As former members of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education, we have developed unique and independent perspectives on what Jeffco’s schools, students, teachers and administrators stand for, and what they’ve achieved.
While we come from different backgrounds and ideologies, and served on very different boards, we have come together to voice our shared beliefs about some fundamental values that have always been at the core of our work for Jefferson County Public Schools.
First, there has been much discussion lately about charter schools and choice. What we know for certain is that our district has offered educational options for 44 years. That’s when the very first option school, Jeffco Open School, opened its doors. Dennison Elementary, opened in 1974, was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2003 and 2010 for sustaining high achievement over time, and was recognized most recently in 2013 as a John Irwin School of Excellence. Then there’s Warren Tech – a highly regarded career and technical education school – and D’Evelyn – a rigorous liberal arts option school. In addition, students who wish to stay in their neighborhood schools can take advantage of a variety of educational choices including International Baccalaureate, Gifted and Talented, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. We are proud of the extensive list of choices within the district, and believe it illustrates how important choice is – and has always been – to Jeffco.
Secondly, we learned during our service on the Board of Education that transparency of board activities is key to maintaining the trust of the community – a fundamental requirement for any governing organization that hopes to function at a high level. We believe that soliciting input for the annual budget was a critical part of our jobs as leaders of the school board. We did so by creating budget committees and conducting surveys as well as hosting public hearings and forums. We then carefully considered the feedback we received when adopting the final budget.
We sought support from voters through mill and bond elections where we specifically laid out how the additional funds would be spent. We won taxpayer support for these mill levy and bond issues because they knew exactly what would be done with the money. We kept our promises to taxpayers and remained accountable by creating financial oversight committees that reviewed how all monies were spent and ensured we stayed within budget.
To ensure transparency, we judiciously limited executive sessions – only when required to discuss personnel and legal issues – and encouraged public participation in our board meetings. All of us appreciated the value of public input as part of the democratic process of school governance. Everyone was permitted to speak under the same rules and guidelines, and no one person or group was favored over another.
The current erosion of transparency is particularly troubling to us. Examples include creating different rules for members of the public wishing to address the board and seemingly making decisions outside the boardroom without the input of either the full board or the public. Disagreements are inevitable, but dishonesty and disingenuousness are not. Effective leaders work hard to engender trust with their stakeholders. When that trust is diminished, it is no longer possible to move forward in a constructive, coordinated manner with the best interests of all at heart.
Last, but certainly not least, we believe our teachers are our most valuable assets in providing a quality education for all students in Jeffco. Teachers are doing the critical work of the district, taking on the additional responsibilities to implement changes that have enabled our district to increase performance over time. Treating teachers poorly will undermine future directives. And if we don’t consider our teachers as worthy collaborators in setting the course for our district, how do we trust them to shape and educate children, our most precious commodity?
In past years, Jefferson County has been widely recognized as a national model of collaboration between teachers and the district. In speaking to the National Press Club, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan noted how in “…Jefferson County, Colorado unions and management are working together to find new and better ways to evaluate teacher effectiveness and reward success in the classroom.”
A recent story on Colorado Public Radio noted that before the new board majority took over last fall, our “86,000 student district has been largely free from turmoil found in other large districts.” This is a legacy of which we are immeasurably proud. Unfortunately, we fear that what we worked so hard to build is being destroyed by the actions and decisions of the new board majority.
As people who care deeply about the future of Jeffco students and our district, we urge the new board majority to keep the values of quality education, transparency and collaboration at the heart of their work.
By Jon DeStefano