Jefferson County School District – The Teacher Salary Debate

Our office is located outside of Denver, Colorado. The Jefferson County School District is in our backyard. Teacher sickouts and student protests recently made national news when one of the school board members proposed creating an advisory counsel to review curriculum in AP History classes.

9News - Stand Up for Students Rally
Parents, students, teachers, community members line Wadsworth Boulevard to voice displeasure with recently elected school board majority in Jefferson County.
(Photo: Andy Buck)

Those protests and frustration aimed at the majority board members is only a small part of tensions between the board and the teachers, students, parents and community it serves.

Salary Increases Based on Changing Criteria

The teachers are also unhappy with salary negations with the union. The board majority recently approved salary increases but changed the criteria for how teachers receive the raises. This was without listening to input from the teachers’ union, the teachers and administrators or anyone else.

The board majority of Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk even rejected the findings of an independent fact-finding report that recommended the teachers’ union and district work on a new evaluation system.

Witt said he wants to only reward highly effective teachers – “This is increased compensation. That’s what this discussion is about. It’s not about moving anyone back,” Witt said. “Our experienced teachers, their salary is what it is. We’re talking recognizing effective and highly effective teachers and increasing compensation for those teachers.”

However, the system that currently ranks teachers is unable to clearly evaluate teachers in the way Witt wants.

Jefferson County Education Association President John Ford has expressed concern over this plan.

“Having an evaluation system that does not accurately rate teachers does not help reach our goal of every student being taught by a quality teacher,” explained Ford.

The old step system awarded pay increases based on a scale of years of experience and education. The new criteria awards increases based on last school year’s performance evaluations.

Increases that don’t even restore the teachers’ salaries to where they were five years ago. Budget cuts slashed salaries by 3% in 2009/2010. Those salaries were partially restored, but teachers have not seen an increase since 2010/2011.

Even with this brand new increase, many teachers are still making less in 2014 than they did in 2009.

Changing Expectations for Raises 

Agree or disagree about teacher salaries based on experience or performance, changing HOW a teacher receives their increase without consulting or even informing them to criteria changes until after the fact is wrong.

What would happen in the business world if a company decided to base this year’s pay increases on last year’s performance when expectations were already set that raises would follow a different scale?Jefferson County School District Teacher Salary Disputes

What if your entire job performance and raise was based on one evaluation for 30 minutes of the entire year? Would that be a fair and accurate snapshot of your abilities?

That is primarily what the teachers are upset about. The way in which they are reviewed and base their income changed after the fact.

Teacher Evaluation Rubric 

The current teacher performance rating is not based on anything concrete. Yes, they have a rubric and yes they have an understanding of where they need to be, but the performance criteria is only based on “Highly Effective,” “Effective,” “Partially Effective,” and “Ineffective” rankings. In the past, this was set only as a guideline to help show teachers where they were at in their classroom.

How a principal or other administrator decides to rank that teacher on the rubric is very subjective. Clear definitions of what a highly effective teacher vs an effective teacher looks like do not exist.

The rubric is several pages long and contains a summary of what each performance level could be, but does not give clear directions for what each level actually looks like. How these definitions are interpreted is up to each individual administrator.

How and when teachers are evaluated also varies from school to school and from administrator to administrator. Some teachers are evaluated one time over the course of the entire school year, with the potential to not even receive the feedback until the end of the school year.

Other teachers are evaluated several times over the course of a year with short drop-ins and visits.

Many teachers also know when an administrator will be visiting their class, so they have time to prepare their best lesson for their evaluation.

In any of these scenarios, an administrator will have a difficult time getting a strong sense of what happens in that classroom every day, not just on evaluation day. They may miss teachers who are missing the mark or need additional support. The possibility of misinterpreting a great teacher for a satisfactory teacher is high depending on what’s happening in the classroom when they observe.

Administrators may also miss several of the rubric criteria, because they must grade that teacher in a very limited time frame.

The administrator may never actually see the real teacher in the day to day classroom to gain an accurate view of teaching abilities.

Keep in mind a principal doesn’t just do evaluations and doesn’t have one teacher to evaluate – one school may have 30 teachers or more. The principal and administration must run the school in addition to finding time to evaluate that many employees.

Are Teachers Afraid of Feedback? 

The review system is flawed and must be fixed before salaries are fully linked to performance evaluations. 

The teachers I’ve spoken with are not afraid or against pay being tied to performance. They just want a voice, an accurate rating system and an evaluation that encourages their growth as teachers, not a retroactive iron fist.

Great teachers want to be evaluated and given feedback so that they can improve their skills and abilities: they want to give their students the best education possible. 

If we as a community or society agree that it is important to base teacher pay on performance and not a pay scale, then we must –

1. Allow teachers and administrators to participate in defining the performance rubric and set up clear and defined criteria.

2. Give teachers and administrators the information on how pay will be decided BEFORE it is changed, not after the fact.

3. Give administrators quality time to evaluate their teachers, give them feedback in a timely manner and opportunity to improve where needed.

4. Most importantly – Stop portraying teachers as greedy, manipulative people. Teachers only want what everyone else wants – to be able to support their family with their career, make a difference and live a happy life.

