Amanda Stevens

Jeffco Students Deserve Great Teachers

Tests measure.

Curriculum guides.

Resources enable.

Opportunities enrich.

However, none of these tools are most essential to student learning. What is most essential is our teachers teaching well, for they bring all these tools together in service to students. But Jeffco teachers are leaving. In droves.

I have two young children in Jeffco schools, so when I hear that we are facing a higher than 50% increase in teacher turnover in the last year, I grieve. When I learn of another beloved teacher exiting our building for a nearby district’s classrooms, I worry. Losing effective, experienced educators  is a deep wound, and especially painful when it is caused by an unnecessary culture of disrespect, fear, and conflict. Replacing and training new teachers is a costly, slow endeavor–while my children’s time in the classroom ticks on.

To the teachers who are leaving Jeffco to find respectful leadership, quality collaboration, and sustainable livings elsewhere, you are already missed. When Jeffco is once again the destination district for teachers looking for these things, then we will know we are back on the right track for all students.

However, I want to spend my words today communicating with the teachers and staff who are staying.

Thank you.

You willingly sacrificed by living with pay cuts and pay freezes during the Recession. You are committed to high quality and life-enabling education for all students. You work to challenge and nurture learners in your classrooms, serving children as whole, unique individuals, and tailoring your work to their needs. You spend your own time and money to build vibrant classroom activities and communities.

And now, during a time of controversy and extreme partisan agendas, you maintain your resolution and commitment to providing Jefferson County students with the world class education they deserve.

Each of you is an antibody that speeds our district’s healing. As a parent, community member, voter, and now school board candidate, I will speed that healing too.

The Importance of Listening

Below are the public comments I made at the school board meeting last night (June 11, 2015) as a concerned Jeffco parent.

Strong leadership knows how to listen.

I want to tell you a story about when I learned the importance of listening. Years ago, I scolded a student (I was a high school teacher in Chicago then) who was fiddling with a slinky in the middle of class. He had an essay to write! He wouldn’t listen when I asked him to put it away, not even when I told him to hand it over. “Is this slinky worth a trip to the dean’s office?” I asked. He wouldn’t relent, so I sent him out of class. Later that day, with a school counselor by his side, he apologized to me for the slinky incident. Then he explained the counselor gave it to him at the beginning of the day to carry with him–to handle and hold onto–because it was gonna be a tough day. Over the weekend, his cousin had died in his arms, a victim of neighborhood violence. Suffice it to say I overwhelmed his apology with an apology of my own. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me?” But that’s just it. I didn’t ask. I didn’t start by listening.

I thought my agenda was the most important one that day. I was wrong. Other stakeholders always bring essential insights we cannot access on our own.

We can’t afford assumptions or agendas to trump what Jeffco students need, which is their schools and their teachers.

Today you have the opportunity to listen–to your district leadership, your community, your Financial Oversight and Capital Asset Committees, and your educators. Please listen to their recommendations.

And as you move into the next year, please renew your relationship with the Colorado Association of School Boards–a supportive network and a community of peers–committed to the same work you do for public education and all of your district’s students–where you can listen, learn, dialogue, and contribute.

Isolation doesn’t serve; listening and engaging does, and we are all life-long learners.

Additionally, here are the links to the Financial Oversight Committee and Capital Asset Advisory Committee recommendations.

Board Docs: CAAC Support Letter (January 5, 2015)

Board Docs: FOC Facility Planning Support Letter (January 14, 2015)

Jeffco Schools Budget Direction 2015-16

When constituents and expert advice speak with strong clarity and unity, leaders listen. I believe now is the time for the Jeffco school board to move forward with investments in teacher compensation and COPs.

Colorado’s economy is booming, but our schools’ budgets are still bleeding. My children, and many others, have never known a fully funded school.

Jeffco’s Board of Education did not create this problem, but it is their responsibility to act to address it in the best interests of all Jeffco students. When I win a seat on the Jeffco school board, I will

  • value the voice of educators, expert advice, and community members in decisions
  • protect a role for JCEA in solving the challenges Jeffco faces
  • prioritize first and highest all students’ best interests

There is strong support that the necessary way forward is for the board to approve the issuance of COPs to address immediate facilities needs, then use available budget to further buttress reserves and address the $27 million a year debt the district owes its teachers, who sacrificed through years of voluntary pay cuts and pay freezes during the Great Recession.

At a recent school board meeting, the Superintendent, the Chief Operations Officer, Cabinet Leadership, the Financial Oversight Committee, the Capital Asset Advisory Committee, and the community’s budget input all expressed support of this action.

Now is not the time to make any political issue or personal preference take precedence over the needs of Jeffco students. Jeffco doesn’t need stubbornness from its board members but stamina and courage–to listen, learn, then invest in our schools, our educators, and our future.

You can make a difference for all Jeffco students. Please donate to my campaign today, and sign up to stay connected to my efforts.

You can also read my public comments from last night here.