Improve Jeffco Schools

A different perspective on the current state of Jeffco schools

Page 7 of 9

Mere months after “budget crisis” and budget cuts, new Superintendent hires “Special Assistant”

What are we to think when only days into a new fiscal year and just days on the job, the new Superintendent commits the equivalent of a full-time teacher’s salary so that he can “supervise” a PhD Education Leadership resident?

Didn’t the District just have what the Board described as a “budget crisis”? Didn’t the District just absorb $10M+ in budget cuts? Didn’t the District just narrowly avoid closing 4 additional neighborhood schools and cuts to successful student-facing programs?

If the fiscal situation is so dire, where did the money for this “resident” miraculously appear?

I realize there is some “slush” in a $1B budget. But shouldn’t some of that “slush” have been found only a few short months earlier, before successful programs were recommended for reduction?

Why didn’t the District staff find that “extra” money then? Or is the new Superintendent such a financial wizard that he could identify it after only a few short days on the job? How did he find this money at the beginning of the fiscal year before under-spends could be identified?

I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that the optics of this immediate “hire” are not good. This “hire” makes me wonder the following:

  • Why does the new, highly paid Superintendent need a “Special Assistant”?
  • Where is this money really coming from? The response to the CORA request I filed stated it is coming from the (already reduced by $54,000 due to budget reductions) Superintendent’s Admin budget, or other unspecified accounts at management discretion. This means it is coming from some still unknown budget line.

  • Why should we ever trust the District/Board when they say there is a “budget crisis” if they can come up with the salary for one teacher equivalent just days into a new fiscal year? It makes me wonder where else they are “hiding” money.
  • What value is this “Special Assistant” really going to provide to the District, above and beyond staff that is already on the payroll and familiar with the District?
  • Why did the new Superintendent agree to this?

I’m sorry, but when the District keeps saying that they’re no longer going to fund successful and life-changing student-facing programs such as the District’s HS GT program, yet can miraculously and instantaneously find money for the Superintendent’s “Special Assistant”, I don’t think you can trust any future “budget crisis” or proposed budget cuts!

School counselors need to educate themselves on military opportunities and their responsibilities relating to House Bill 17-1041

The Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 17-1051, CONCERNING MEASURES TO INFORM STUDENTS OF EDUCATION OPPORTUNITIES LEADING TO JOBS, during its last legislative session.

This bill requires, among several other things, that public schools explain to parents and students the educational opportunities available through military service:

22-32-109. Board of education – specific duties. (1) In addition to any other duty required to be performed by law, each board of education shall have and perform the following specific duties:

(oo) (III) At a minimum, each public school shall ensure that, in developing and maintaining each student’s ICAP, the counselor or teacher explains to the student’s parent or legal guardian, by electronic mail or other written form, and to the student:

(A) …

(B) …

AND

(C) THE SKILLS AND EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES AVAILABLE THROUGH MILITARY ENLISTMENT. IN DISCUSSING MILITARY ENLISTMENT WITH A STUDENT AND HIS OR HER PARENT, EACH PUBLIC SCHOOL IS ENCOURAGED TO PROVIDE TO THE STUDENT INFORMATION CONCERNING THE MILITARY ENLISTMENT TEST.

As an Army veteran with over 14 years of active duty service and another 14 years in the Reserves I would agree that the military can provide numerous opportunities. The best thing is that the military doesn’t expect any experience and provides the necessary job training. In addition, not only are many technical skills transferable to civilian jobs, but the military also teaches soft skills that many people never learn.

It’s true that the military is not for everyone. But it’s also true that the military could be a great option for many people who don’t know about the opportunities military service can provide. This is what I think is the purpose of the bill – ensuring information gets to the people who need it. The big problem though is that the counselors responsible for implementing this bill may not know the opportunities themselves.

For example, a generation ago, it would have been rare for some member of a family to have not served in WWII, the Korean War or in the Vietnam conflict. Currently though, there are only approximately 22 million living veterans in the US out of a population of 320 million, less than 7% of the total population.

For this reason, counselors themselves need to take the time to learn and understand what opportunities military service can provide. The Army isn’t just about the Infantry, just like the Air Force isn’t just about pilots. There are numerous support skills needed to keep each of the services functioning, skills that are directly transferrable to the civilian sector or even staying in the service and making it a career.

