Cabinet level

Jason Glass’s inner circle: Meet the team seeing through the Jeffco superintendent’s vision

Jeffco superintendent Jason Glass at the Boys & Girls in Lakewood (Marissa Page, Chalkbeat).

In his first three months as superintendent of Jeffco Public Schools, Jason Glass has spent his time touring the 86,000-student district and listening to scores of educators, parents and students to learn about its strengths and challenges.

This week he unveiled his proposed vision to guide the district for the next several years, focusing on addressing students’ experiences in the classroom, as well as the many challenges they face outside the schools. A strategic plan with more details about how to roll out the vision is expected by spring.

In the meantime, the superintendent, who was previously superintendent of Eagle County Schools and is being paid $265,000 annually, has a team in place to help him fulfill his goals.

Here is a look at the 12 people on the district’s senior leadership team. Note that so far Glass has not made changes at the top levels in Jeffco headquarters. While some people left before Glass arrived this summer, most of the people in the district’s top positions have been there for more than a year, and many have deep roots in the county.

There is an ongoing search for the chiefs of schools positions. The two people in the interim positions now are charged with monitoring and evaluating school effectiveness, student achievement and curriculum. There is no timeline yet for when a hire will be made permanent.

The short profiles of district leaders include their titles, salaries and some explanation of their duties, all based on information provided by the district.

Matt Flores

Matthew Flores, chief academic officer
Salary: $131,726
Job description: Responsible for all programs that support teaching and learning. As chief academic officer, Flores works to ensure that resources, tools and training are readily available for staff to support the district’s vision and strategic plan. Additionally, all state and district assessments are organized and facilitated through his office. His team also manages early childhood education, federal program funding such as the Title 1 money directed to help low income students, choice programming and student data privacy.

Bio: In this position since May 2016, Flores has worked as a classroom teacher and as an elementary, middle and high school principal. He also worked for four years as the district executive director of curriculum and instruction.

Diana M. Wilson

Diana M. Wilson, chief communications officer
Salary: $116,836
Job description: To plan, develop and administer the district’s public engagement and communications. Chief spokesperson for the district. Partners with schools and departments to provide communications training, counsel and advice.

Bio: Wilson was hired as Jeffco’s chief communications officer in January 2016. She has 20 years of experience in public sector communications, nine of them as public information officer/management analyst for Westminster Fire Department. Wilson served on Lakewood City Council from 2005-2013. She and her husband have three teen boys in Jeffco schools. She has a bachelor of science from Colorado State University, Ft. Collins and a master of business administration from University of Colorado, Denver.

Kathleen Askelson

Kathleen Askelson, chief financial officer
Salary: $137,940
Job description: Establishes strategic direction and provides leadership of the financial services organization within Jeffco. She is in charge of maintaining a multi-year financial outlook, creating an annual budget and providing financial reporting in accordance with standards and state statutes. She oversees operational functions including accounting, budgeting, purchasing, disbursements, cash management, risk management, payroll and financial planning, analysis and reporting. Oversees a budget that exceeds $1 billion and a department with more than 50 staff members.

Bio: Askelson has been with Jeffco Public Schools financial services since 1999. Before becoming the chief financial officer in September 2014 (permanently in January 2015), she was the executive director of finance. Askelson came to the district from a finance position at a private, nationwide child care company. She is a certified public finance officer and is on the special review executive committee for the Government Finance Officers Association. Askelson was appointed and served two terms on the governor’s Government Accounting Advisory Committee and was a member of the Colorado Department of Education’s Financial Policy and Procedure Committee for 17 years. She and her husband live in Jeffco and their two children are Jeffco alumni.

Amy Weber

Amy Weber, chief human resources officer
Salary:
$141,075
Job description: To develop and implement comprehensive systems, programs, processes, and procedures in the areas of employment, personnel record maintenance and record retention, job classifications and compensation, performance management and evaluation, benefits administration, recruitment on-boarding, leave programs, substitute teacher programs, unemployment, and employee assistance programs. Weber also works with the district’s unions and serves as lead negotiator with union officials.

Bio: Weber has directed the work of Jeffco human resources for almost 11 years. In 2014, the position was elevated to cabinet-level. Before joining Jeffco schools, she worked for 10 years in Fairfax County Public Schools in Fairfax, Va., also in human resources. She has a master of business administration from the University of Maryland and worked in management consulting. She has two children, one a Jeffco graduate and the other a Jeffco senior.

