In November 2021, voters will select from seven school board candidates running for three open Jeffco School Board seats in Districts 1, 2, and 5. All candidates are running for four-year terms that will end in late 2025.
Candidates Danielle Varda and Jeffrey Wilhite are running for the District 1 seat that is currently held by Brad Rupert.
In District 2, candidates David Johnson, Paula Reed, and Theresa Shelton are running for the seat currently held by Susan Harmon.
In District 5, Kathy Miks and Mary Parker are running. The District 5 seat is currently held by Rick Rush, who was appointed in December 2020 after Ron Mitchell resigned in November 2020, citing health issues and a desire to spend more time with family. Rush, who had previous filled a District 5 vacancy from October 2008 to November 2009, chose not to run for the seat this fall.
Neither Harmon nor Rupert were eligible to run, having served one and a half terms already. Jeffco School Board members are limited to serving for two full terms.
Jeffco PEN school board candidate questionnaire
On Sept. 27, Jeffco PEN sent a list of questions to all seven candidates. Three candidates responded, three directed readers to their campaign websites, and one did not respond.
We printed the questions that we sent to all candidates and their answers exactly as they responded, proofreading only for typos or formatting for our website.
Today, we feature the candidates from District 2: Johnson, Reed, and Shelton. Johnson did not respond to our message.
The profiles of District 1 candidates were published yesterday.
Profiles for District 5 candidates can be found here.
More information about candidates is also available on each candidate’s website. Candidate websites and information about forums are included after the profiles.
What can Jeffco Schools do to improve student achievement? What is the best way to measure that achievement?
It is tempting to measure achievement by standardized test scores. They are easy—short, sweet, all in one place. Unfortunately, they do not tell the whole story, only a small piece. In fact, many colleges have stopped relying upon such tests as the ACT and SAT as predictors of college success, finding GPA to be better for this purpose. This would suggest that, on the whole, the evaluations teachers do in class are pretty good indicators of students’ skills.
We need to look at our students’ graduation rates, as well as their success in post-secondary education and training and employment. These things are the end goal of k-12 education and the most important indicators of success. If these areas are not where they need to be, they are where we need to focus on improvement. Career and Technical Ed teachers gather this data for graduates, so the mechanisms to do so exist.
One thing is certain, using any of these indicators as ways to simply label schools or students as successes or failures is counterproductive. They should be viewed as indicators of places where more support is needed. For example, our current test scores and graduation rates both indicate that we can be doing better by our boys and many of our students who are ethnic and racial minorities. We need to get to the root of the issues here. When minority students answered questions in the Make Your Voice Heard Survey, they tended to rate their school culture lower than White students. School culture has an undeniable impact on learning. When students do not feel safe, heard, and represented, it is hard to learn. This is the kind of root cause analysis we need to improve achievement overall.
Besides student achievement, what are three other priority issues facing Jeffco Schools today and what steps would you take as a school board member to address those issues?
First, we must keep our children safely in school, in person, without interruption. This is best accomplished by working in tandem with Jefferson County Public Health. National data shows that vaccines have been highly effective in preventing the spread of COVID and making it less likely that, in the relatively rare instances of breakthrough infections, people have to be hospitalized. I would strongly encourage all eligible students and staff to get the COVID vaccine. In the state of Colorado, we are also seeing less spread in schools where masks are mandatory. Until children can be vaccinated, or JCPH advises otherwise, I would support continued masking.
The longer-term issue is attracting and retaining great educators and support professionals. We have reached a point where we do not have sufficient funds in the budget to pay support professionals at market rates, and as a result we do not have enough bus drivers, substitute teachers, food service workers, and other vital personnel. One of the current recommendations of the District Financial Oversight Committee is possibly raising class sizes. The worst thing we can do is to tell educators that we cannot pay as much as Cherry Creek, Littleton, or Boulder, and by the way, we’re giving you more students. Where salaries fall a bit short, work/life balance can make up some of the deficit. This is a lesson a number of startup companies can teach us.
At some point we need to address the place where the biggest gap in funding is occurring — the state budget. According to the Colorado School Financing Project, from 2009 to the present, Jefferson County has lost $914,417,425 in state funding. We are seeing and feeling this shortfall and really do not have a local way of recovering it. As a board, and frankly, in conjunction with other school boards across the state, we need to demand that school funding comply with state constitutional requirements. Otherwise, we will see excellent potential employees choose industries other than education.
Will you prioritize expanding Warren Tech programming so that programs are available at multiple campuses to reach more students? If so, what steps will you take as a board member to achieve this goal?
