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 5: Kathy Miks and Mary Parker.
The profiles of District 1 candidates were published on Oct 6. District 2 candidates profiles were published Oct. 7.
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?
Improving student achievement requires a good way of evaluating curricula and teaching techniques. The Colorado Read Act (SB19-199) is a good example of such an effort. It requires that all K-3 teachers complete evidence-based training in teaching reading. In addition, the Read Act includes an advisory list of programs and assessments and the development of Read Plans for students identified with a significant reading deficiency. Districts and schools will be held accountable for student progress in the District/School Performance Frameworks and are expected to use this data to inform the development and implementation of their Unified improvement Plans.
Ultimately, the best measure of student achievement is how successful a student is in their pursuit of a career or higher education after graduation. Unfortunately, because we have no mechanism in place to do that, the focus today is on standardized test scores. These scores only measure a point in time and not student progress. Even colleges are recognizing that SAT and ACT scores are not adequate measures of student achievement. GPAs are more appropriate when evaluating a student’s likelihood of success in college. Teacher assessments via report cards are the best measures we have today in K-12 education as they can show progress as well as a grade. Tests that are given at several points in the school year would also be useful in measuring student achievement.
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?
My absolute top priority is keeping our kids in the classroom safely, for uninterrupted learning. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever that we focus on public health and safety. We need to use the exceptional resources and expertise that are available in our county to get through these challenging times.
Additionally, a top priority of mine is attracting and retaining teachers and support staff. Jeffco is currently experiencing a critical shortage of bus drivers, substitute teachers, food workers, and even food. If our kids are not able to get to school or if there is no teacher in the classroom, they will not be able to get the education they deserve. As a school board member, I would ensure that we are paying competitive salaries and have effective recruiting plans to attract new employees.
And finally, guaranteeing transparency and effective communications between the school board, the community, and the schools is key to student success. Everyone needs to be pulling together to give our kids a high-quality educational experience so that they graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in life. As a school board member, I would visit schools regularly to see the students and talk with school staff. In addition, I would encourage parents and community members to attend and speak at school board meetings.
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 was very excited to attend the ribbon cutting at the south campus of Warren Tech on Sep. 24. Having more career and technical options for our students is very important. However, some students have long bus rides to get to the Warren Tech programs. In the mountain areas, they have to take multiple RTD bus routes to get to the campuses. As a board member, I would explore the possibility of using extra space that may be available in some existing Jeffco schools, especially schools with low enrollment. The more locations we have, the easier it will be for all students to attend CTE classes.
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?
Unfortunately, I have heard from several teachers that the health protocols, especially the wearing of masks, have not been enforced at the school level. Not only do some parents object to their children wearing masks, but some teachers are also opposed to masks and have chosen not to enforce their use in their classrooms. Principals must enforce all health protocols and the Superintendent must make sure that they are doing so. The data clearly shows that only recommending and not enforcing masks has led to higher COVID case counts and quarantines. There should be clear lines of communications for reporting infringements from the school level up and the Superintendent must regularly check in with the schools to ensure that protocols are being followed.
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)?
As a school board member, I would ensure that district policies relating to ADA and civil rights protections for at-risk students are prominently available and promoted. In addition, I would encourage all school staff to be trained in mental health first aid. And finally, I would work with school support staff to give them training in how to identify and deal with bullying. Our bus drivers, food workers, custodians, and others are often the first to see signs of bullying or mental health issues that indicate a student is at-risk. All students should feel safe and included when they go to school. They deserve to be treated with respect and feel accepted for who they are. It is up to the adults in the school district to ensure this is happening.
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.