Brett Miller

Brett Miller, chief information officer
Salary: $136,500
Job description: Leads the Information Technology (IT) department and serves as technology leader and innovator for Jeffco Public Schools, overseeing the district’s technology-related strategies and initiatives. Plans for the organization’s technology needs and addresses any tech-related problems.

Bio: Miller started with Jeffco Schools in September 1988, became chief technology officer in 2007 and chief information officer in 2014. Miller is a long-time Jeffco resident and a product of Jeffco schools. He worked in technology for a data processing firm in the oil industry before joining the district in 1988. His wife and four children — who have all attended Jeffco Public Schools — live in Arvada.

Craig Hess

Raymond Craig Hess, chief legal counsel and employee relations
Salary: $155,040
Job description: To provide district-wide, general in-house legal support including leadership for compliance with federal, state and local laws relating to staff, students and the public. Directs all employee relations activities. Represents the Board of Education and superintendent concerning labor relations with employee organizations. In these roles, Hess provides oversight of the district’s legal activities, employee relations, and the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) program.

Bio: Before joining Jeffco in October 2014, Hess was the employment law associate general counsel for the University of Colorado Health System. He was responsible for integrating five geographically separated hospitals’ Human Resources Compliance and Employee Relations teams into one system-wide division. Before that, Hess worked at Qwest Communications International, Denver Health and Hospital Authority and as a senior assistant attorney in the litigation practice group at the City and County of Denver. Hess also served eight years as a United States Air Force judge advocate general officer.

Hess has been involved with law school and high school mock trial programs for several years. He has served as an adjunct faculty member of the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law, and as an assistant coach of the law school’s trial team. He has also served as the chairman of the Colorado Bar Association High School Mock Trial Committee.

Karen Quanbeck

Karen Quanbeck and Kristopher Schuh, interim chief school effectiveness officers
Salary: $126,624; $126,784
Job description: To provide direct supervision of all district schools through achievement directors to increase student achievement, ensure quality school leadership, improve school effectiveness, inspire innovation and monitor safety. Partners with the chief academic officer and chief student success officer to oversee the rollout of all district targets, priorities and strategies in Jeffco schools. Also must plan, manage and direct training for all achievement directors and supervise and provide feedback to improve their performance.

Kristopher Schuh

Bio: Quanbeck started her career as a high school social studies teacher in Minnesota before moving to Colorado to work as a middle school teacher in the Adams 50 (now Westminster) school district and later in Jeffco. She has worked for Jeffco for over 20 years as a teacher, principal and central administrator for both the elementary and secondary level. She was an achievement director before she stepped into the interim position in March. She has two children in Jeffco schools, one in middle school and another in high school.

Bio: Schuh began his teaching career in Wisconsin after a university education in Minnesota and Spain and moved to Colorado to teach U.S. History and Spanish and coach at Mullen High School. He has worked in elementary, secondary and district levels for Jeffco Public Schools, including as a school counselor, coach, assistant principal, principal and achievement director. He stepped into the interim role in March. Schuh’s family is “all Jeffco,” as his wife is a teacher and their two daughters are elementary and middle school students.

Steve Bell

Steve Bell, chief operating officer
Salary: $163,865
Job description: To develop, direct and implement the district’s support services and provide general management of day-to-day operation of service divisions including Athletics and Activities, Food and Nutrition Services, Custodial Services, Environmental Services, Facilities Management, Planning Construction, Security and Emergency Management, Student Transportation and Fleet Maintenance.

Bio: Bell joined Jeffco Public Schools in May 2010. Before joining Jeffco, Bell worked in the investment banking industry. His job responsibilities included the oversight and management for the origination of municipal accounts. Bell is a 50-year resident of Jefferson County, attended Jeffco Public Schools, and is an Arvada High School graduate. He has been active in the Jeffco community, serving on civic organizations including St. Anthony Hospital Foundation, Jeffco Economic Development Corporation, the Arvada Chamber and Jefferson Education Foundation, where he served as president for two terms and then as a foundation trustee.

Helen Neal

Helen Neal, chief of staff for superintendent and Board of Education
Salary: $95,535
Job description: To manage actions and decisions impacting the Board of Education, superintendent and cabinet and advise and counsel district leadership to help the district provide clear, complete, and accurate communication to external and internal audiences. Neal manages all content on webpages and in Board Docs — the platform for sharing public meeting documents — and manages the board’s meeting schedule and agendas while serving as staff support during their meetings. She supervises one office support position in the superintendent’s office.

