The new superintendent of the Jefferson County school district has hit the ground running. Only ten days into the job, Jason Glass was on the road yesterday, July 10, for an eight-stop “listening tour” around Jeffco that is intended to allow teachers, parents and residents to speak up about what the school district needs to do.
“I think it is really important that a new leader of an organization takes time to understand the context before you start making decisions and start prescribing things that may be for the wrong ailment,” says Glass, who is a former superintendent of Eagle County schools. “So we have to start with listening.”
On the first stop of the tour, which took place at a Westminster diner, dozens of teachers and parents called for the need to address district issues like closing schools and gaps in minority graduation rates, while ensuring that funds directed to charter schools do not detract from the quality of traditional public schools.
Glass also addressed the possibility of a major Trump administration budget cut to the Department of Education, which would limit Jeffco schools’ ability to provide services like mental-health specialists for at-risk kids and lunch programs, but added that, “We’re not likely to see that [budget] come to pass.”
John Ford, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, said at the meeting that more funding is needed to address students’ mental health in response to rising diagnoses of adolescents with conditions like anxiety and depression.
“In most cases, we’re in triage mode,” says Ford, who added that social services like mental-health specialists in schools need to help kids grow into healthy adults “before they have made up their minds.”
Equitable funding for all Jeffco schools, big or small, public or charter, appeared to be the largest concern of parents and teachers at the meeting. The district is still plagued by a gap in graduation rates between white students and their black and Latino counterparts.
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Jeffco, which includes Arvada, Golden, Westminster and Wheat Ridge, escaped a State Board of Education plan this year to close five schools due to a slim budget, though one — Pleasant View Elementary — did get the axe.
The eighteen charter schools in Jeffco have not been without their controversy. Last year, Jeffco residents fought off the Great Work Montessori, a charter school funded in part by the Walton family’s educational group, only to be overridden by the state board.
Glass says that charters are an “option” for providing solid, specialized educations for students with specific needs, and that he intends to fund charters equally. “In general, we’ve got public-education students in charter schools, and we need to fund them and help them be successful,” he says. “So we are supportive of equalization.”
In addition to being the superintendent of Eagle County, Glass was appointed as the state’s chief education officer. Before running for Jeffco superintendent, in December 2016, he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Board of Education Sciences Board of Directors .