For example, in addition to Infantry, Armor and Artillery positions, here are some of the other Advanced Individual Training schools available in the Army that may not come immediately to mind:

  • Adjutant General School – Learn the skills needed to become a human resource specialist
  • Aviation Logistics School – Learn how to maintain Army helicopters
  • Department of Defense Fire Academy – Learn fire protection and emergency medical care
  • Engineer School – Learn skills such as building bridges and roads
  • Financial Management School – Learn how to provide finance and accounting support
  • Military Police School – Learn law-enforcement skills
  • Ordnance Mechanical Maintenance School – Maintain Army equipment
  • Quartermaster School – Supply Soldiers with food, water, petroleum, repair parts and ammunition
  • Signal Corps School – Learn communications technology
  • Transportation School – Learn how to operate and maintain trucks, material-handling equipment and watercraft.

In addition, the military teaches invaluable soft skills such as:

  • Leadership
  • Strong work ethic
  • Organization
  • Management
  • Communication

As for my own time in the Army, I never expected to stay in past my initial commitment. However, 14 years went by pretty quickly as I was presented with new opportunities for interesting assignments and additional schooling. Plus, I had the sense of service in doing something I felt was important. I’m glad I served.

Counselors need to do their jobs and not just “check the box” to comply with this law. They need to educate themselves on the military opportunities available and then pass that information on to HS students. The service is a great way to jump start a career or get money for college. And, don’t forget that the military academies and ROTC are also ways to pay for college.

Board Members court Wheat Ridge only when they want something

I recently saw where the three Board of Education members up for re-election were going to hold their kick-off rally in Wheat Ridge. My first reaction was “REALLY”? In Wheat Ridge?? What a slap in the face!

These same Board members have shown nothing but apathy for learners in the Wheat Ridge articulation area.  They have shown absolutely ZERO leadership in developing a long-term sustainable funding solution for the District’s HS GT program at Wheat Ridge HS, causing uncertainty and anxiety among the students, parents and Wheat Ridge HS. They essentially approved a back door cut of $50k to WR and the HS GT program with the recently approved Alternative Pathways BFO. They essentially put Pennington and Stober Elementary Schools at the top of the list for closure. They pulled money from hard earned reserves for new schools, but let the entire Wheat Ridge articulation area languish and deteriorate with one of the worst Facility Condition Indexes in the entire district.

And they want to launch their re-election campaign in Wheat Ridge? I don’t know about anyone else, but that certainly feels like they’re saying to Wheat Ridge, “We only care about you when you can do something for us.”

For transparency, the Board’s and District’s actions speak louder than words

The Board can deny, disagree with or ignore the lack of transparency with the recent Alternative Pathways BFO, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lack of transparency.

On June 9th I wrote a letter to the Board regarding transparency issues with the changed Alternative Pathways Budgeting for Outcomes (BFO). Specifically, the wording of the BFO budget document was revised from the original posted in the May 4th Board Docs. Then, instead of posting the new document in the June 1st Board Docs just like every other financial document that was going to be discussed and voted on at that meeting, the changed document was reposted to the May 4th Board Docs. This essentially “hid” the changes from the public who may have wanted to comment on the changes during the Board’s public comment. To compound the transparency issues, the document retained the original date and signature of April 14th which was clearly false as the changes were made sometime after May 4th.

When I brought these transparency issues to the attention of the Board in my June 9th letter, the response I received was:

“In regard to your note of June 9, I would disagree with your assertions that there is an attempt to hide information from the community.”

Really? Is that the best response the Board could come up with to a blatant transparency issue? They couldn’t even counter the facts. Guess what – “Perception = Reality” and in this case my perception is that this was a blatant attempt to hide information as I had previously written to the Board and publicly commented on this BFO at the May Board meeting.

Actually, my assertion was that “hiding these changes in the May 4th Board Docs was deceptive in nature and violated all Board stated intentions of transparency.”

Disputing “attempt to hide information” does NOT dispute my assertion of a lack of transparency, which this clearly was.

In addition, the April 14th, 2017 signed date on the document is false. Where’s the transparency there?

I even wonder whether this is a legal document since the date does not reflect the actual date of the changes.

The Board says that they are all for transparency, but by ignoring and refusing to take corrective action on the non-transparent changes to this BFO, their actions certainly speak louder than their words.

