Hopefully you’ve read about the survey we asked staff to complete and will be able to take time to offer your feedback. What information we have obtained through this is alarming. Please stay tuned for a post about it later this week.
In the meantime, a very brave teacher shared a story with us that we believe everyone should read:
I have come to the realization that it is time to tell the citizens of Jefferson County the story of something that happened last fall. I considered telling it then, but I decided to give Mr. McMinimee a year as our leader, hoping my first impression might not have been accurate. Last September I was still naively optimistic.
In September, my school had a staff meeting about developing teacher effectiveness goals. My principal is required to guide us through the process of developing individual and school-wide goals, both of which would be directly related to our salaries. During the staff meeting, several teachers–both newbies and veterans–shared their frustration with the time spent developing and preparing the documentation for goals and planning for observations, and how none of that busy-work would really impact students in a positive way. In short: We were being told to spend a ton of time and energy just jumping through required hoops that don’t ultimately result in honing our craft of teaching children.
Our principal, sensing our collective frustration, stopped the staff meeting and gently told us to take a break from the stress. I went back to my room and emailed Jeffco superintendent Mr. Dan McMinimee:
Hello Mr. McMinimee,
My name is Julia Berg and I am a second grade teacher [in Jeffco]. One of my student’s parents met with you yesterday regarding Math Expressions, which made me think a meeting with you might be just what I need. I am writing to you to ask if you would have time to meet one-on-one with me before mid October. I would appreciate 30 minutes, hopefully after school, but I would be willing to take a personal day to meet with you. My purpose in meeting with you is simple: I want you to know me as a human being, a mom, a teacher, and an employee. I have been in Jeffco for over 25 years and I am grounded, professional, and dedicated to this profession and the families in Jeffco. I have no hidden agenda. I’m just struggling to remain optimistic and I want to rekindle my passion for this vocation and a personal conversation with you may help. I’m not ready to give up yet.
Second Grade Teacher
I emailed that note on a Friday, and we met after school the following Tuesday from 3:50-5:10 p.m. When Mr. McMimimee sat down at my reading table, I thanked him for meeting with me and asked him how he had time to do so. He stated that he was trying to make time for individual meetings with anyone who asked. He did not think speaking to several hundred people at a gym worked well because he received emails saying that people felt like their questions weren’t being answered.
I started by telling him a little bit about myself: I have been a teacher for almost 30 years in this district and am a National Board certified master teacher. I am a mom with two kids at Dakota Ridge High School. I detailed for him the staff meeting and teachers’ frustrations.
I had put blank paper on my table in case I wanted to take notes. He took one of the blank sheets and told me to draw a circle. In all honesty, the instruction and tone felt very patronizing to me, like I was one of my second graders. Besides, I knew where he was going with the locus of control speech, so I acknowledged that we have control over some things and we don’t have control over others. I “get it.”
Then he said, “This is about compensation, isn’t it?” I simply could not understand how he could have truly listened to everything I had just told him and come to that conclusion. I very directly said, “No, actually it’s not. It’s about teachers feeling respected, heard, wondering about our future. It’s about a crumbling trust in Jeffco’s future.”
Almost as if I had said nothing at all, he took another sheet of paper and drew the compensation model that Witt had proposed and passed. He told me I was probably highly effective and that he wanted to pay me 100 grand like the teachers in Boulder. I said, “Again, I did not contact you about compensation. But since you brought it up, will there be a cap on the number of teachers in a building who can receive a rating of highly effective and be compensated justly?”
He drew a bell curve for me and said, “No. Principals are highly trained to evaluate educators, and they are paid well to be accurate and fair.”
We talked about teachers not being compensated for additional degrees or education, and he said compensation for those teachers would come as they prove that they are highly effective as a result of higher education. I never did learn what the bell curve was for…
Then we talked a little bit about preschool and kindergarten, and he gave me a lot of fuzzy political rhetoric. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember thinking, “One: he doesn’t care, and two: he is sounding a lot like Witt and Newkirk.”
We moved on to the high school walkouts and teachers calling in sick, and he got a little bit agitated. He said he thought it was ridiculous and unfortunate that some teachers deprived children of learning. He said he did not believe the students who walked out understood the whole situation. I said that I could only speak for my two kids. I was honest; it was mixed. It seemed to me that one understood better than the other. Therefore, when they walked out, I did not call to excuse them. Both of my kids took full responsibility for their actions. He said hundreds of parents and teachers lied about reasons for not being in school. How parent behavior related to my concerns still mystifies me. Somehow we’d gotten way off track.
Bringing the conversation back to the matter at hand, I explained that I knew many teachers in my school were frustrated and worried about our future in Jeffco, but I assured him that every day every one of us walked through the threshold of our school with professionalism and a sincere desire to make a difference for kids. That’s when I got a little teary-eyed and choked up. I told him that my career has been dedicated to helping kids and families, especially now at a school with a high rate of free and reduced lunch kids and many struggling families. I made clear that the kids who sit in my little orange chairs matter. Every day. This is my passion. I told him to not misinterpret my tears for weakness, but instead understand that my tears come as a result of my passion: kids.
By then it was about 5:05, and I said, “I’m sure you want to get home to your family.” He said his wife is a lawyer and never home early. I said, “You’ve seen and heard what I’m passionate about. What are you passionate about?”
He leaned back in the too-small chair and said, “Great question.” There was a slight pause as he contemplated the query. “College football.”
I was literally dumbstruck. I mumbled something about my husband liking C.U., and then I thanked him for his time, shook his hand, and he walked out of my classroom.
I felt like someone had punched me in the gut. I hoped it was a prank answer, but there hadn’t been any indication of that. After all, it’s not as though he had laughed and said, “No, really, it’s…” followed by something that could restore my faith that our superintendent of schools cared as deeply about kids as my colleagues and I do. I sat down at my reading table and cried. It seemed like nothing that mattered to me mattered to him. It was such a blow.
I spent the rest of the year staying informed, loving my students, and trying to accept that the leader of 85,000 kids doesn’t give a damn. As the summer moves on toward a new school year, I realize that the last bit, accepting an apathetic leader, just won’t cut it. It’s time to speak up.
We all need to speak up and Support Jeffco Kids!
Make sure everyone you know is registered to vote! Go to www.govotecolorado.com
Then sign up to volunteer! http://jeffcounited.org/events-3/