I believe that Warren Tech, Career and Technical Education, and apprenticeships are vitally important. There are many vacancies for good jobs in the skilled trades in Colorado and not enough people with the training to do them. As a former teacher in an alternative program, I can tell you that we have lots of kids who may not look successful in school by traditional academic standards but who will work hard and learn fast when they see the curriculum as relevant and when they understand that it will gain them independence quickly. One of the best investments this county has made in recent years is the expansion of Warren Tech to multiple campuses. I would support leveraging a variety of apprenticeships as part of Warren Tech’s curriculum, as well. This should absolutely be one of our budget priorities.
What will you do to ensure the Superintendent not only follows the recommendations of the CDC, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and Jefferson County Public Health with regard to COVID protocols, but also enforces compliance in our schools in light of the data clearly demonstrating that schools that only recommended masks have higher case counts and quarantines?
The most important thing we can do is to set a clear expectation that the superintendent will follow JCPH’s mandates and to support her in enforcing them. We need to give the message from the top down that we will do what it takes to keep our kids in school as safely as possible. That said, if the superintendent feels the mandates are unwarranted, I would hope we could have conversations about that and arrive at policies we all feel are the right ones to move forward with.
How, specifically, will you work as a school board member to address ADA protections and civil rights of at-risk students, specifically our most marginalized student populations (students of color, students with disabilities, LGBTQAI+ students, students living in poverty, ELL, marginalized gender identifies and religions)?
These are cultural issues, as well as structural ones, and tending to all of them means starting with a central premise: it is only fair that ALL our students feel welcome in our schools and can take full advantage of the opportunities that an excellent public education provides.
Structures must exist and be supported that will open access to kids with disabilities to everything their peers have access to. They must also exist so we can both bridge and respect language differences. While English fluency is necessary, students should be encouraged to keep their native languages. Being multilingual is a true asset in today’s global marketplace, and the loss of language is too often a loss of culture and identity.
In all aspects of identity, children need to feel welcome and accepted for who they are. There are opportunities for professional development here—when teachers and staff understand the literal life or death importance of respecting children’s identities and are educated in the ways they may cause unintended harm, they can model the respectful behavior that is expected at school.
Early on in my career, on the first day of class, I openly and explicitly banned the use of gay as a pejorative in my classroom as well as the use of the word fag, and I followed up consistently. In the years that followed, I have had many LGBTQ+ students talk about how me having explicitly made this a priority made them feel welcome and helped them know that if they ever needed to talk to an adult about being bullied or treated badly, they could come to me. Let’s make that the case for all the adults in our buildings. No child should face bullying without adult allies.
Thanks so much for reaching out with the invitation to submit answers to these questions. I appreciate the focus from questions #1-2, and my thoughts on both are covered in more detail on my website. In addition, the forums all school board candidates attended last week included questions related to items #3-5 above, so my thoughts on these as well are already presently available to the public on videos posted by each forum sponsor on their website.
Candidate websites and candidate forum information
Jeffco School Board District 1
Danielle Varda — daniellevardaforjeffcoschools.com
Jeffrey Wilhite — wilhiteforjeffcostudents.com
Jeffco School Board District 2
David Johnson — decisiontime.org
Paula Reed — paulareedforjeffcoschools.com
Theresa Shelton — sheltonforjeffcostudents.com
Jeffco School Board District 5
Kathy Miks — miksforjeffcostudents.com
Mary Parker — maryparkerforjeffcoschools.com
Jeffco School Board candidate forums
- Support Jeffco Kids and Jeffco PTA co-hosted a forum on Sept. 29. The forum was held via Zoom and the video is posted here.
- Oct. 11, 4-6 pm, sponsored by the Westminster Chamber of Commerce. Access the forum on the Westminster Chamber of Commerce Facebook page and YouTube channel. More details can be found on the Chamber’s website.
- Oct. 13, 6-7:30 pm, sponsored by the Colorado Statewide Parent Coalition and Edgewater Collective. Via Zoom. Spanish interpretation will be provided. Register to attend through the Edgewater Collective.
- Oct. 14, 7 pm, sponsored by the Lakewood AAUW. Held in-person at Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church (920 Kipling St., Lakewood). Masks required. The 6:30 pm program begins with a statewide ballot issue presentation.
- Oct. 15, 7:30-9 am, sponsored by the Arvada Chamber of Commerce. Held in-person at Lamar Street Center (5889 N Lamar St, Arvada). Registration and more details can be found on the Chamber’s website.
Election day is Nov. 2
Ballots will be mailed to Jeffco voters beginning Friday, Oct. 8. Any registered voter in Jeffco can vote for one school board candidate in each district. School board seats are selected through a county-wide vote, though the candidates represent specific parts of Jeffco.
All Jeffco ballots are due by Tuesday, Nov. 2. at 7 pm.