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New superintendent determined to find common ground

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Amid divided school board and district, McMinimee stresses 'student goals'

By Daniel Laverty

Hired by a divided school board and suddenly at the helm of a district riven by political strife, Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee says he's determined to build bridges and develop relationships.

The Douglas County administrator took over the Jeffco school district July 1, and his first order of business was getting to know district staff — and letting them get to know him.

McMinimee met with about 200 district employees on his first day and outlined his immediate goals for the district. The new superintendent also is making plans to meet with principals and teachers at the district’s 155 schools.

“Developing relationships is a key piece,” he said in his office last week. “We need to have conversations around student goals and outcomes.”

As his first school year approaches, McMinimee said he also wants to establish relationships with key stakeholder groups — chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations and other community groups.

“I know it will take some time, with the size of this district, to meet and talk with everyone,” he said. “I am all about visibility and accessibility for everyone in Jeffco. Give me a call, and let’s try to set up a time to talk. Invite me to your group’s functions.”

Common Core

McMinimee said he wants to take a closer look at Common Core, its curriculum and teaching methods. Common Core sets educational standards across the states that outline what students should know in English and mathematics at  each grade level.

“In general, I don’t know if Common Core is the answer, but there should be basic expectations on what fifth-graders (should know),” he said. 

McMinimee said that while it's important to measure what students are learning, more focus should be placed on how children use that knowledge.

“How can students use (learning) to create something and use a higher level of thinking?” he said. 

Divided votes have become the norm for the school board since a conservative majority won three seats in last November’s election, and that was the case in June when McMinimee was hired. Board members John Newkirk, Julie Williams and Ken Witt voted to hire McMinimee; Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper were opposed.

The board majority said McMinimee is a good fit for Jeffco, while the minority felt more candidates should have been interviewed. McMinimee said the split decision is not affecting him. 

“I didn’t take the 3-2 vote personally,” he said. “I know that    I’m working hard at establishing a relationship with all our members on the school board.”

Jeffco’s new superintendent will be paid a base salary of $220,000, have $20,000 in retirement benefits reimbursed, and be eligible for $40,000 in performance-based incentives. During the recruiting process, the base salary was advertised at $280,000, but that was reduced by the board after McMinimee was selected as the board’s lone finalist.

“For me, this job is more than the salary,” McMinimee said. “I still think I’m being paid a fair salary. I thought the process was fine and fair. Just like with any other job, I knew there would be negotiations around salary and benefits.”

Before hired as Jeffco’s superintendent, McMinimee was assistant superintendent of secondary education for Douglas County Schools, another district where political differences have been in the news. The education veteran has taught at all grade levels and earned a master’s degree in education from Oregon State University.

“There’s a lot of great tradition here at Jeffco,” he said. “You look at business leaders and leaders of our state (and) chances are they’ve gone through Jeffco schools. To be a part of this is just excellent.”

McMinimee and his family live in Jeffco, and his two children graduated from Jeffco Public Schools. 

“I appreciate the opportunity my kids had in Jeffco,” McMinimee said. “To have a chance to give back to this district as its leader is a great opportunity.”

McMinimee replaces Cindy Stevenson, who led the district for 12 years. Stevenson announced her retirement last November and left in February, saying she could work with the new board majority. She now holds a director position with the Colorado Association of School Executives.

The school board has scheduled a retreat Aug. 23 to meet and brainstorm with McMinimee. The time and location have yet to be determined. The meeting will be open to the public.

For more information, visit www.jeffcopublicschools.org.

Contact Daniel Laverty at 303-350-1042 or Daniel@evergreenco.com. Follow Daniel on Twitter @LavertyReports.