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Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee, left, previewed tonight's board meeting for Colorado State of Mind. The program will air Friday evening on Rocky Mountain PBS.

Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee, left, previewed tonight’s board meeting for Colorado State of Mind. The program will air Friday evening on Rocky Mountain PBS.

Nicholas Garcia

Jeffco board dials back curriculum proposal; plus questions we hope to answer tonight

A controversial proposed curriculum review committee is still in play in Jefferson County, but the version the board will consider tonight has been stripped of many of the elements that ignited a firestorm in the district during the past two weeks.

Gone are references to patriotism and civic disorder. In their stead is much tamer language outlining only the formation and basic objectives of such a committee.

Board member John Newkirk’s proposal reads in part, “The District’s Chief Academic Officer shall serve as advisor to the committee. The charge to the committee is to review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed to be objectionable.”

Under Newkirk’s proposal, each board member would be able to appoint two members to the committee. A majority and minority report would be presented to the board, if so ordered.

The new language is an attempt to move beyond the most contentious portions of the original proposal, which sparked more than a week’s worth of protests, and focus only on the mechanics of the committee.

“I’d like to see a focus — not on the turmoil — but academic achievement of our students,” board chairman Ken Witt said today in an interview that will air Friday night on Rocky Mountain PBS’s Colorado State of Mind.

Regardless, tonight’s Jefferson County Board of Education meeting is likely to be the most politically charged yet. And that’s saying a lot given this board’s short but controversial tenure.

Students, parents, and teachers are expected to rally at 4:30 p.m. outside the Jeffco Public Schools EdCenter, where the meeting will begin at 5:30. They’ll tell reporters at a press conference why they object to a curriculum review panel that will be discussed later in the evening.

The board will also hear recommendations from Superintendent Dan McMinimee, which brings which brings us to the first of five things Chalkbeat will be paying close attention to during the evening’s events.

1. Will McMinimee lead and will the board follow?

Vocal parents and teachers, critical of the county’s board majority, have been equally skeptical of McMinimee, who spent more than a decade as a principal and administrator in nearby Douglas County. Those community members are concerned Jefferson County will adopt similar reforms to the ones Douglas County has undertaken, which many Jeffco parents and teachers find objectionable.

McMinimee told the community he would listen and lead the entire district not be a “yes” man.

His first test came earlier this month when the board discussed its teachers’ compensation plan. He argued that the board should accept an alternate version of the tentative agreement that the union had ratified but the board majority objected to. But the board majority steamrolled him and adopted a new program that deviates significantly from the status quo.

Tonight, McMinimee will outline his own proposal for the curriculum review committee to the board. He’ll suggest the board majority work within already existing policies, but expand those committees to include students and members of the community.

How hard will McMinimee push his proposal? And will the board listen and adopt it?

The answer to those questions could foreshadow the tenor of the rest of McMinimee’s three year contract with the district.

2. How will the board define its governance style?

There’s no question that Colorado school boards clearly have the responsibility to approve and review curriculum. But to what degree should the board be involved with “making the sausage?” That’s a question that has long been debated here and across the country.

Most researchers will tell you boards of education should not be worried with the granular details of a school district’s bureaucracy — that’s the superintendent’s job. Given the district already has more than 20 policies to govern curriculum, It would appear the curriculum review committee proposal is a step in the micromanaging direction. But President Witt disagrees the board is governing through management. He believes the board needs as much information possible, and from a variety of sources to make informed decisions. He believes a new committee that reports to the board would be another conduit of information for the board to rely on.

He told Rocky Mountain PBS’s Colorado State of Mind that he hopes whatever resolution the board comes to tonight will be as “inclusive as possible.”

3. How will the students use their voice?

Last week, students took to the street to make their frustrations with the proposal known. In some instances, not all were as informed as they thought. Dozens of students met with McMinimee in small groups. And in some instances, entire schools met with the superintendent and board members.

Students vowed to bring their grievances to the school board in both letters, petitions, and speeches. How many students will make the effort to speak out and what will their message be?

4. Will Julie Williams’ base show up?

Board member Julie Williams, who first introduced the curriculum review panel, won her seat by the widest margin last November, capturing 61 percent of the vote. But her base has hardly had a vocal presence at board meetings. That may change tonight. At least two email threads have circulated across the district and state encouraging her supporters — or, at least those who agree with her opinions regarding the history curriculum — to show up in force.

5. Has the latest dustup up attracted new skeptics?

Despite the large audiences the Jeffco board meetings have attracted, it’s often the same faces filling the seats meeting after meeting. But William’s proposal seems to have reverberated through the district in ways previous board debates did not. Was it enough to get new faces to the Ed Center to pay attention to the board or will we hear from and see the same folks we always do?

New blood might mean trouble for the board majority. It could provide an opportunity for their critics to gain momentum and share their concerns with a whole new audience. By contrast, if only the same pockets of vocal skeptics show up, it could indicate their concerns don’t resonate throughout the county.