Big decision

One year after recall election, Jefferson County school board weighing superintendent’s fate

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Dan McMinimee met with the Jeffco community in 2014 before being hired as Superintendent.

The Jefferson County school board has begun discussions to decide the fate of Superintendent Dan McMinimee, one year after voters ousted the conservative board members who hired him.

McMinimee was a controversial pick when he was hired in summer 2014. He had no experience as superintendent, and had previously been an assistant superintendent at the Douglas County School District — a district that had ended negotiations with its teachers union.

The recall campaign at times focused on McMinimee and his salary package. But when the recall was successful, new board members said they would give the superintendent a chance.

McMinimee’s $220,000 contract expires June 30 and board members must decide if they will renegotiate a contract with him or launch a search for a new superintendent.

If the board decides to retain McMinimee, they must notify him in writing by March 31 under the terms of his contract.

Jeffco school board members held an executive session last week during a conference in Colorado Springs in which they started discussions on the superintendent’s contract, a district spokeswoman said. The board is scheduled to go into executive session again Thursday to continue the discussion.

“You don’t wait until the contract expires,” Ron Mitchell, the Jeffco school board president, told Chalkbeat. “Should the board be thinking we want to go in another direction, that requires a fair amount of prior planning. That’s the rationale for the timing — the only reason we’re beginning those discussions.”

If the board wanted to part ways with McMinimee before his contract expires without attempting to fire him with cause, the district would need to pay him the amount of one year’s base salary, according to his contract. If the superintendent wants to terminate the contract, he would have to give the board six months notice or be charged for damages.

McMinimee said Wednesday that he would like to stay in the district and hopes the board can make a decision soon. He said he expects a chance at Thursday’s meeting to address any board concerns.

“We have a significant amount of work we have to get started in January,” McMinimee said. “This needs to get resolved so we can focus on that.”

After the start of the new year, district staff will be working on drafting next year’s budget and finding ways to cut back on projects that would have been funded if the district’s bond and mill levy requests had prevailed at the ballot box last month.

In the last few months, board members and McMinimee have discussed his performance during open meetings as part of his evaluation process.

In September, the board finalized one evaluation used to determine if McMinimee was eligible for up to $40,000 in bonuses tied to district goals. The evaluation, required by his contract, determined that he helped the district reach more than half of the goals, including raising scores on state tests and on the ACT test, and creating school accountability teams at every district school.

McMinimee received the lowest scores of partially effective on three out of the 12 goals including one related to creating a new charter school application process, and for mixed results increasing the number of third-graders meeting or exceeding expectations in reading.

Based on the review, McMinimee received $20,000 in performance pay.

After that evaluation, the board started the work of setting the superintendent goals for next year. McMinimee presented a draft of his suggested goals at a meeting two weeks ago.

During that discussion, board members pushed back on the draft, suggesting that some of the goals McMinimee had set should be expectations of his job, not additional goals for bonuses. They asked for more goals that can be tied to reliable data.

Under McMinimee’s tenure, the second largest school district in Colorado has made changes to a group of schools on the district’s more impoverished eastern boundary, including expanding Alameda and Jefferson high schools into seventh through 12th grade campuses.

The district has also moved toward giving principals more autonomy. That included a switch to a student-based budget system that provides schools a set amount of money per student and more flexibility in spending. The recent defeat of the district’s bond and mill levy requests mean some plans for new schools and for renovations will be put on hold.

“I’m thankful the board gave me an opportunity to continue and work on some of the initiatives we were already doing — things like the Jeffco 2020 Vision,” McMinimee said, referring to the district’s goals and strategic plan, which predates last year’s election.

“I’m very proud of the work that my staff has done,” he said. “I don’t know of many people that would have held in there with some of the things that have happened. And I’m referring to my cabinet. I’m very proud we have not wavered.”

Father of TVAAS

William Sanders, pioneer of controversial value-added model for judging teachers, dies

William Sanders, who developed the TVAAS method for measuring a teacher's effect on student performance, died on March 16. Retired since 2013, he had been living in Columbia, Tenn.

William Sanders, the Tennessee statistician and researcher who came up with the nation’s first system for evaluating teachers based on student growth, kicking off a contentious, decades-long debate about how best to measure learning, has died.

Sanders died late last week of natural causes in a hospital in Franklin, Tenn., his family said. He was 74.

A former professor at the University of Tennessee and senior research fellow with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Sanders is best known as the developer of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS. That model has become the foundation for judging the effectiveness of teachers in Tennessee public schools, and has been emulated in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and cities across the nation — playing a key role in one of education reform’s central debates.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called Sanders’ death “a loss to the education community.”

“During his career, Dr. Sanders made significant contributions to the conversation on how to distinguish our most effective educators in terms of improving academic achievement,” McQueen said in a statement on Monday.

Sanders’ value-added model, also known as the Educational Value-Added Assessment System, became a lightning rod for criticism by many teachers and teachers unions skeptical about whether it yields fair and unbiased estimates.