Bio: Neal has worked with five superintendents and many board members of Jeffco Public Schools since her hire in 1998. Prior to coming to Jeffco, she was public information officer for the Aurora city manager, mayor and city council and worked for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs on special projects for the Economic Development Commission and the Colorado Film Commission. She and her spouse are empty nesters and have two children who are Jeffco graduates.

Kevin Carroll

Kevin Carroll, chief student success officer
Salary: $137,940
Job description: To develop, direct and roll out systems and programs to serve students and families who require educational, physical and emotional support beyond standard programming. Provides leadership and management for the following departments: special education, gifted and talented, health services, homebound instruction, student services, healthy schools and student engagement.

Bio: Carroll will complete his second year as Jeffco Public Schools’ chief student success officer in February. He has served the students, families, and staff of Jeffco for 29 years in the roles of teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, and principal. He has 16 years of experience as a principal at all three levels: elementary, middle and high school. Carroll completed his undergraduate studies at Metropolitan State College, his master’s degree at Regis University, and his principal licensure studies at the University of Denver. Carroll is a Jeffco alumnus, having graduated from Wheat Ridge High School, and resides in Jeffco where his wife is a teacher and his two children attend their neighborhood high school.

Tom McDermott

Thomas McDermott, special assistant to the superintendent
Salary: $68,000
Job description: The special assistant to the superintendent is a 10-month residency program through Harvard’s Doctor of Education Leadership program. The resident serves under the direct supervision of the superintendent on identified projects of strategic value to Jeffco Public Schools. He participates on the superintendent’s cabinet, assists the superintendent in outreach opportunities to the community, provides feedback on superintendent’s strategic initiatives such as Jeffco University and Jeffco Generations and will complete a capstone project centered on the implementation of Jeffco’s strategic vision.

Bio: McDermott is a doctoral resident in his final year of the doctor of education leadership (Ed.L.D) program at Harvard University. Originally from Long Island, New York, McDermott taught and led in traditional public and charter schools in Phoenix and Brooklyn. He later joined the Achievement Network (ANet) as the director of school support in Boston before beginning his doctoral work in 2015. McDermott joined the Jeffco team in July 2017.

Powerful Parents

‘Sharing their hearts’: Why these parents became advocates for Memphis students

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Memphis Lift, a parent advocacy organization, is training its ninth cohort of public advocate fellows.

While their children are out of school for the summer, a local parent group is using this time to hit the books.

Memphis Lift, a non-profit organization in North Memphis, aims to amplify the voices of those who, some say, have historically been excluded from conversations surrounding their schools. Many of those conversations, said organizer Dianechia Fields, have made out parents like her to be “scapegoats” for students’ struggles in the classroom.

“It’s easy to blame someone who’s not there in the room,” she said. “Instead of blaming parents as the problem, we’re inviting parents to the table to be part of the solution.”

Fields is the director of the program’s Public Advocate Fellowship, which was created three years ago by Natasha Kamrani and John Little, who came to Memphis from Nashville to train local parents to become advocates for school equity. Funded in part by the Memphis Education Fund, the program pays fellows $500 when they graduate the course. (Chalkbeat also receives support from local philanthropies connected to Memphis Education Fund. You can learn more about our funding here.)

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
The Public Advocate Fellowship was created three years ago. This year, the program will have trained 300 fellows.

On Tuesday, Lift held the first of ten sessions for its ninth cohort of fellows. This month, 19 parents and grandparents will learn about topics such as the history of education in Memphis and school funding. At each session, they’ll receive coaching from special guests and alumni fellows, and they’ll also make connections with local education leaders.

In order to better communicate with decision-makers, the group will complete public speaking exercises with the help of coach Darius Wallace. His focus this week: getting fellows to “share their hearts.”

In Wednesday’s class, Wallace asked the cohort to think hard about who they’re advocating for, what pain that person may feel, and what their dream is moving forward. Here’s what a few of them had to say:

Jerrineka Hampton, a Shelby County Schools teacher, is advocating for her students at Treadwell Elementary, who often lack access to the materials they need, like pens or paper. Her dream is to “close the economic and academic gap” in schools like hers, and to help train others to do the same.

Shanita Knox, a mother of two, is advocating for her 10- year- old son, who struggles with his speech and is often bullied because of it. Her dream for him is to “do whatever he wants in life without having to work a dead-end job.”

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
The parents are asked to share with each other their hopes for their children.

Patricia Robinson is advocating for her granddaughter, whose father is incarcerated. Robinson’s dream is for her to take the pain and loneliness she feels and “learn how to talk about it.”

