poor stewards of that money?

At this rate, and with this level of District program management incompetence, it may be a long time before another Bond issue is approved in Jeffco and members of the CAAC will share in some of that blame.

Remote Learning Questions for Jason Glass

With Denver Public Schools just announcing a start to the school year in full Remote Learning, we can believe that Glass will follow and announce the same within the next few days for Jeffco. This will be mere days after Glass’s disastorous FB Live event in which no actual questions regarding the District’s restart plan were answered.

In fact, in the 40 minutes of the FB Live event, Remote Learning and academics were not mentioned once. The restart plan itself merely contains several pages of vague eduspeak and is actually tellingly shorter than the Communications plan.

It’s just a plain dereliction of responsibility and an avoidance of accountability that the Plan is so vague and includes no specifics.

Remote Learning, in some form, was always going to happen this Fall. A failure to provide specifics in the Plan is a truly appalling lack of leadership.

Going forward, Glass should be required to immediately and definitively answer the following questions:

  1. By what date will EVERY Jeffco student have at-residence access to their own electronic device? The only acceptable answer would be within the first week of class.
  2. By what date will EVERY Jeffco student have at-residence internet connectivity. The only acceptable answer would be within the first week of class. Did the IT Department work on alternatives during the summer such as bus or school building roof hot spots as many other districts have done?
  3. Will teachers be required to deliver Remote Learning from their classrooms for accountability purposes? If not, why not?
  4. Given that school will start a week late, should we continue to expect 5 days of instruction weekly? If not, why not and what impact on students will reduced class time have on students?
  5. When will beginning of year assessments be administered to ascertain how much learning was lost during the spring’s failed experiment in Remote Learning?
  6. Will student attendance be measured in a different manner than in the spring? If not, why not?
  7. How will teachers be held accountable for their instruction?
  8. How, specifically, will best practices be shared? Will best practice sharing be limited to tool usage or will sharing/instruction on proven Remote Learning techniques be mandatory?
  9. What guidelines will teachers be given relating to Remote Learning? Will there be Synchronous teaching requirements? If not, why not?
  10. How will students be held accountable for Remote Learning?
  11. What are the specific plans to make up for the spring learning loss?
  12. Will anything be done to improve the Grab-and-Go meal distribution to ensure more students and families receive meals?
  13. How long will non-working Classified staff be paid full wages if Remote Learning extends beyond just a few weeks?
  14. If the school year starts with Remote Learning for all, why didn’t the District fall back on the K-5 in school option previously presented?

It’s well past time for the eduspeak and vague ‘plans’ for how things will work this fall. Remote Learning was always going to be given. At this point, Glass and staff should be able to provide details and extremely specific plans. If he can’t do that the Board should execute their responsibility of ensuring quality education and get rid of him immediately. They should put someone in charge who will actually get something done while there is still time to make an impact.

Unfortunately, we know that isn’t going to happen because the Board is extraordinarily weak and unwilling to ask the hard questions. In the end, thousands and thousands of students will be permanently harmed because of the incompetence of Jason Glass and the Board’s failures.

Where is Jason Glass?

Nearly a week after the release of his horrendous Restart Plan and at a crucial time for parents and teachers to make decisions about what the coming school year will look for them, Glass is missing.

Nearly 1,000 comments, most with Restart Plan questions, on 2 Jeffco School Facebook posts and not a peep from Glass. Even worse, there has barely been a response from the district on those posts and questions.

Students, parents and teachers need answers, yet there is nothing but silence and now a hurriedly organized Facebook Live event.

This is not leadership!

The District needs answers and needs assurances, but the community is getting neither.

This is the epitome of terrible leadership!

We all know the answer to the question of where Jason Glass is. He’s in Kentucky. And, that leaves 84,000 students and 14,000 employees in a very bad place, but why should he care? He just got his ‘dream’ job.

Jason Glass’s Act of Betrayal and Lack of Integrity

Glass can call it what he wants, an “opportunity to come home”, but mere days into the start of a 5 year contract extension, I call it something else – a complete lack of integrity and a total betrayal of Jeffco and the Board members who gave him that contract extension.

