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Past Jeffco Superintendent Hires Shine Light on McMinimee Process

I was sitting on grandpa’s lap Tuesday night when mom let out an exasperated sigh. Unusually, it had nothing to do with me failing to clean up after dinner or leaving my Legos on the living room floor. No, as a good active and concerned mom would do, she was watching the Tweets coming out of the Jeffco school board meeting.

I asked my mom why she looked kind of sad. Apparently, the board meeting had become very contentious — some would say downright nasty — over the hiring of a Jeffco dad, Dan McMinimee, to be the next superintendent. It ended up turning into a brief but important history lesson.

Grandpa reminded us that it has been a long time since Jeffco had a superintendent search. Most parents of students in classes today weren’t around during the previous hiring processes. It was exactly 12 years ago this month when the school board last hired someone for the top position in the district: Cindy Stevenson.

Grandpa helped dig out an ancient article from a former newspaper called the Rocky Mountain News — dated May 23, 2002, with the headline “SURPRISE PICK WAS MADE IN ONLY A WEEK – JEFFCO SCHOOLS’ ATTORNEY: QUICK ACTION WAS LEGAL.” He read us the whole piece, including this part of reporter Nancy Mitchell’s story:

On Monday, Jeffco’s communications department sent out notice of a special 1:15 p.m. board meeting Wednesday. The sole agenda item listed was an executive session, or closed meeting, to discuss a personnel issue.

At about 3 p.m. Wednesday, board members moved immediately from their closed session to a public meeting and voted to offer the superintendent’s job to deputy superintendent Cindy Stevenson.

Dr. Stevenson was selected without any public process. A First Amendment attorney quoted in the Rocky Mountain News said the move violated the spirit of the Open Meetings Law, while the school district lawyer said the move was technically okay.

But at Tuesday night’s meeting, Lesley Dahlkemper, one of the two current school board members who voted against McMinimee, took to the microphone to complain. About what? That there were only 45 minutes of public comment and only one finalist for the superintendent position.

The Denver Post‘s editors make the point that the board may not have helped itself by setting the 45-minute limit. That’s a fair debate. However, compared to the previous hiring process, it looks pretty good.

In fact, going back 20 years, two of the last three Jeffco superintendents were brought forward without any other finalists. The only one who emerged out of a field of multiple finalists and won a 5-0 vote left five years later on less than the best of terms. (My grandpa is a font of local historical knowledge, let me tell you!)

Some people had a knee-jerk reaction against one of the places McMinimee used to work, even though he fits the description of a well-qualified career educator who has the potential to bring Jeffco together and focus on higher academic achievement goals. The following are some recent results for Dougco secondary schools, which he currently oversees:

  • All middle and high school TCAP scores have gained ground since 2009
  • Slight but steady growth has continued in already high average ACT scores
  • The on-time graduation rate rose from 83% to 89% in the past three years
  • The two district high schools that took the international PISA test rated on par with some of the best countries in math and reading

Add that on top of the comments made by his colleague Tom Lawson, who told the Jeffco board Tuesday that “Dan’s always been a champion for our teachers.” That hardly sounds awful to me.

Still, the Post might also be right that some terms of McMinimee’s contract should be reexamined. There seems to be broad agreement on the board about that. I’ll leave those details to the big people to work out. Except I’ll say it would send the right message to tie a significant portion of the new superintendent’s pay to measures of performance.

As for me, I agree with grandpa it is certainly time, as Dr. Carle (an earlier Jeffco superintendent) would say, to focus on what the students need. After all, Jeffco’s 3rd grade reading numbers declined again this year, and the middle and high school scores haven’t been trending so strong either.

Given all the history and facts I’ve learned, this Dan McMinimee at least deserves a chance to rise above the din and the unsettling anger to see what he can do. After all, change certainly is needed. Oops. Speaking of change, I spilled spaghetti-os on my white shirt….