New school board members take seats

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Board elects officers, addresses audience

By Daniel Laverty

Jeffco’s three newly elected school board members wasted no time getting comfortable in their positions at last Thursday’s meeting.

After Julie Williams, John Newkirk and Ken Witt were sworn in, the new board elected officers, addressed the community and tried to put at ease parents and teachers, who raised concerns during public comment.

How we got here

Williams, Newkirk and Witt captured three seats on the Jeffco Board of Education in the Nov. 5 election, dramatically changing the political orientation of the board.

The three conservative candidates campaigned on increasing school choice for parents, protecting student data and making the board more accessible to the community.

After each of the three took the oath of office, Witt was unanimously elected board president. Williams was elected vice president, and Newkirk was named board secretary. The board also chose board member Jill Fellman to serve as treasure and former board president Lesley Dahlkemper to serve as second vice president.

Each board member then addressed the audience.

“My hope for this board, moving forward, is that we stay focused on our No. 1 mission, student achievement,” Dahlkemper said.

“I want to continue to ensure that our teachers have the resources and flexibility they need to be effective,” Williams said. “And to the community, I want to make sure that your voices are heard, valued and respected. You spoke in this last election, and I thank you.”

“I want to make sure that we are paying our best teachers very well so that we can retain them,” Newkirk said. “I want to make sure that we are paying new Jeffco teachers very well so that we can attract the best and the brightest.

Newkirk added that he also wants to look at ways to lower fees for parents.

Addressing the community

Witt took the microphone and tried to put concerned teachers and parents at ease.

“I want to do some rumor control,” he said. “In response to some of the things I and others have heard and read.”

Witt said the new board members look forward to working with the teachers unions and honoring collective bargaining agreements. He also said the new board wants to raise teachers’ salaries.

“I have no intention of being Douglas County,” Witt said. “We want to be the best ‘Jeffco’ we can be, and not (follow) Douglas or Denver county models, but Jeffco models.”

Witt mentioned that the new board will be tasked with finding a new superintendent, as current Superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s last day will be June 30, 2014, after she announced her retirement at the previous meeting.

“We are saddened that our superintendent has tendered her resignation,” Witt said. “We will do a nationwide search for a new superintendent, and I can assure you we have no intention of our new superintendent being a former school board member.”

Witt said he wants to discuss streaming board meetings online, offering online sign-up for public comment and moving meetings to different high schools around the district.

Addressing the board

The meeting room was packed with parents, teachers and district staff last Thursday. More than 30 attendees spoke during public comment.

“(The board) decided very deliberately to start (our tenure) by listening,” Witt said after the meeting.

Comments ranged from support for the new board to concerns over Jeffco’s future.

“I hope the board takes the time to look at all the great things that are going on in our Jeffco schools,” said Elizabeth Morgan, biology teacher at Lakewood High School.

“I’ve witnessed what a confident, qualified and experienced teacher can do in regards to student achievement,” a Foster Elementary parent said. “This environment has been created due the level of respect and value teachers have been given by their principal and (board members).”

“I’m not scared of this board,” a parent said. “I support you as you seek out new ways to innovate, to lead our children … offer (greater) transparency and perhaps a tighter care of taxpayer dollars.”

Many parents and teachers thanked the board for Witt’s comments earlier in the meeting about not wanting to turn the district into Douglas County, where the school board has been at odds with the teachers union. Speakers offered their thanks and support, and pleaded with the board to continue down the “successful path (Jeffco) has been on.”

Retreat planned

The board scheduled its bi-yearly retreat for Dec. 14 at Wheat Ridge High School. Witt asked Stevenson to prepare information on the district’s reserve funds and on the impacts of taking $5 million to $7 million from reserves to reduce parents’ fees and give a one-time bonus to teachers.

The board also decided to change the time meetings start. Meetings have traditionally started at 6 p.m., but the new board decided to start meetings at 6:30 p.m., hoping to make the meetings more accessible for parents.

Meeting times were also changed to accommodate the schedule of Williams, who works in Boulder.

The next school board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at Lakewood High School, 9700 W. Eighth Ave.

For more information, visit www.jeffcopublicschools.org.

Contact Daniel Laverty at Daniel@evergreenco.com or at 303-350-1042. Follow him on Twitter at @LavertyReports. Check www.ColumbineCourier.com for updates.