Volume 3 Issue 1

Community Voice

Behind the Teaching Curtain at a Strategic Compensation School
by Guy Nahmiach

There are four critical questions that our schools ask when setting goals for our students:

1. What do we expect our students to learn? 
2. How will we know when they have learned it? 
3. What will we do when some students do not learn?
4. What will we do when some students already know it? 

Each question is a door that opens to a multitude of answers, describing situations and including opinions, but as parents it's reassuring to know that these questions are being asked from the highest level right down to the classrooms…or are they?

Every month I use my column to celebrate and often question the value of the education students are getting in our local schools. I usually receive feedback from readers who have been asking the very same questions and some from the readers that disagree with my observations. These are generally emails, phone calls, and of course, social media. Last week however, a Jeffco teacher residing in Wheat Ridge, accepted my invitation to meet face to face for an honest conversation about the situation in our schools. Anne (not her real name) is in good but slim company. I have found very few people willing to ask simple, system-reflective questions. 

It took two meetings and a slew of emails with Anne to exchange frustrations and explanations. What started as loud accusations, finger pointing, and quoting studies and facts that supported each point of view resulted in my having a deeper understanding for the systems already in place—a process built to evaluate and improve the performance of all our teachers; a realization that teachers ranked "less than effective" do get organized help from experienced teachers. I was also reminded that even "highly effective" teachers are constantly looking to improve their skills. 

Teachers are now regularly evaluated. In some schools they even use outside professionals who have been trained to look for certain functions and results. Evaluator training includes a calibration of expectations and judgment so you end up with very close results no matter who the evaluator is. The evaluators in Jeffco use a rubric with 23 indicators attached to expected behaviors with specific results. 

Teachers who are evaluated as "not effective" are put on "a letter"—an 8-week program with specific goals and in-class assistance to turn their performance around. Teachers who are still struggling after that period are then moved to a "plan"—an intense 6-week "intervention" style program to help the teacher become "effective." Failing the "plan" results in termination.

This level of accountability seems to have gone unnoticed. Another example of good things not being talked about. Now if I'm off by a week or two, please don't be upset. I'm simply trying to say that there is a process.

Of course the conversation with Anne did include finances. Compensation, or lack thereof, for our "effective" and "highly effective" teachers. While I do support paying for performance, I realize that a collaborative environment where teachers share best practices benefiting all students is certainly better than "very effective" teachers not sharing ideas with others who might need the help, especially with newly out-of-school teachers.

Do I want effective teachers to be well paid? Absolutely! Doctors who heal our children are well paid; so should teachers be who provide an education and prepare our students for their careers and futures. What bigger influence will any other profession have on our children? 

I want these "very effective" teachers to make six-digit salaries. That's how teaching can become a viable profession once again. Attract and hold onto caring, brilliant professionals who will be able to support a family on a good income. I'm not proposing huge dollars across the board. I am confident that if we reward teachers as they are being compensated in the Strategic Compensation program, more teachers will continue to achieve excellence and deserve such salaries.

Anne did agree that not all teachers are the same, and some in fact, are "not effective" and are asked to leave. But what is more important is that some amazing and "highly effective" teachers are leaving on their own for better opportunities outside of Jeffco. I am increasingly concerned that my kids and future students will not be taught by the very best.

Meeting Anne made me realize just how much the teachers were being misrepresented. How could all of these good things be going on without any media attention? Why are we only seeing them on the street holding picket signs? Why aren't the cameras focused on teachers inside the classrooms or up late reviewing lessons for the next day? Who is shaping their public image? I've talked about teachers being lumped into one group without accounting for quality and yet this evaluation rubric has been used for three years already. Parents have been advocates for their own kids since birth. Who is actually representing our great teachers? 

I did borrow a book from Anne called Visible Learning For Teachers. It's been called the "holy grail book for educators," for me, simply an eye opener. I found lists of influences on achievements based on thousands of studies that highlight the correlation of low birth weight and economic factors on negative academic performance. It showed the low impact that homework and class size actually have on students’ education. Great but controversial topics for future columns. I'm sure you're already squirming....who will be the next Anne to actually meet me in person to discuss getting great answers to our four key questions? 

Thank you Anne, I look forward to more conversations; working together we can make a difference.