As much as I think that Glass is an extraordinarily weak leader, this move goes far beyond weak leadership – this move is downright disgusting.

Think about it. Glass left Jeffco at a crucial time in implementing his Covid Restart plan and at a time in the year when it is extremely difficult to ensure that high quality candidates to fill the position would be willing or even available for interviews.

What type of person, if they really cared about an organization, its employees and most importantly its students would just pick up and leave at this critical time after the Board had done everything within its power to provide continuity for the next 5 years?

Obviously, someone who is self-centered. Someone who doesn’t really care about the damage that their move might cause. Maybe someone who doesn’t think they can really succeed in the position. In any case, its someone I’m glad I’m not. I’ve been in positions before where I hadn’t finished projects I was leading, or hadn’t finished the transformation of an organization to my standards and turned down more lucrative and exciting opportunities. Not only did I want to get the sense of accomplishment for what I set out to do, but I felt an obligation to the organization and my people. I guess that’s the difference between Glass and me. I’m glad I don’t have the same set of values and integrity he has.

And, where does that leave Jeffco’s 84,000+ students and 5,000+ employees? Essentially leaderless for a year. Another year with no academic gains and then a transition year with a new Superintendent, who most likely isn’t going to buy into the Transform the Task, Deeper Learning mumbo-jumbo that so far has only brought about confusion and declining results in the District. So, another change in direction as 1,000s of kids continue to be harmed each year by the poor curriculum and teaching methods propagated by Glass.

The Board needs to get it right with the next choice for Superintendent. We need someone who has a track record of focusing on students, not teachers, and a record of improving education, backed by results. Glass was a great talker and blogger, but his 6 year record of failing to improve education results in both Eagle and Jeffco is a total disaster for the kids.

Jason Glass is NOT a Rock Star

For anyone who still thinks Jason Glass is a rock star, one only needs to compare his Restart Model with that of Broward County, Florida. (Original Jeffco document if link above has been altered). Or, one can compare the Jeffco 2020-21 Budget with that of Denver Public Schools.

Broward has obviously put considerable thought and effort into their plan, while Glass’s plan is just incredibly weak.

The level of detail in the Broward County plan is quite impressive. You can tell that a lot of effort has been put into it and many, many viewpoints have been considered. I particularly like the fact that Broward is using Wednesdays to clean schools, not the Fridays in Glass’s plan.

The same can’t be said for the Jeffco plan. The differences are painfully obvious. It just looks like a minimal amount of effort has been expended in comparison. You just don’t get the same level of confidence.

Regarding budgets, once again there is significantly more detail in Denver’s than in Jeffco’s, especially with regards to future impacts. In addition, on pages 433 – 46, Denver discusses use of Federal Covid Relief Funds, in detail ($28M – $52M). In Jeffco, Askelson and Glass are attempting to tell the Board that they only need $5.5M in additional Covid-19 funding AND are attempting to circumvent the federal restrictions on those monies (COVID related and spent by end of calendar year). Way too little thought has gone into something way too important.

It’s time to admit what Jeffco got and didn’t get with Jason Glass. We got a blogger, talker and tweeter. We didn’t get someone who could plan, who understands finances or could move the academic performance needle. That’s a shame.

What’s worse is that the Board extended his contract for 5 years, meaning 1,000s more kids will be harmed by his extraordinarily weak leadership and his feeble attempts at getting an 84,000 student school district to implement nice sounding educational theories that have not been proven effective anywhere.

Jeffco’s Budget Reduction Proposals Don’t Make Sense

The Jeffco Board will be presented with additional information related to next year’s budget today at a Board meeting, here and here.

Much of what is included in the two documents makes it look like Jason Glass and the District staff really haven’t thought through what is going to happen to the District financially or how to make the necessary budget reductions.

