“I don’t do things for money,” said McMinimee. “I do things because it’s where I think I can make the most difference.”
In an exclusive interview with The Observer as McMinimee prepared to take the reins at Jefferson County Public Schools, the new administrator expressed his vision for the district and responded to criticisms that were repeatedly raised by the public and the teachers’ union at recent board meetings.
A controversial 3 to 2 decision from the school board June 5 ultimately solidified McMinimee’s contract and he accepted the offer without proposing any revisions.
His contract included a $60,000 base salary pay reduction from the original job posting, a change the board made after heated debates at public meetings regarding McMinimee’s qualifications for the position.
However, the reduction in pay did not dissuade McMinimee from accepting the job.
“We all have to make compromises; we all have to work together,” McMinimee said. “The enthusiasm I have for this position is not necessarily driven by pay. What is more important to me is what impact have I had on the system.”
The controversy over McMinimee’s qualifications was fueled by the school board’s pro-union minority and their supporters who said McMinimee’s experience and educational background was lacking.
McMinimee served as assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Douglas County School system, has three decades of educational experience and a masters degree in education.
Others challenged his selection on the basis he had worked for Dougco where pro-reform board members outnumber union supporters.
Douglas County has experienced major changes in recent years under the new majority, including the expiration of the teachers’ union contract in 2012. For union supporters in Jefferson County, McMinimee’s affiliation prompted unease.
McMinimee says that although he chooses to glean from every situation he has experienced, he also recognizes the unique differences and needs of Jeffco schools.
“I am coming from a district that is very high performing. There are a lot of great things happening in Douglas County around teaching and learning for students,” said McMinimee. “I know that Jefferson County is going to have a different way of addressing some of those things [but] I’ve learned something every single place I’ve been — you get better at your job as you move forward.”
McMinimee’s position as a leader in Douglas County has also fostered concerns of a different kind. He served at the same time that a math teacher at Rocky Heights Middle School was convicted for sexual assault, prompting some opponents to erroneously claim the educator was named in ongoing legal action against the school district.
“Obviously, you can go online and find the specific complaint,” McMinimee said. “I was not named as a defendant.”
“I’ve spent my whole career trying to make school a great place for kids. I vehemently deny any knowledge, any situation, where I was privy to any information that would have hurt a student any time in my career,” McMinimee said.
McMinimee’s educational qualifications have been consistently compared to his twelve-year predecessor, Cindy Stevenson, who stepped down in February following the election of the pro-reform board majority.
Unlike Stevenson, McMinimee does not hold a doctorate degree but received his master of arts in education from Oregon State University.
If a doctorate degree had been an essential requirement for the position, McMinimee pointed out that it should have been included on the original job posting.
In addition to his educational experiences, McMinimee said his life choices shaped his experience.
“When [critics] start talking specifically about not having a doctorate or having a doctorate, I think people make life decisions as they’re involved with their own kids,” he said. “To me, the things that I valued didn’t leave me the opportunity to go get a doctorate.”
“I’ll let my resume stand for itself. I’ve had an opportunity to lead people in a variety of places from being a coach, to a teacher, to a principal, to a district level administrator. I’m not going to apologize for competing for the position,” said McMinimee.
The incoming superintendent’s own children go to school in Jefferson County, but during McMinimee’s first public meeting for the job in May he struggled to answer detailed questions and said he looked forward to learning more about the district.
McMinimee told The Observer he felt it was important to trust the schools and the opinions of his kids. He chose to invest his time as a parent of Jeffco students in the aspects that mattered to his children, not in the running of the entire district.
“Both my wife and I are very engaged in what is important to our students, being involved in athletics with our kids. When it came to being totally involved in the school and the district, there are different parenting styles and different levels of engagement. I had a responsibility and a duty doing what I was supposed to do for the kids in Douglas County. We trusted that the schools were doing right by our students,” McMinimee said.
Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt said the process used to select the new superintendent verified the excellence of McMinimee’s background and experience.
“Mr. McMinimee was the best choice for this district,” said Witt. “We had over 100 applicants and 63 vetted applicants with a nationally recognized, respected firm that made certain they were qualified candidates. Out of that pool, we reviewed at least 13 very closely and interviewed a handful of those,” Witt said.
“At the end of the day, we’re lucky to have a great candidate who does happen to come from Colorado with experience in Colorado and have his children in Colorado, but also a strong leader who understands how to manage and navigate change,” Witt said.
Given the conflict on a multitude of issues in education during the last eight months in Jefferson County, it is clear things are changing, but the new leader takes a positive look at all the tension.
“The good news is that the reason it’s so fractured is because there are a lot of people that care a lot about Jeffco schools,” said McMinimee. “How can you turn that negative energy into positive energy moving forward?”
Listening to the various voices expressing concern and ideas and trying to promote collaboration, both on the board and within the community will be a key priority. Lowering anxiety about the future and encouraging more open, honest, and non-confrontational conversations are also important, McMinimee said.
“In my mind, what’s most important is what is happening in our schools for kids every single day. If we all have the same focus, and we’re all working towards that then hopefully some of those things will take care of themselves,” McMinimee said.
As he prepares for the first day on the job and the challenges and opportunities this position will present, McMinimee anticipates a positive future for the Jeffco district of more than 85,000 students.
“I hope that we’re one of the premier school districts in the State of Colorado and in the nation, that we’ve done the things that have been necessary to get refocused on students first, and that we’ve taken the steps to ensure that our students are able to walk out of our classrooms and our buildings and be successful in whatever endeavor they choose.”