This letter was edited and reprinted with permission from The Neighborhood Gazette. You can reach Guy Nahmiach at 303-999-5789 or email him at guy@NostalgicHomes.com

Low Pay for substitute teachers
by Thelma Jean Shaeffer

I read the article about salaries in The Jeffco Observer with interest, and I noticed one integral group for student instruction and learning was left out. That group of teachers was the substitute pool. Teachers are out of the classroom periodically for a number of reasons, but student quality instruction and learning has to continue in the teachers’ absences. The District can attract the quality of substitutes to maintain that level of instruction by paying at or above what other districts are paying for its substitutes.

Several years ago substitutes in Jeffco took a pay cut because of the budget restraints. But substitute teachers have not benefitted in the money Jefferson County Schools gained from the taxpayers’ vote. Besides receiving lower substitute pay in Jeffco, retired substitute 
teachers additionally pay 8% to PERA for the opportunity to work in the public schools after retirement. Any school knows that their best substitutes are the retired teachers with years of experience to field the many problems that can arise in a situation when the classroom teacher is absent.

I live in Jefferson County and am one of those voters; I am one of your retired teacher substitutes and have been for seven years with 44 years of teaching experience. Schools request me, and I am on priority lists because I am good at what I do. When I am in the classroom, I can follow the lesson plans, can maintain a good learning environment, and can make instruction happen. There are days when I have two and three requests for the same day because schools and teachers call me directly requesting availability. I know some schools have assignments not covered by available substitutes on various days, and those situations compromise instruction and learning for affected students.

Substitutes work where the money is; I work for another school district as well as Jeffco because the pay is superior; I work for a non-PERA employer as well because of the 8% deduction. I hope the Jefferson County School Board and its Administration will look at the budget and put the compensation for the substitute teacher pool in line with other metro districts to help keep progress for students on track.

Who is Taking Money from our Schools?
by Bruce Baker

Did you know your local city council could take a tract of land, make it subject to Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and essentially redirect the property taxes from schools, special districts and county governments and never even ask the voters? Most people are not aware this is happening because we think TABOR requires elected officials to honor their votes on taxes. 

If you vote to increase taxes to send additional dollars to your schools, you would expect that is where they would go. Such is not always the case. The same quiet tax redirection, the same lessening of local control is happening in many school districts, including Jeffco.

TIF was originally designed to help a city deal with a blighted area. It allows a city to help finance the renewal of an area by paying off the debt they acquire in the process with the increase in taxes that a renewed area generates. This happens without the consent of the voters. 

Cities are operators and beneficiaries in TIF; they collect the increased taxes but because the new income is needed to pay off the debt, counties and school districts do not see the additional revenue. This is in spite of the fact that the school district and county will provide services to the newly developed area. TIF tax money is diverted tax money. Cities are diverting property taxes from their original, intended use. 

Here is an example: For the year 2012 the Target store at 144th and Huron paid $230,000 in taxes that should have gone to Adams 12 school district because of the mill levy; Adams 12 schools saw less than $10,000. The remaining $220,000 was diverted to The Westminster North Huron Urban Renewal Authority. The county also loses the mill they should be getting, and neither the county nor the school district has any say in the matter. The Urban Renewal Authority gets the tax dollars that voters approved going to other entities.

While the state does backfill revenue to school districts, counties and other local districts aren’t so lucky. Any money the state spends to backfill school districts with TIF areas is money not available for other districts. 

Jeffco is about to have a similar experience. The Westminster City Council intends to use TIF to finance the redevelopment at Westminster Mall. The plan calls for 2,000 new residences and hundreds of thousands of new retail square footage. The additional housing will mean hundreds of children entering Jeffco chools. The money from the increased taxes will not go to the school district or the county despite the fact that the new families will need to enroll their children in Jeffco schools. 

If this doesn’t sound fair to you, call my colleagues on the Westminster City Council and ask them not to divert your tax money. There are other ways to pay for the infrastructure. The general number for the city is 303-658-2400. 

Bruce Baker serves on the Westminster City Council and is concerned about how much money our schools will lose if this TIF goes forward and how the district will afford the new school needed to serve the students. Bruce’s email: bbaker@cityofwestminster.us