To start, Federal money, both direct from Washington and allocated by Gov. Polis, appear to being used as compensation for a large budget shortfall in state funding. However, it is my understanding that the Federal money comes with some strings attached – primarily that it be used for explicit COVID-19 related expenditures, not merely as a backfill for items already budgeted or budget shortfalls. No where in the District staff discussion does it talk about these restrictions or how they will affect the use of the money. It merely appears that Jeffco is using the money as backfill. In addition, there is no discussion of ANY additional costs related to COVID, which the Federal money could be used for. Isn’t the District going to have fairly substantial COVID related costs? Why aren’t they reflected in the budget as increased expenditures?

The second major issue I have with the District’s budget discussion is that it is centered on next year. The state budget shortfall will last at least through the following year, probably longer, and the local property tax shortfall will begin next year as well. In this respect, CFO Askelson fails miserably in her job to present the Board with a complete financial picture. How can the Board decide how much to take from reserves this year if they have ZERO information on how bad the budgetary picture could look in the next few years? They can’t! In my mind, that is a demonstration of the total incompetence on the part of Glass and the CFO to not present that information.

Next, I find some of the District recommended cuts to be extremely questionable.

  1. There are only 2 proposed cuts listed as ‘Damaging’. One of those is the District’s paid lobbyist. Damaging? To whom? I have a hard time even remotely thinking of that cut as Damaging. Listing it this way clearly explains everything that is wrong with Jason Glass and Jeffco schools. Glass likes to say: “keep the main thing the main thing’. I hardly think a paid lobbyist is the main thing.
  2. The listing of the ‘Damaging’ lobbyist cut goes hand-in-hand with the ‘Recommended’ cut of 2 Literacy Interventionists. That’s doesn’t seem to be a great idea in a District where over 50% of kids don’t meet state reading expectations. Why not reduce the number of Community Superintendents by 2 for a $326k+ savings instead and even hire an additional Literacy Interventionist?
  3. And, what about a cut of $2.2M in School Improvement Funds, money that principally goes to Title I schools? In the interest of equity, couldn’t Glass find something else to cut – like $4.2M in 1:1 device purchases that have not been proven to improve academic growth or achievement?

Where would I cut? You can see that in a letter I wrote to the Board here, but below are some suggestions of where the District can and should look to make cuts.

I don’t envy the Board in having to make the cuts. I particularly don’t envy the Board because Glass and District staff have done such a horrendous job in deriving a list of potential cuts. However, there seems to be a tremendous amount of bloat in Jeffco’s $1.2B budget that is not focused on improving education that can easily be cut without affecting education or kids.

Jeffco’s Restart Model – Heavy on Fluff, Light on Anything Resembling a Plan

I guess I expected more from Jeffco’s Restart Plan. But, maybe on second thought, we got what I expected – not a lot of substance.

Yes, Jeffco got a lot of high-level concepts such as Remote Learning, Hybrid Learning, that the IT Department would work to get students machines and internet and that teachers and staff could take unpaid sabbatical, etc. But what employees didn’t get was an actual plan that would help them achieve the high-level concepts that were presented. I was particularly disappointed with the the most important section – Academics – which was essentially a whole lot of nothing.

Just as disconcerting was that there was a complete lack of any budgetary discussion in the document. How can you ask the Board of Education to approve a budget without any consideration of the almost certain added costs that Hybrid Learning will entail? That’s just incompetence and fiscal malpractice.

It is now nearly the beginning of June and approximately 80 days until school is scheduled to start. Time is of the essence. While I don’t expect Glass and the District to have all of the answers, I would have liked for the “Plan” to have included dates when some of those answers would be known. Waiting until sometime in July and the final ‘Plan’ leaves very little time for necessary actions to be completed by the people who will be tasked with carrying out those tasks. It also would have been more comforting to know dates of when certain things would be accomplished once school starts.