Sure there are incompetent teachers, every profession has bad apples, but the majority of teachers are incredible human beings who dedicate their lives to teaching the young people of our community and preparing them for a successful life. Teachers give back a portion of their own salary to their classroom, work tireless hours, solve childhood dramas on a daily basis, offer emotional support, work in a germ factory, educate and stimulate young minds and so much more. It takes a very special person to become a teacher. Let’s give them the respect and honor they deserve.

What are your thoughts on teacher salaries? Should they be based on scale or performance or both?

What is the salary situation in your school district? How are increases determined?

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Dismembered Body Parts: Day Five

Dismembered body parts: day five?  What happened to Day Four?

Sorry about day four.  I went to a Renaissance Faire dressed like Minerva McGonagall.  Any questions?

Moving right along to Day Five, the polymer body parts have almost filled the jar.  All but two of them are still floating, but one of the noses is on the bottom of the jar.  Do you know why?

That nose didn't stand a chance against the alligator!
That nose didn’t stand a chance against the alligator!

The alligator is pushing the nose down to the bottom of the jar, that’s why. The nose WANTS to float, along with its friends the brain, the hand, the ear, and the rest of the gang, but when you’re just a nose and an alligator is pushing you around, the alligator is going to win.

Oh, and the cat is still wondering what on earth has happened to her tabletop naptime spot.  You can almost hear her thinking, “What is all this scary stuff doing on my nappy spot?”  Several times a day, she pushes everything around to make a space for her nap.

Okay, YOU try to move her.

Photobombed by a big black cat.
Photobombed by a big black cat.


Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Hands-on Science at Home: Needless or Necessary?

Some of us grew up with fantastic science teachers. Mrs. Russell, Mr. Steward, and Mr. Landis are names that you won’t necessarily recognize, but they’re the three science teachers I’ve had in my entire lifetime. I will never forget them, because they were and are awesome science teachers. (Forget the fact that I graduated with less than 20 kids in my class and that the last of those teachers is my best friend’s dad, or that my sister married my best friend’s little brother… Hooray small towns!) But some kids will never have that, that’s why you need to get hands-on science at home.

Classroom Thumwar with DJ
I assume that not everyone had the beneficial science teacher experience that I did, but it blows my mind. How can that even be possible? Then I discovered that the “science teacher” is an endangered species.

Especially when it comes to elementary-aged chitlens, there aren’t teachers dedicated to educating 6- to 12-year-olds on the FREAKING AMAZING WORLD OF SCIENCE! If you were to remove science education from my elementary education, I can personally guarantee that I would not have graduated. Math never made sense unless there was a scientific application. Science is the answer to “when will I ever use this?”

Tomorrow. You'll use this tomorrow... what's the squiggly line mean, again?
Tomorrow. You’ll use this tomorrow… what’s the squiggly line mean, again?                            (Source)

I’m definitely NOT saying that the current teachers being tasked with educating the youth on science are incompetent. They’re already stretched beyond their means, for Bill Nye’s sake. I’m saying that science deserves its own special time, teacher, and even room in the school. I want to scream, because it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

When I worked in customer service here at Steve Spangler Science, I cannot count on all of my fingers and toes how many times I heard that there’s no budget for science, or that it is being cut, or that teachers had to squeeze it into after-school programs. DEAR SCHOOL BOARDS: Science is the reason that there is a school in the first place, that your children aren’t dropping dead from small pox, and is the basis of all advancement for our planet.

Math = important. Language = important. History = important. Science = meh.

Yeah. That looks super boring and unimportant.
Yeah. That looks super boring and unimportant.

That just doesn’t add up. And again, I’m not arguing importance of anything except science, here. Without language, how could results be replicated? Without math, how would we understand measurements necessary to science? And history… well, there’s the whole saying about it repeating itself. Then there’s science, down at the bottom of the budget list below the coffee expenses.

But, as we’ve seen in recent history, schools take for-eh-ver to change their ways, and the government takes even longer. So how do you inject science into your children’s education? YOU have to do it. You don’t need to home school your kids, but I’ve got all kinds of props for parent/teacher hybrids that I like to call Parajucators. But, take some time out after dinner, before bed, or when the kids get home from school to do some hands-on science.

I'm partial, but may I kindly suggest...
I’m partial, but may I  suggest…

Don’t have a lot of dough for science supplies? You don’t need it! There are plenty of simple experiments, projects, and activities that can be done right at home and there are plenty of resources to go off of… *cough* *cough*

I’m not going to toot my own horn. Instead, I’m going to conduct the entire band. Have you seen our Sick Science videos? They’re less than 10 minutes long, every time, and walk you through the steps of simple hands-on science projects to do at home. Worried about cost? You probably have well over 90% of what you need right at home!

I’ve spent over 4 years writing the step-by-step instructions for our write-ups, but when I finally started doing the activities with my 6- and 8-year-olds at home, I realized just how easy it is to get them excited about ciencia (that’s science in Spanish). Now, even if there just isn’t time for the actual hands-on experience, they mix in science how-to videos with all of their usual video games and talking cats. Your kids can do it, too, I bet. But I don’t gamble.



