The format of the first meet and greet with Jeffco Schools superintendent finalist Daniel McMinimee was met with resistance from the crowd as he announced his intention to take questions one-on-one rather than in front of the assembled group. The open forum from 4 to 6 pm at Wheat Ridge High School on Thursday afternoon was the public's first opportunity to meet with McMinimee, who currently works as the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education in the Douglas County School District.
Those who attended the forum had expected a format similar to previous Jeffco community meetings, such as former superintendent Cindy Stevenson’s “Coffees with the Superintendent” or the recent community budget meetings. Those formats asked participants to write down questions on a piece of paper for the superintendent to answer or asked small groups to work together on a set of questions and present their conclusions in front of everyone at the end of the meeting.
McMinimee spent about ten minutes giving the audience information about his background and experience before telling them his plan for the question and answer portion of the afternoon. “What we’d like to do is give you an opportunity to ask some questions, one on one,” McMinimee told the crowd. He said he would answer questions in a separate room or off to the side.
An audience member immediately asked if a vote could be taken to see if people could just ask questions and everyone could hear his answers. McMinimee said that if the crowd was introduced in that format, they could “make accommodations for that at our next round at Carmody Middle School.”
“For me right now, I just want to meet people as individuals and answer questions individually,” McMinimee responded. “I absolutely believe in the power of a big group but my first priority is making sure I make some connections with people so if I get asked the same question 50 times, so be it.”
Other audience members also asked him why the format couldn’t be changed to meet the desires of the larger group.
“If the feedback from the group is at the end of this that we need to make an adjustment at the next one we do, then I would surely like to do that,” McMinimee said. “But right now one-on-one is the way I want to go.”
McMinimee spent approximately an hour standing off to the side in the library, answering questions as a group of parents, teachers and community members gathered around him. Those who joined the crowd to listen complained that they couldn’t hear McMinimee’s responses even when they were close to him.
Questions asked during the one-on-one time included questions about his position on charter schools and funding free full-day kindergarten. He was also asked about his priorities regarding academic achievement, teamwork, listening and using data to make decisions.
Around 5:15 pm, district staff asked the 40 or so participants who remained to group themselves around tables so that McMinimee could go from table to table to answer questions. At first his answers were inaudible to the larger group, but he started responding so the entire group could hear a few minutes later.
One repeated question involved the community budget survey, which McMinimee was eligible to answer as the parent of a Jeffco high school student. He was asked to name the top five budget priorities identified by the community, but said he couldn’t. McMinimee told the audience had hadn’t taken the budget survey, but he did attend one of the community meetings.
He explained that he only found out he was a finalist on Saturday, and hadn’t had time to get caught up on all the issues in Jeffco. He said he planned to learn more about Jeffco over the weekend and was “committed to trying to see the win-win around these issues.”
Personalization played a large part in his responses to the group, as he used the term to refer to solutions he’d like to see for various issues concerning students, teachers and schools. In response to questions about student achievement and accountability, McMinimee said both need to be based on more factors than test scores and that they should be personalized.
McMinimee also said he wanted to see personalization play into any pay for performance plan. He told the group he’d like to have the opportunity to influence board discussions about pay for performance, and that he would work to personalize such a system.
Funding also surfaced repeatedly in his responses. He talked about persuading the state legislature to reduce the negative factor, noting that $100 million would go a long way in Jeffco. He also spoke repeatedly about allowing individual building principals to be able to make decisions about the best way to spend money in their building.
He defined his best superintendent practices as: finding great people and empowering them, engaging people so they feel like they’re part of the discussion, find the win-win, teamwork, data, and developing teams at the district level to empower schools. He noted the school board would influence his work.
“I’m employed at the mercy of the school board,” he said, but he wanted to influence decisions they made. “If you want X, is there another way to get there?”
A parent of a preschooler and kindergarten student told McMinimee she was fearful of teachers leaving and wanted to know how he would turn around teacher morale. He responded, “All of us have to work together to bring that morale back around.”
A Jeffco grandparent and former teacher told McMinimee that he hoped he would become the "change agent to unite the board." He asked McMinimee to take time to read a letter written by ten former school board members and added, "We need to do what's best for all 85,000 kids."
McMinimee’s next public forum will be Monday, May 19 at Carmody Middle School from 4:30 to 6:30 pm. It is unclear whether McMinimee plans to answer questions one-on-one or in front of the assembled group at that meeting.
McMinimee, who has also worked as a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal during his career, was the only finalist selected for the Jeffco Schools superintendent after a nationwide search by Ray and Associates. The Jeffco School Board approved McMinimee as the sole finalist by a 3-2 vote on May 10. The board is expected to vote to hire him for the position sometime after May 25.