Here are some examples that would have made the ‘Plan’ more meaningful, including some tasks that should have already been started:

  • No later than July 1, identify staff who will be taking 1 year unpaid sabbatical
  • No later than July 1, identify staff who do not desire to work in physical school locations
  • No later than July 15, identify and contract with Guest Teachers
  • No later than August 1st, identify students who will solely participate in Remote Learning
  • No later than June 1, identify possible additional costs to run school meals and Grab-and-Go lunches simultaneously
  • No later than June 1, identify the estimated costs to set up screening stations in schools (thermometers, PPE, tables, personnel, training, etc)
  • No later than July 15, identify additional staff needed for things such as custodial, student flow control, busing etc.
  • By the end of the 3rd day of school, the IT Department will have identified all students in need of a Chromebook
  • By the end of the 3rd day of school, the IT Department will have identified all students who do not have Internet access from their place of residence
  • By the end of the 1st week of classes, all students will have a Chromebook
  • No later than August 10, all schools will have floors marked with student flows
  • And on and on…

I don’t have any doubts that Principals will make things work in their schools. However, by not having some centralized guidelines and deadlines, it only makes the jobs’ of principals that much harder.

On first glance, the Jeffco Restart Model, at 29 pages, looks impressive. However, once you take a look at it, it is mostly fluff and doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, especially in relation to academics. Once again, this highlights the poor leadership at District level.

The Academics section of Jeffco’s Draft Restart Model is worthless

Anyone who cares about education and academics should be appalled by the lack of anything concrete in Jeffco’s Draft Restart Model.

What does the Academics section of the Restart Model really say? It is nothing but generic and high-level mumbo-jumbo. It doesn’t answer ANY key questions about Academics in the Fall such as:

  • When will students be assessed to identify the COVID slide? Ideally, that should happen within the first week of school.
  • What assessment tools will be used?
  • What definitive and differentiated steps and actions will be taken to address the COVID slide?
  • How will prior year academic short-falls be addressed in the new year? How are teachers preparing for that?
  • How will Remote Learning in the fall be different than the questionable Remote Learning that just happened?
  • What will be the Hybrid and Remote Learning standards that students will be held to? How will attendance be counted?
  • What are the expectations for teachers? What standards will they be held to? How, and when, will they be assessed?
  • How will teachers be held accountable?
  • What are the District’s plans for when teachers get sick, since this could be for an extended period of time? We’ve all had our experiences with “Guest Teachers”. For this reason, shouldn’t the District be using a standardized, almost lock-step, curriculum across the District?
  • Why doesn’t Jeffco use the summer to create a Flipped Classroom curriculum that can easily be used by teachers in all grades to provide standardized teaching quality and consistency and ease the burden on teachers instead of each individual teacher essentially duplicating what possibly 100’s of other teachers all have to do?
  • How does it work for teachers and students when the teacher is in the classroom, but ½ or more of the students are at home? What is the expected effectiveness of that? I have a hard time grasping how that will be effective. Did the District consider team teaching – 2 teachers for a cohort, with one classroom teacher and one remote learning teacher?
  • Has Jeffco considered a summer tutor program such as one launched in Tennessee, or even a targeted tutoring program once school starts to mitigate equity impacts?

The Academics section of Jeffco’s Draft Restart Model is worthless. Time is of the essence. If Jeffco doesn’t start really planning for the fall, 1,000s of kids will be permanently harmed by the ineptitude and lack of leadership coming out of Denver West.

I’m Not Buying Jason Glass’s Deeper Learning Snake Oil

Where are the studies showing Deeper Learning can be successfully implemented in large schools and large school districts?

Recently, I was sent the following link in response to one of my Tweets that included: “Until then we’re (Jeffco) left with just a nice sounding Deeper Learning which has no definition of success and no measure of success.”

I stand by my Tweet in relation to Jeffco schools. What are Jeffco’s clearly defined definitions of success and how will Jeffco measure if the shift to Deeper Learning is successful? We don’t know. In Jeffco, we do have several Academic Performance Indicators included in Jeffco Generations, but, unfortunately, instead of trending toward those goals, Jeffco is trending away from them. And, belatedly, the District is now claiming that they expected the recent implementation dips in both growth and performance.