The model has prompted numerous federal lawsuits charging that the evaluation system, which is now tied to teacher pay and tenure in Tennessee, doesn’t take into account student-level variables such as growing up in poverty. In 2014, the American Statistical Association called its validity into question, and other critics have said TVAAS should not be the sole tool used to judge teachers.

The method measures the effects of a teacher, school or district on student performance by tracking the progress of students against the progress they would be expected to make based on their previous performance. The formula is complex, the method requires a huge database, and the name is a mouthful to say. But the model is meant to show the “value” that was added by each teacher, school or district when measured by the change in student test scores each year.

Sanders’ research soon zeroed in on teachers as the most important part of the equation.

“Determining the effectiveness of individual teachers hold the most promise because, again and again, findings from TVAAS research show teacher effectiveness to be the most important factor in the academic growth of students,” he co-wrote in a 1998 paper. “A component linking teacher effectiveness to student outcomes is a necessary part of any educational evaluation system.”

Sanders went on to become a national leader in policy discussions on value-added assessments.

In his obituary, his family said that Sanders’ findings challenged decades of assumptions that the impact of student family life, income or ethnicity superseded the quality of classroom instruction. That conclusion has been complicated by other research showing that teachers matter more than other aspects of a school, but not as much as outside factors like poverty.

Sanders “stood for a hopeful view that teacher effectiveness dwarfs all other factors as a predictor of student academic growth,” his family said. He believed that “educational influence matters and teachers matter most.”

Growing up on a Tennessee dairy farm, Sanders devoted most of his research to agricultural or wildlife questions at the University of Tennessee until 1981, when he came across a newspaper article suggesting that there was no way to hold teachers accountable based on test scores. He disagreed and wrote the office of then-Gov. Lamar Alexander to say that the effectiveness of teaching could be measured against the rate of student progress.

“Basically, all I was trying to do is [say] here’s the statistical methodology that solves the problem that some of the critics are talking about,” he told Nashville Public Radio in 2014.

The Tennessee Department of Education commissioned his first wave of research beginning in 1982, and Sanders began by looking at student and teacher data in Knox County. He found that he could measure the impact that a teacher had on a student’s trajectory if he tracked that student’s data over time.

The resulting TVAAS methodology linked student academic outcomes to educational evaluation for the first time. Tennessee teachers began using the data in 1997, and their evaluations became tied to the tool under a 2010 state law.

While teachers and teachers unions pushed back, state lawmakers followed the urging of then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, who said changing the way teachers are evaluated would help the state win a $500 million Race to the Top grant, which Tennessee went on to receive.

TVAAS made Sanders a target for some teachers, who felt like he didn’t understand their work and created a system that was used against them unfairly. But colleagues remembered him as a teacher himself who cared about teachers and students.

“Pennsylvania has Bill to thank for changing the conversations about students — from why they can’t achieve to discussions about growing student[s] at all levels,” said Kristin Lewald, who spearheaded the TVAAS counterpart in that state.

mutual agreement

Dan McMinimee to get superintendent’s wages while serving as Jeffco board adviser

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Dan McMinimee at a meeting with Jeffco parents, teachers, and community members after being named finalist for the Jeffco superintendent job.

Dan McMinimee will continue drawing the same salary he did as superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools while serving in an advisory role through the end of his contract.

McMinimee stepped down from leading the state’s second largest district last week after reaching a mutual agreement with the district. He will stay on as an adviser to the board until his contract expires June 30.

In a deal approved at Thursday night’s board meeting, the board and McMinimee agreed his existing contract was modified, not terminated. If the board had decided to break the contract and ask McMinimee to leave earlier, McMinimee would have been owed a year’s worth of salary: $220,000.

McMinimee will continue to earn his regular salary and benefits but will no longer accumulate vacation time. Based on an estimate for what he would be owed in performance-based pay, the district also agreed to pay McMinimee another $27,000 when the contract ends.

The agreement does not provide new details about McMinimee’s advisory role. It states he will be available “for special projects and consideration as needed and to assist the school district with a transition to a new superintendent.”

The board approved the agreement Thursday night without discussion. Board President Ron Mitchell did note at the start of the meeting that McMinimee was not at his usual seat because “his responsibilities have changed.” He also publicly thanked McMinimee for his time leading the district.

The school board also voted Thursday to officially make Terry Elliott, Jeffco’s chief school effectiveness officer, interim superintendent. Elliott was named to serve that role at the same time McMinimee stepped down.

The district did not speak with Elliott about any salary adjustments related to his new role until Friday, said Diana Wilson, a district spokeswoman. Elliott will receive $4,000 per month from March through June in addition to his regular salary, she said.

Elliott only will hold the interim role until the end of June. He will begin a new job in July as principal of a new Brighton high school.

The firm heading up the search for a new superintendent presented findings Thursday of feedback from surveys and focus groups about what the community wants in a new superintendent.

Among the most-frequent responses were someone who can inspire trust, present a positive image of the district and “respond to the challenges presented by an ethnically and culturally diverse community.”