Fresh Prince of the Science Fair.
Writer for Steve Spangler Science.
Dad of 2. Expecting 1 more.
Husband. Amateur adventurer.

Expert idiot.

Dismembered Polymer Body Parts, Days 2 & 3

You saw how tiny the dry polymer body parts were in my first post about dismembered body parts.  Polymers absorb the liquid quickly, some more quickly than others, but all absorb pretty fast.  Our dismembered polymer body parts, packed away since last October and dry as bones (body parts. bones.  I crack myself up sometimes!) wasted no time in starting to soak up the water and grow.  Think about how they looked on Day One.  Now look at Day Two!

One day's good soaking can really make a difference!
One day’s good soaking can really make a difference!

I had a little trouble getting a good picture on Day Three as the cat seemed to consider herself one of the Halloween decorations and refused to move out of the way. She also believes that those dismembered body parts are going to eventually end up in her supper bowl; I can tell by the way she wraps her body around the jar and WATCHES them. My apologies for the quality of Day Three’s picture, but the cat rules the house and she was there on the table for the duration.

She wasn't moving and it's not wise to interfere.
She wasn’t moving and it’s not wise to interfere.

This is Millicent, and she wasn’t letting any pumpkins, skulls, tombstones, dismembered body parts, or strobe lights get in the way of a good nap.    You can sort of see the body parts and the alligator in the jar behind her.  Sigh.

Polymer science is one of my favorites – can you tell?

Our Insta-Snow is a polymer, and it reacts instantly when water is added to it.  Our water jelly crystals are also polymers, and while they react more slowly than Insta-Snow, it still doesn’t take very long for them to turn into beautiful “gems.”  Our Water Gel, which is one of my very favorite polymers, also reacts quickly, and in a different way than our usual showstoppin’ polymers.  The potential for practical jokes is definitely there.

The cat finally moved, but now it's dark outside and the light bulb is dim.
The cat finally moved, but now it’s dark outside and the light bulb is dim.

In just a few days, those dismembered body parts and the alligator that wants them for lunch will completely fill the jar.  I love having life-size body parts in my living room in front of the picture window for all the world to see.

Sometimes, on Halloween, little kids will cluster at my window, gazing in horror and amazement at the body parts floating amidst the strobe lights and sound effects of my home.

Sometimes I make cookies shaped like noses, fingers, big toes, and brains.  I expect a call from Gordon Ramsay any day now.


Jane GoodwinJane Goodwin is a professor of expository writing at Ivy Tech Community College, a hands-on science teacher for College for Kids, a professional speaker and writer, and a social media liaison  for Steve Spangler Science.  She wanted to be a ballerina and an astronaut, but gravity got the better of her.

Dismembered Mad Scientist Body Parts, Pt. 1

It’s October, so of course I had to get out my Spangler Science Growing  Body Parts and start my annual October growth-fest of the macabre!  Is that an alligator in there with the dismembered body parts?  Well, naturally.  If you were an alligator, wouldn’t you go where the body parts were?  It’s like an alligator buffet of good things to eat!  (The alligator doesn’t come with the body parts; the one I use is the Mommy Gator from our Growing Alligator Family.  They’re hydrogel polymers, just like the body parts.)

These body parts are made of polymers,  specifically hydrogels, which are superabsorbent and, in fact, are being used to help save the enviroment.  (Steve explains this clearly on the Spangler Science website!)  

I want you to understand exactly how much these mad scientist body parts will grow over the course of the next few weeks, so here they all are in their tiny dry been-without-water-since-last-Halloween state.

Each polymer body part is about two inches long.
Each polymer body part is about two inches long.

The alligator is a little bigger, but that’s only because in real life, the alligator would be a little bigger. Duh.  (Her tail is curly because she spent the past year with a nose on top of her.)

Now we dust off the jar.  After all, it’s been in the laundry room since LAST October.  I’ve put the dismembered body parts by the jar so you can see the comparison/contrast.  I also like to measure things; it helps me put them in proper perspective.

You can see how tall the jar is, and how the polymer body parts compare to it.
You can see how tall the jar is, and how the polymer body parts compare to it.

As you can see, I’ve now put the body parts (and their hungry predator) inside the jar, and you can see again how tiny the parts are, and how they ALMOST cover the bottom of the jar.

See how tiny the body parts are? The Spangler Science logo will help you track their growth the first few days.
See how tiny the body parts are? The Spangler Science logo will help you track their growth the first few days.

And now, the final step: I’ve filled the jar most of the way up with tap water and screwed on the lid. Notice how the polymer pieces are all floating on the water’s surface? Notice how small each piece is, right now? Hold those thoughts. . . .

Most of the jar is just water and the polymers are floating.  Watch that space.
Most of the jar is just water and the polymers are floating. Watch that space.

In a few days, I’ll post more pictures, showing the progress of the tragically dismembered body parts and the hungry alligator stalking them, just waiting for them to grow into a more substantial meal.

It’s kind of like the witch who put Hansel in a pen and tried to fatten him up so she could have him for supper. SHE was outsmarted by Gretel, so her plan did not work.

This one will, though. Stay tuned for updates!