But I want to talk about the AIR study in the link that was sent to me in an attempt to dispel my claim of no definition or measure of Deeper Learning’s success in Jeffco.

First, I make no claim that a Deeper Learning experience cannot improve some vague definition of Student Outcomes, I just want to know exactly what those outcomes will be and how long it will take to achieve them in our District. I haven’t seen that information.

My main concerns and doubts regarding Deeper Learning are:

  • While the AIR study looked at High Schools, what can be expected at Middle and Elementary Schools? Specifically, how will Deeper Learning impact the already atrocious measure that only 46% of Jeffco 3rd graders meet state reading expectations? How can you have Deeper Learning if students can’t read?
  • Can Deeper Learning be implemented in larger schools than those included in the study?
  • Can Deeper Learning be effectively implemented across a District as large and diverse as Jeffco?
  • Finally, this study doesn’t exactly give me a great deal of confidence, given its limitation of using only small, cherry-picked High Schools.

First and foremost, this study’s claims are only based on schools with a “well-implemented approach to deeper learning”. The background information for this paper is contained here and clearly states “it was important to select schools that provided reasonably strong examples of the deeper learning concept” and “We sought schools that were implementing their approach to deeper learning schoolwide and at a high enough level for us to examine whether an explicit focus on deeper learning—when done well—can result in improved opportunities and outcomes across a broad spectrum of students and teachers.” (page 5).

The other thing I would like to highlight is that the average number of students in the High Schools that were part of the study was 386 with a range of 187-681. Those are small High Schools. I would think that it is significantly easier to change culture, curriculum and teaching practices in small school settings in comparison to larger school settings. In fact, the Deeper Learning network schools in the study were compared to much larger schools having an average of 1,340 students with a range of 434 – 2,529. The issue would be the same in Jeffco, where the smallest High School is larger than the largest High School in the study. This reason alone leaves doubt in my mind on whether Deeper Learning could even replicate the results of the AIR study in Jeffco. Is it even feasible, in large school or District environments, to obtain the number of internships the Deeper Learning schools in the study say are so valuable?

Even the OECD and Graduation claims presented here are mitigated by:

Looking beyond the average effect, we found significant variation across pairs of network and non-network schools in the effects of attending a network school, especially for mathematics and science. The estimated effect of attending a network school on PBTS reading, mathematics, and science scores was positive and significant in some pairs, and not significant in others.

And:

Although attending a network school did not affect overall college attendance rates, students who attended participating network high schools were more likely to enroll in four-year institutions than were students who attended non-network high schools.

So, unfortunately, I’m going to need more than the AIR paper to give me confidence that Deeper Learning is a game changer.

Finally, Deeper Learning is difficult to implement. The Deeper Learning networks that had participating schools in the study all had different approaches. The brutal review of the book that Jason Glass likes to hand out, “In Search of Deeper Learning” only raises more doubts.

On the surface, the AIR study presents a rosy picture. In actuality, the picture may not be as positive as presented. And, to try and implement Deeper Learning in larger schools across a large District without a well-planned and phased rollout? That’s a recipe for disaster. Jeffco has already seen that disaster in the making with last year’s academic results and this year’s MAP data trending in the same downward direction.

I’m not buying Glass’s Deeper Learning hype.

Why Doesn’t Jason Glass’ Jeffco Restart Plan Talk About Internet Access?

The Jeffco Restart Plan is all about Hybrid – when and how students can go to physical classrooms. But in all of the scenarios students will still be doing Remote Learning 80% of the time.

That makes internet access extremely important. Yet, the Plan didn’t even mention this.

  • The Plan didn’t mention how the District would identify students needing Internet access prior to August
  • The Plan didn’t mention how the District would ensure ALL students would get Internet access at their place of residence
  • The Plan didn’t discuss the cost of providing Internet access

In essence, the Plan didn’t even touch on a key component of EQUITY in the Restart Plan – ensuring Internet access for everyone.

That is just so disappointing. Equity? Jeffco likes to talk about it, but when it comes to making sure it happens, it’s all about ensuring the activist soccer moms are happy.

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