Volume 3 Issue 2

Open Letter to Recall Organizers

By Sheila Atwell

On July 10 the Denver Post printed the guest commentary “In defense of Jeffco school board recall,” written by organizers Wendy McCord, Tina Gurdikian, and Michael Blanton. I wrote the below in response to their attempts to justify a recall. 

Ms. Gurdikian, Ms. McCord and Mr. Blanton,
     Your groundless accusations in the recall petitions against Mr. Witt, Mr. Newkirk, and Ms. Williams do nothing but divide Jeffco citizens and distract from the actual work of improving student achievement in Jeffco. 
     Your petitions claim the board majority lacks Respect, Accountability, and Transparency. Your response to the Denver Post says the board’s actions rise to the level of malfeasance, and you suggest there is corruption and glaring incompetence. These are serious allegations that the facts and your petitions fail to substantiate. 
     You claim this board lacks transparency and exhibited malfeasance when they interviewed potential board attorneys. In reality, it would have been improper not to interview law firms under consideration, and in fact, this board hired their board attorney in public. Previous boards have used attorneys hired behind closed doors without any public process. How does improving transparency equate to malfeasance? 
Student Achievement 
     What is completely wrongful is previous boards’ lack of focus on improving student achievement. Where were your voices of advocacy years ago for the students in the Jefferson and Alameda articulation areas where the middle and high schools receive failing grades? For a decade, less than 10 percent of Jefferson High School’s 10th graders have tested proficient in math. Just 65 percent of those students graduate, and more than 70 percent of them require remediation in order to take college-level courses. No one made claims of malfeasance during the decades-long lack of focus on improving student achievement.
     Boards led by the previous superintendent glossed over the lack of student achievement by touting the district’s above-average scores on state tests. They allowed the scores in more affluent neighborhoods to hide the poor performance in other parts of the district. They allowed tens of thousands of students to graduate without the skills necessary for career or college success. This board majority has invested millions in improving student achievement, and yet you want them recalled.
     Your commentary claims incompetence and corruption by this board, even though they have improved accountability, which would prevent corruption. 
     Where were you three years ago when the former board truly limited public comment by requiring parents to show up the day of a school board meeting at district headquarters by 4:30 PM in order to sign up to speak? Or to recite their home address before speaking? Was that not a form of intimidation and an attempt to silence the community? 
     The new board majority has eliminated these requirements, moved public comment sign-up online, and opened it days before a meeting. Further, they have begun to live-stream meetings, so that busy parents are able to watch from home. Certainly, these actions improve accountability and by engaging more of the community limit the chances of corruption. 
Data Privacy
     You claim the board lacks respect for the privacy of student data. But did any of you speak out three years ago when the former superintendent was intent on sharing identifiable student information through the use of the inBloom data collection program? The former board only voted to end the program after the 2013 elections, finally having been convinced of the public’s distaste for releasing students’ personally identifiable information. Where was your outcry over student data privacy then? 
     The new board has created a Technology and Data Privacy Committee to review district policies and make suggestions for improvements in contracts, policies, and procedures to protect student and staff data, increasing transparency and community engagement. They have restricted the use of the intrusive video recording system TS Gold, which was scheduled to be used in the classrooms of our youngest students. Clearly, this board has focused on guaranteeing the protection of personally identifiable student and staff information. 
     Finally your Denver Post commentary claims corruption on the part of the new board members and yet you provide no statements to support your allegations. 
Prior Cronyism
     Where were your charges of corruption when Board member Lesley Dahlkemper remained silent while the district hired a partner from her firm to do public relations for the district? Yes, that $115,000 decision really was made behind closed doors. Where were you when Ms. Dahlkemper failed to disclose that her employer, the Colorado Education Initiative, receives major financial support from the Gates Foundation, the primary funder of the inBloom project? 
     Finally, you say you’re worried about the quality of education because the number of teachers leaving Jeffco has increased and you blame this on the new board. But did you mention that after each recession teacher turnover increases? Did you complain about an educator “mass exodus” a decade ago? As the economy has improved, teacher turnover in the state of Colorado has increased, and now stands at 17 percent. Jeffco’s turnover rate also has increased, but remains lower than turnover in many districts across the state. 
Quality of Education
     If you were really concerned about the quality of education in Jefferson County, would you not be celebrating the successful rollout of the new math curriculum approved by this board? Last year’s results show significant improvements in achievement. 
Would you not be celebrating the allocation of millions more dollars to schools giving local communities more control over how to allocate funds for their students, breaking the previous  top down one size fits all system of control?
     Change is hard and you may not agree that it was needed. But I urge you and your supporters to stop the divisive activities. 
     It’s no wonder organizers were able to collect so many signatures when their recall petitions were full of the same misinformation and inaccuracies that have been propagated by the status quo supporters since the moment the new board memebers were elected. All the board majority critics have done is prove that if you make enough noise to sound like a crisis, you can effectively create a crisis.
      Don’t take Jeffco back to the days of complacency and business as usual. Let’s keep moving forward.