Should I embrace or be insulted by being labeled “Community Critic” by Jason Glass?

Or, should we all be more concerned when the new Superintendent, with the stated goal of bridging the divide in the community, 2 days into his position, labels someone with potentially different views than his “community critic”? This is what is most disappointing to me. If he truly wants to listen to all sides, then no one should be a “critic”.

In his blog, Jason Glass labeled me “community critic” while posting a twitter exchange we had regarding the Profile of an Ideal Jeffco Graduate.

Since I prefer to think of myself as a GT and education advocate, I was insulted when I read that label.

Yet, Dictionary.com defines “critic” as:

noun

  1. a person who judges, evaluates, or criticizes.
  2. a person who judges, evaluates, or analyzes literary or artistic works,dramatic or musical performances, or the like, especially for anewspaper or magazine.
  3. a person who tends too readily to make captious, trivial, or harsh judgments; faultfinder.

Initially, I applied definition number 3 to the label. However, my wife counseled that definition number 1 may be applicable. The truth is, I don’t know what definition Glass applied to me. However, I do think that someone who loudly and proudly touts his 2 master’s degrees and PhD would understand that the word “critic” is ambiguous enough to mean different things to different people.

I would also think that someone who touts Deliberative Democracy would treat participants in his conversations with civility and respect (“Conscientious”) and labeling participants doesn’t necessarily meet that criteria.

The bottom line is that I’m extremely disappointed in Dr. Glass in his labeling of me as “community critic”. Am I the only “critic” in the community? I think not. Was his intent to intimidate anyone else with different views to keep those views to themselves for fear of also being labeled “community critic”? Again, I don’t know. But, I will say it is not going to intimidate me. Actually, it will have the opposite effect.

Therefore, I’ve decided that I’m going to proudly embrace the label, and role, of “community critic” until such time as we can truly and freely have real conversations about education issues in our district. The district is divided, and it will remain divided until both sides feel that they are being listened to, middle ground is found and compromises made. 5 – 0 votes with no real and meaningful discussion aren’t going to get us there. And, being ignored, as I feel I’ve been for 5 months after suggesting that a collaborative committee be formed to discuss sustainable funding for the District’s HS GT program, certainly doesn’t get us there either. The only thing that does is turn couch potatoes, like myself, into GT and education advocates and “community critics”.

Let the criticism continue!

Kevin Carroll’s meeting with the HS GT Community was Horrendous

I laughed when a Board member recently told me that Kevin Carroll had told the interim Superintendent that a May meeting with the District’s HS GT community “went well”.

I was at that meeting. I don’t know whether Kevin Carroll is delusional, from another planet or wanted his boss to believe something happened that didn’t happen. But calling what transpired during that meeting as “went well” is far from how the GT parents and students would characterize that meeting.

Maybe if you want to define “went well” as having the opportunity to present a completely misleading and intentionally deceptive set of SBB numbers to the HS GT community, but from the first question onward, “went well” is not how I would describe that meeting.

Maybe Kevin doesn’t quite grasp the concept that there is a high probability that GT students have intelligent parents. Maybe Kevin doesn’t understand that these parents are not going to be fooled by some attempted slick presentation and they will call him out for attempting to intentionally deceive and mislead them with a set of SBB numbers that don’t match the reality of what actually happens at a school. He was called out for that attempt by a parent.

But, that’s not all.

Kevin was called out by a student for his continued attempts to mislead and deceive everyone he talks to about how the HS GT program is similar to “the other 15 GT programs in the District” with regard to services, educational opportunities and support when it isn’t. The student told Carroll that the elementary and middle school GT programs he attended were just advanced learning programs, and that the high school GT program was the first time he had ever experienced social-emotional support and the autonomous learner model.

Kevin even upset my meek and mild-mannered “on-the-spectrum” daughter, who also has ADHD, with his comment that money earmarked for the high school GT program might be better spent on students “who have real needs.” Really, Kevin? And you oversee the GT program? And Special Education? Do you understand who is in the GT program and what it does? Do you not realize that with their high probability of co-morbid developmental and mental health challenges, and with their different way of thinking and feeling, gifted students have “real needs” as legitimate as those of special education students? He should be fired for incompetence for that comment.

Kevin was told straight up by one parent that he wasn’t trusted, nor was the District. After his presentation, it was easy to see why.

