LAKEWOOD — Dan McMinimee is expected to become the new superintendent of the Jefferson County school system when the board casts its final vote Tuesday night, despite a series of sidewalk protests and contentious community meetings instigated by teacher’s union activists.
The Jefferson County Education Association urged support for teachers during the roadside rallies, and some of their complaints spilled over into community forums that were intended to introduce McMinimee to parents and students.
At the May 19 forum at the Carmody Middle School in Lakewood, union interests overshadowed a question-and-answer session on Common Core, vouchers, all-day kindergarten, and budget and student concerns.
The session evolved into a pushback against the conservative majority on the Jefferson County Board of Education and teacher complaints that they were not appreciated, had not received pay raises, and suffered from low morale.
The agitated audience peppered McMinimee with questions about his tenure with the Douglas County school system, where he has served as assistant superintendent for secondary education for 12 years.
At least one audience member questioned whether McMinimee could be an effective leader of the state’s largest school district because he’s a former football coach and draws much of his leadership philosophy from that experience.
“My concern is that I have a 3rd grade daughter in school, and she’s not a football player,” the parent said. “When you’re coaching football, somebody wins and somebody loses.”
“I want to be sure that Jefferson County schools continues to be the kind of place that…nurtures all kids. Not just the ones whose parents advocate the most strongly for them, not just the ones who are winners in life, but all kids,” the parent said.
Teacher morale was the concern of another parent who said their son’s instructors were “amazing,” but did not specify how educators had allowed their low morale to seep into the classroom.
“One of the things I believe in is that you make your own weather. You can decide to be happy … “ McMinimee said, before his comments were drowned out by shouts and groans from the disgruntled crowd.
One audience member demanded that McMinimee “rethink” his statement. “Our educators are scared,” she said. “They do not have any feeling of security. It’s impacting how they work.”
The crowd at Carmody—comprised of roughly 70 teachers, parents, and union and community members—proved restless and, at times, hostile.
“I hope everyone realizes that I’m one person, and there’s 85,000 kids’ worth of parents in this district. But I’m going to do everything I can,” McMinimee said.
McMinimee remained unruffled despite some snide cracks from the unruly audience.
Even a change in the format of the meeting to ensure a broader range of questions was allowed was met with strong resistance.
“How do we know that the questions that are picked aren’t going to be ones that he would prefer to answer as opposed to ones that he would prefer not to answer?” asked one man, who continued to challenge McMinimee throughout the entire meeting.
McMinimee did not screen questions and used his opportunity to speak to assure parents that rocky issues faced by the school district could be addressed by teamwork between the community and the board.
“Let’s take a breath, and let’s start moving forward in a fashion that’s going to be productive for the kids in our district,” McMinimee said. “We’ve got to shift the focus back to that.”
“At my core, I believe our responsibility as a district is to provide students opportunity to be successful and to use the dollars we have towards that,” McMinimee said.
But some attendees were adamant that McMinimee’s role as superintendent should be to side with teacher unions and against the board of education.
“My responsibility is to advocate for all students and work with the board and provide information about programs and data so that they can make the best decision that they can possibly make,” McMinimee responded.
“Again, my goal is to have great schools across the board. I’m not about change for the sake of change. I think everyone in this room would agree that there may be some things that we can tweak moving forward. That’s what our responsibility is, a series of continual improvements,” McMinimee said.
Given the trajectory of past months, it came as no surprise that attendees left divided, with some won over by McMinimee and the others leaving as frustrated as when they arrived.