Jeffco Interrupted

Jeffco superintendent announces retirement

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Cindy Stevenson told the school board Thursday night that she’s retiring effective at the end of the school year, next June 30.

Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson / File photo
Jeffco Superintendent Cindy Stevenson / File photo

Stevenson’s announcement comes two days after a slate of three conservative candidates took the majority on the five-member board of the 85,000-student district.

The superintendent was diplomatic in an interview with EdNews, saying, “When you have a major change on the board they have their own plans. I just feel like it’s time. Twelve years is a long time. … I have eight months yet. … We’re going to have a great transition. We’ll have everybody ready for a great new world.”

Choking up a little over the phone, Stevenson said, “It’s been a great run; I’ve loved every day.”

Stevenson, who started as a kindergartener at South Lakewood Elementary School, has spent her entire professional life in the district, including stints as a teacher, principal and multiple jobs in the district’s central administration.

She’s been superintendent since 2002 and has been prominent in state education groups and circles.

“The past 12 years have been the best years of my life. This is an exceptional school district and it’s been my honor to lead an amazing staff of talented people. I’d like to thank my team, the community and our students – they have made my life joyful,” Stevenson said in a statement.

In recent years she’s been increasingly criticized by conservative citizen groups, most recently over the district’s pilot use of inBloom, a data system that can aggregate student personal and academic information and link such data with online instructional materials that teachers can use to personalize teaching.

Shortly after Stevenson’s announcement, the board voted to sever the district’s arrangement with inBloom, an initiative that has been pushed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Those groups also have criticized district spending and expenses under Stevenson.

Jeffco has had the state’s largest enrollment for many years, but its student population has been stagnant in recent years as the county population has aged and changed. Jeffco is expected to be passed in enrollment this year by the Denver Public Schools. That stagnant enrollment has created tensions in parts of the district where the administration had considered closing schools.

The district administration also has had a close and collaborative working relationship with the county teachers union, the Jefferson County Education Association. Kerrie Dallman, former head of that group, now is president of the statewide Colorado Education Association.

On Tuesday conservative candidates Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt won three open seats on the board by comfortable margins. All had been endorsed by the county Republican Party, and an independent committee named Believe in Better Schools reported spending $22,804, most of it in support of those three candidates. Spending was on newspaper and social media advertising and on direct mail.

The group received its funding from Jeffco Students First Action, a group that has been critical of district policies but which itself doesn’t have to report its contributors.

The three winners actually were outspent by their opponents, Tonya Aultman-Bettridge, Jeff Lamontagne and Gordon Van de Water, who were considered to have closer ties to district administration and who were supported by the union. (See this story by EdNews partner for more background on the Jeffco election.)

A former Jeffco board member and prominent Jeffco business leader told EdNews Thursday that he thought the three conservative candidates’ opposition to Amendment 66 also helped them win. That proposed $950 million tax increase for education was defeated with a 64.6 percent no vote statewide and had a 65.3 percent no vote in Jeffco.

Under the formula in A66’s companion legislation, Senate Bill 13-213, Jeffco would have received only a 9.6 percent increase in per-pupil funding, compared to an 11.6 percent average increase statewide, and Jeffco residents would have paid more in increased income taxes than the district would have received in additional funding.

A slate of GOP candidates made a run at Jeffco board seats two years ago but were unsuccessful.

In addition to retaining control in Dougco and gaining it in Jeffco, it appears that conservative candidates now control the Thompson school board and have a strong minority in the Greeley district. But a GOP-endorsed slate was defeated in the Grand Junction-based Mesa 51 district.

Overt partisan involvement in school board races first surfaced in Douglas County four years ago, when a slate of GOP-endorsed candidates took control of the board. That majority since has expanded school choice options in the district, ended the contractual relationship with the county teachers union and approved a voucher program, which currently is being challenged in the courts.

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.