Another parent asked why, if the program is such a success, the District would seek to pull money from it instead of investing more into it like a successful business would. No answer to that question.

Kevin was also called out for making this presentation without including the school’s School Accountability Committee, and doing it at a time when the school essentially didn’t have a principal to refute his numbers. That felt pretty sneaky. I guess that’s one way to ensure only one side of the story gets told.

The parents and students at that meeting weren’t fooled by Kevin and his misleading, manipulative and deceptive SBB numbers, and trust me, they let him know that.

For him to go back and tell his boss that the meeting “went well” is just another in a long line of statements by Kevin Carroll that just aren’t true. We don’t need or want Cabinet members like Kevin in our District!

To put it simply – this meeting couldn’t have been much worse! And the high school GT community deserves better.

Good riddance, Terry Elliott

It’s a great day in Jeffco knowing that Terry Elliott has left the District. You’d be hard pressed to find anything he has done that is either ‘Innovative’ or ‘Effective’ as one would be led to believe from his title ‘Chief Effectiveness Officer’ in charge of the Innovation and Effectiveness Team.

He’s certainly no friend to the District’s highly successful HS GT program either. From putting program de-funding in Phase 1B (certain to be implemented) of the Cabinet’s January 26th proposed budget recommendations, to not taking a collaborative approach to finding a sustainable funding solution as interim Superintendent, to a back-door cut to the program with an Alternative Pathways Budgeting For Outcomes (BFO) recommendation, it seemed he did everything in his power to hurt the HS GT program. In addition, he refused, or ignored, multiple invitations over multiple years to visit and get an understanding of the program.

The District is better off today. Good riddance!

Dr. Glass’ “hittin’ the road” tour is not well thought out

While I think that Dr. Glass’ “listening tour”  is a great idea, there’s one big problem – He makes it extraordinarily difficult for people with jobs to participate. Certainly teachers, the unemployed, ‘stay-at-homes’ and retired people can participate, but what about people with jobs? Is it the expectation that we all go to Evergreen? Or, don’t we count?

Nice idea, but not well thought out.

Hittin the Road

Be careful, Jeffco Voters and Taxpayers!

Susan Harmon and Brad Rupert don’t think that $20 million in one-time and ongoing teacher raises for 2016-1017 and $19.5M in increases for 2017-2018 are enough!

Recent articles in the Canyon Courier regarding Susan Harmon’s run for re-election (June 14, 2017) and Brad Rupert’s run for re-election (June 21, 2017) give us the following quotes:

Brad Rupert – “…I think we’ve made progress – although perhaps not as much as I’d like – in being competitive with regard to our teachers and their compensation packages…”

Susan Harmon – “Additionally, the school district still isn’t competitive in the market for teachers, so I want to work on that.”

These seem like code words to me of another budget ‘crisis’ and an attempt to raise taxes, the Board’s continued neglect of facilities maintenance issues that only continue to get worse, or closing more neighborhood schools.

I realize that teacher compensation is a touchy subject, but when I graphically compare 2016-2017 teacher salaries to cherry-picked neighboring districts I don’t see the discrepancies that people talk about.

BA Salary Comparison 2016-2017

MA Salary Comparison 2016-2017

 

Yes, there are cherry-picked points where Jeffco salaries may be less than the other large districts, but across the spectrum, Jeffco salaries seem to me to be pretty competitive. We also have to keep in mind that these graphs only compare salaries in select adjacent districts (well, Cherry Creek is not exactly adjacent).

 

I’m happy to support compensation increases, and even a tax hike, if it can be proven to me that there truly is a compensation gap. However, my graphs don’t show that across the board and combined with the fact that the District doesn’t collect any exit survey information to prove their theory that teachers are leaving for more lucrative teaching positions I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid. As they say in Missouri – ‘Show me!’

It will be interesting to see how these graphs change for 2017-2018 so I’ll update them when that data becomes available.

In the meantime, keep an eye on Brad and Susan and the rest of their compatriots!