Violet Odom, a mother of two, is advocating for her daughter, a soon-to-be middle schooler who is dealing with mental health challenges. Odom’s dream is for her daughter to “be able to live a normal life and use her voice to explain how she feels.”

Aimee Justice, a mother of three, is advocating for her son, who comes from a multiracial family. Her dream is for Memphis schools to become places where students of all nationalities can learn from each other.

Trenika Bufford is advocating for other kids in the system who, like her college-aged son, have been belittled by school officials. Through tears, she said she wished she listened to her son when he was younger. Her dream is to have a relationship with him again.

As the women shared their stories, Wallace and the group gave feedback on their delivery. As they practiced more, the fellows began to make more eye contact, speak louder and more directly, and use body language.

“People make decisions when they’re emotional,” Wallace reminded them. “Facts tell. Stories sell.”

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Ahada Elton smiles at her son. A mother of four, Elton said she wants to advocate for parents unaware of the opportunities schools offer, especially for children with special needs.

Effective communication will become even more important as the cohort prepares for their last session. That’s when they’ll work together to create a plan of action to tackle an issue in their community. This year, the group is already discussing taking steps toward unified enrollment, a centralized system that allows parents to easily compare schools in the same district.

And while that’s no small feat, it wouldn’t be the first time the group has tackled a project this large. Two years ago, graduating fellows knocked on about 1,200 doors throughout the city to inform other parents about local priority schools assigned to the state-run achievement school district.

That’s when alumna Kiara Jackson heard about the fellowship. Jackson, 24, was pregnant at the time with her third child, and she was living with her father in the North Memphis neighborhood when director Sarah Carpenter knocked on her window and told her about the program.

PHOTO: Rebecca Griesbach
Kiara Jackson, an alumna fellow, shares her testimony with the new cohort.

“I was a concerned parent,” she said, “but I didn’t even know the types of questions to get answers to.”

Shortly after, Jackson started going to Lift’s weekly classes, where she learned about quality schools in the area. Since joining the fellowship’s fourth cohort last year, Jackson had the opportunity to travel to Cincinnati and advocate for charter schools such as the one she’s working to get her daughter into.

“I enjoy the power that I have as a parent,” she said. “… With us being from low-income communities, they try to deny us our rights as parents. But our kids can get better educations”

When the class graduates next month, the fellowship will have trained 300 members, mostly women, since it launched in 2015. This past year, the group offered training for Spanish-speaking parents led by alumna Carmelita Hernandez. Now, the program is working on creating its first all-male cohort for fathers and grandfathers.

Departure

Tennessee loses a behind-the-scenes education operative

PHOTO: Jennifer Pignolet/The Commercial Appeal
Kathleen Airhart, then the interim superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District, speaks in February to a community meeting sponsored by the Frayser Exchange in Memphis.

Kathleen Airhart, who recently served as interim leader of Tennessee’s Achievement School District during a major transition, has stepped down as the state’s deputy education commissioner and chief operating officer.

Kathleen Airhart

The career educator ended almost seven years with the Education Department last week in Nashville. She will start her new job with the Council of Chief State School Officers as the national nonprofit organization’s program director on special education.

Since 2012, Airhart has been a go-to lieutenant for two education commissioners as Tennessee rolled out major policy initiatives under its First to the Top overhaul of K-12 schools.

She oversaw the transition to the state’s academic intervention program for struggling students, the expansion of career and technical education opportunities, the development of a library of state and local education resources, and operational changes to make the Achievement School District financially sustainable after the end of a federal award supporting Tennessee’s turnaround program for low-performing schools.

Airhart worked mostly behind the scenes until Commissioner Candice McQueen tasked her last fall with leading the Achievement School District, also known as the ASD, as Tennessee looked for a replacement for departing Superintendent Malika Anderson. During that time, Airhart met frequently with school communities in Memphis, the hub of the ASD’s work, and oversaw the closure of two more under-enrolled schools before McQueen tapped turnaround leader Sharon Griffin to take the helm beginning in June.

Airhart previously was superintendent of Putnam County Schools, where she was named Tennessee’s Superintendent of the Year in 2011. She started her career as a high school special education teacher and also served as a special ed supervisor.

In her new job, she’ll return to her roots and advise other states on special education programs and services.

“Dr. Airhart has been an excellent manager and leader at the department, and no matter what challenges she was presented, she always stayed calm and kept students at the center of every decision,” McQueen wrote in an internal letter about the departure.

The Council of Chief State School Officers is comprised of education leaders from across the country.