Volume 3 Issues 3

Community Voice

The Jeffco Observer accepts editorials from community members. Letters are printed at the discretion of the editor and may be edited for length, clarity, and style. The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the various authors on this forum do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of The Jeffco Observer or its staff.

 

Dear Editor,
How can we take the Teachers’ Union campaign to recall the Jeffco School Board seriously, when sitting member Julie Williams’ opponent has yet to be seen at a candidate forum?


Have you observed that the attendance of other opposition candidates at such events has been sporadic as well?


If these ephemeral people cannot even spare an hour for campaign appearances, how can they possibly fulfill the large time commitment which is required of a conscientious Board Member?
Why should parents and voters entrust the welfare of our children and the management of a billion dollar operation to a gaggle of ghosts?


Isn’t it time for you to endorse Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams for retention, given their record of positive accomplishments?


Sincerely,
Russell W Haas

Oh The Hypocrisy!
Walking out of the library this Friday, a flyer caught my eye, titled “Poor stewardship of taxpayers’ dollars add up!” The flyer was an attempt to condemn the school board’s spending. Imagine my surprise that one of the items was this: “$850,000 – G/T (Gifted and Talented) program contrary to Community Budget Survey Results.” This budget item was poor stewardship? Really? 


A bit of background/context: Under Colorado’s “Exceptional Children’s Educational Act” that governs special education (SPED) and gifted and talented (GT) programming in the state, children identified in these categories are each assigned a customized learning plan. For a child that is identified as “special needs,” they receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP) while a child identified as a “gifted and talented” learner receives an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). However, unlike a child with an IEP who has both federal and state dollars supporting their learning plan, districts receive only a slight grant from the state for their GT students. Funding for GT programming to address their special needs is almost wholly at the mercy of their school districts.


Jefferson County has been a leader in Gifted Education for decades, but during the financial crisis, Jeffco’s annual financial support for our GT students dwindled to less than $150,000, while state funding stagnated at $750,000 per year, even as the number of students with ALPs continued to grow. In the 2010–2011 school year, with ALP students making up 10% of Jeffco students, funding per GT student was only approximately $90.00 per student.


In the spring of 2013, I attended the school board’s study session regarding the needs and educational support requirements for GT students. It was at that meeting that discussion began about providing additional funding to meet the needs of Jeffco’s ALP students. 


After the new school board was elected in November 2013, the five board members had a retreat to set more specific student achievement goals for the district. One of the goals supported on a 5-0 vote was improved achievement growth for GT students. 


Achieving this goal required additional financial resources, especially in light of the fact that the GT population now makes up over 12% of Jeffco students. 


This brings me to the famous (or infamous) online “Community Budget Survey” that was open for only a week, and received only 13,000 replies, many of which were from people who voted more than once. Moreover, background information on the spending options listed was not provided, nor were the Board’s top five achievement improvement priorities listed (one of which was for GT students). So it came as no surprise that survey respondents listed “higher pay for teachers” as the highest priority.


To their credit, the Board of Education took input from this survey as just one of many inputs into their budget decision-making. Another input was the results of the survey of ALP students’ parents that was conducted by the district, which showed widespread dissatisfaction with GT programming and achievement results in Jeffco.


The end result was that the Board allocated an additional $850,000 in funding to programming for Jeffco’s GT students. All five board members stepped up and supported GT because it was the right thing to do, and my son’s neighborhood school now has a GT resource teacher helping his other teachers understand what he needs to soar academically and socially.


The Board did the right thing. The people at “supportjeffcokids.org” who are supporting the Recall have not. In fact, they are hypocrites, in that some of them actually have children who are benefitting from the additional GT resources that they now have the audacity to attack. Despite that, they have made their position clear, and I fear that if the Recall succeeds, GT funding will be severely cut in Jeffco, and my child’s education will suffer as a result. I will not be voting for the recall.


Rachel Sanders
Thankful Mom of a GT Young Man in a Neighborhood School

Independent Thinker
I was prepared to support the former teachers running for the school board in the two open seats for districts three and four. You see I am registered unaffiliated for a reason. I like to base my voting decisions on the merits of each individual candidate. I am socially pretty liberal and fiscally very conservative. We work hard for our money in our home. We save, invest and try to be responsible, so I don’t like to give any more of it away than necessary. I was happy to learn the new board was not going to borrow to build the new school up north. 