The Continued Spreading of Alternative Facts Regarding Teacher Turnover

I’ve recently read several comments to Dr. Glass in response to his 3 Questions for Jeffco along with a blog posting on Support Jeffco Kids (SJK) that talk about teacher turnover and cite Colorado Department of Education (CDE) statistics to justify calls for increasing teacher compensation. Specifically, the Support Jeffco Kids post states:

“Teachers and principals are leaving Jeffco for other districts that offer better paying jobs. Teacher turnover in Jeffco increased from 10 percent to 15 percent between 2013-14 and 2014-15, according to Chalkbeat Colorado. Though it has slowed since the recall of WNW, our turnover rate is more than half of the other large Front Range/metro area districts.”

The fact is that the CDE statistics can NOT be used to support the premise that ‘Teachers and principals are leaving Jeffco for other districts that offer better paying jobs.” The ONLY thing the CDE statistics can be used to say is that some percentage of teachers have left Jeffco. Neither CDE nor Jeffco know WHY the teachers have left. I previously filed a CORA request with the Jeffco school district to determine if exit interviews were conducted of teachers leaving the school district and the response to that request was that surveys are not routinely conducted.

Therefore, without knowing the answer to this vital question, no one, including Support Jeffco Kids and any of a number of other people can make the claim that:

“Teachers and principals are leaving Jeffco for other districts that offer better paying jobs.”

The primary reason for this is that CDE’s teacher turnover rate includes teachers leaving for a wide variety of reasons such as:

  • Retirement
  • Moving with family due to a significant other’s job relocation
  • Moving out of the area to be closer to family
  • Birth of a child
  • Taking a position with another school district to be geographically closer to the teacher’s own residence
  • Taking another, non-teaching, position within the same school district
  • Leaving teaching completely either because teaching is not a perfect fit, going back to school or other opportunities
  • Leaving the school district due to discipline or performance issues (actually good for the district)
  • Leaving Jeffco for a higher paying school district (should we even count marginal or low performing teachers in this category? I think not.)

While leaving Jeffco for a higher paying school district is one component of the CDE’s Teacher Turnover rates, using it to support any premise related to teachers and principals leaving Jeffco for better paying jobs is completely unfounded.

In addition, even the Chalkbeat article quoted by Support Jeffco Kids does not support the SJK conclusion:

“Teacher attrition is often caused by conditions outside of districts’ control, said Robert Reichardt, a consultant with Augenblick, Palaich and Associates who has studied teacher workforce issues in Colorado. He said those factors include the average age of teachers (the youngest and oldest teachers are more likely to leave their jobs) and the state of the economy (harder economic times, such as the years following the Great Recession of 2008, mean less turnover because jobs are harder to find).”

I think it would be an interesting conversation to have if we knew the actual turnover rate of quality Jeffco teachers leaving for a higher paying teaching job elsewhere, but until either Jeffco or CDE collects that information, using the CDE statistics to support that conclusion is just an inaccurate Alternative Fact.

The second Alternative Fact in the Support Jeffco Kids posting is the statement regarding comparison of Turnover Rates:

“Though it has slowed since the recall of WNW, our turnover rate is more than half of the other large Front Range/metro area districts.”

While this statement is unclear, I will assume that it is intended to mean that the turnover rate is one and a half times the rate of other large Front Range/metro area districts.

Again, we don’t know which districts SJK is using for comparison, but in looking at the rates of the 4 large districts used for compensation comparison purposes in Jeffco, this statement is once again unsupported:

Yes, the Turnover Rate in Jeffco is higher than Boulder Valley and Cherry Creek, but not the two other large Districts.  Certainly not more than one and a half times the rate of the “other large Front Range/metro area districts” that Support Jeffco Kids wants you to believe. Once again, more Alternative Facts based on conjecture and not actual data.

If the data supported what Support Jeffco Kids and other people want you to believe that would be one thing, but their Alternative Facts are just not true.

Finally, using SJK’s logic, if WNW were completely responsible for the increased Turnover Rate in Jeffco wouldn’t the election of the ‘clean slate’ Board have immediately returned the rate to what it was in 2013-2014 – 10%? It didn’t return to that, sitting at 14.4% in 2016-2017. Therefore, either Turnover Rates are more complicated than SJK wants you to believe or teachers are not happy even with the ‘clean slate’. My take is that SJK gives too much credit to WNW for a complex statistic.

The bottom line is that Teacher Turnover rates should not be used to imply anything without additional, more detailed, information that explains the composition of the rates. Any conclusions drawn from the CDE data are pure conjecture and completely biased – Alternative Facts.

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