I also like diversity and I know that Jeffco is a county with residents across the political spectrum. I was considering voting for the two former teachers to keep the board balanced. Then came the recall and I still thought well, the recall may or may not go through, but the former teachers are independent, so that is probably the way to go.


I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG. Next thing I know those two teachers are joining the two attorneys and the former principal and calling themselves the “clean slate.” What happened to an independent voice? That went out the window fast. Then I read the former teacher running for district four has called at least one seated board member a liar. Now that is not the kinder, more collaborative voice I was seeking. 


The clean slate is now crystal clear. They want it their way or the highway. They claim a bipartisan team but in reality the Democrats are supporting and working for their election. I want independent thinkers on my board. 


Sue Thompson
Independent Thinker

Why does Planned Parenthood care about the Jeffco School Board?
As a teenager I used Planned Parenthood for health screenings so I suppose that is how I ended up on the email list of Planned Parenthood Votes. I have periodically received emails encouraging me to support some legislation or another. 


I was very surprised when I received two emails over the last couple of months supporting the school board recall. The first email asked me to sign the petition or help to get signatures on the petitions. The email said they intended to deny access to sex education, and proposed to censor education about healthy relationships. That worried me so I looked on the district web site at information on past board meetings and couldn’t find anything about sex ed on any agenda. 


Then I received another email in September encouraging me to campaign for the recall. Again they said that the board planned to censor sex education. Why are they lying about that? And why do they care?


Nancy Graham
Arvada

Revival of Parents’ Voice for the Special Needs Child
A few years ago I started to attend the Special Education Accountability Committee (SEAC) meetings in Jeffco. The meetings were originally designed to allow parents to provide feedback to the district on how to better serve SPED students. Back in 2012, after Dr. Chandler was hired to direct SPED services, the meetings became contentious and the district seemed more worried about avoiding liability than focusing on the needs of the students. 

After a number of months, Dr. Chandler decided to discontinue the SEAC meetings rather than return them to their original intention and parents’ voices were silenced. 

Dr. Chandler’s shenanigans didn’t stop with shutting down SEAC. She moved counselors away from supporting GT students in the middle of the school year (2014–15) and then recommended nursing reductions at Fletcher Miller where many of our most severely challenged students are educated. Fortunately the new superintendent didn’t agree and Dr. Chandler and the district parted ways. (I learned later that Dr. Chandler was hired by the former superintendent after being dismissed from her job in Adams 14.)That was great news for those of us that have children with special needs in Jeffco. Even better, the school board appointed someone to lead an audit of the entire department. 

Last week the school board had a meeting and talked about Special Education services in the district. (My son needs constant supervision, so I could not go, but I did watch the live stream.) I was happy to hear they were going to start the SEAC again. 

My thoughts on the meeting: 1) The Board actually talked about the achievement of SPED kids. When was the last time THAT happened? 2) While I appreciate the overview of services, I would have liked to have heard from parents and what they think. When asked by Mr. Newkirk about the parents’ perspective, Director Polly Lutz cited a state survey that reached out to 200 parents in Jeffco. That’s less than 3% of the total number of SPED students. Really? Here’s a suggestion - how about Director Lutz send all of us a survey asking us what we think? 3) Sadly, boys account for approximately 64% of the SPED population – are we diagnosing boys differently? 

The board asked for more information and an update on the audit. I look forward to the answers. 

So, thanks from me to this new board for starting to talk about how to help our special needs kids. There is more work to do, but I appreciate a seat at the table again. 

Charles Gooden
Father of a Special Needs Child in a Jeffco School

Jeffco’s New Charter, GVCA
My children, now in 5th and 7th grade, attended a classical academy in Phoenix for three years and received a stellar education. They rose to the many challenges and grew leaps and bounds with amazing enthusiasm. We moved back to CO, my home state, a year ago and my children attended the local public school for one year. I was not impressed by the curriculum, the instruction, or the apathy to learning that my children adopted. Within the first week of attending GVCA the spark came back for my kids. They have not stopped talking about the “cool” stuff they are learning. The biggest difference that I notice is that my kids are learning how to learn not just what to learn. I am so grateful that my kids are back in this kind of environment and we pleasantly look forward to the many years that we will be a part of this community.


I know that some people think this school is blurring the lines between the church and state and that there is some kind of religious conservative teaching happening here. This is not the case. This is a secular school and as an atheist and a liberal I feel welcome and grateful that my children and I are part of this community. 


Dana Hummels
GVCA Parent