Kelley & Kafer Show, John Newkirk, September 14, 2015

Station: KNUS, 710 AM

Show:     Kelley & Kafer Show

Guests:  Newkirk


Date:      September 14, 2015


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HOST KRISTA KAFER:  I want to turn to something completely different, and that is local, Jeffco. I, course, grew up in Jeffco, went to Columbine high school. [I’m] not going to say how long ago that was. Suffice it to say, I grew up in Jefferson County so I watched with great interest the things that have gone on. There is a recall effort underfoot to get rid of the three conservative board members. I believe this has two do with the fact that the union has disliked them from the beginning. I think that the union was socked that they were even elected and has opposed them, and opposed everything from merit pay to charter schools during their tenure, is now going after them. And would it surprise you that there has been some shenanigans, or at least reports of shenanigans. And by shenanigans, I’m saying less than ethical behavior by the unions behind the scenes just to get these board members recalled. To learn more about the shenanigans, I give you John Newkirk.  He is one of these board members and someone I’ve known for a long time, I know to be a great man of integrity. John, welcome to the show.


KAFER:  I’m doing great.

Well, good! Let’s talk about our schools. I understand we both grew up in the Jeffco schools. I heard you say you went to Columbine, as I recall, and of course I’m an Evergreen high school graduate. Go cougars!

KAFER:  [Chuckles] go Rebels! What can I say? So, yeah! You grew up there. I grew up there. I care about this area. You continue to be there. You live there.  Your kids are educated there. It’s been a difficult couple of years as a board member pushing for reform. Of course, they have a right to do the recall. That’s the law, and they’re doing it. Or trying it, I should say. But some of the things they’re doing to raise support for it, I have concerns, are not legal and certainly not ethical. What are you hearing?

NEWKIRK :  Well, I think some of them have crossed the line.  There are a lot of c4 groups, and I think by law, only 40% of c4 activity can be political.  Which of course doesn’t have any place in our schools, and of course electioneering doesn’t – so I’ve had numerous constituents call me up saying, you know, there’s folks in the schools that are really crossing the line, now.  You know, at back-to-school nights – they’ll have aggressive people there, some of them from our of the district, actually pursuing parents down the halls as they’re going to their conferences or back-to-school nights, pushing literature on them that they don’t want.  I’ve also heard constituents complain that they’ve actually had people showing up at local high schools trying to register 16 or 17 year olds to register to vote and even to the point where if they check  that they’re conservative, then they’ll belittle them in certain ways.  So, you know, that’s not part of our educational goals here, to embroil our children in partisan politics.  I’ve also heard reports that teachers are wearing their pro-union signs—uh, t-shirts and buttons and even sticking signs up in their classrooms.  So, no, that’s not appropriate.

KAFER:  I don’t understand how they don’t know that that’s not appropriate.  I mean, the fact == is it a sense of victimhood or entitlement that says, “Well, I can do this anyway.  I know it’s not what I’m supposed to do, but I need to do this anyway.”  I’m just trying to put my head – uh, my feet in the shoes of an unethical person.  Like, why is that they sleep well at night, knowing that this is wrong and unfair.

NEWKIRK :  Yeah, well of course I can’t speak for them personally, but it is something that I will look into. I mean when a constituent calls with a legitimate concern, I have to look into it.  I would hope that that would be handled at the local level, rather than having to go to the board.  You know, if they complain to the principal and uh, the principal doesn’t act on it, then I can see how it might escalate.  But I would hope that individual principals throughout our district would exercise that discretion and common sense in not allowing this to go further than that.

KAFER:  I know that the teacher I know that work for Jeffco and a couple of other districts would never bring politics into the classroom.  They’re there to teach whatever their subject is, and they do not bring their personal business or grudges into the classroom. Is there a counter effort to get the message out about what you guys have done during your tenure in office?

NEWKIRK :  Well, again, I can speak for myself.  I have been travelling throughout the district a lot, talking with Jeffco residents and thanking them for the opportunity two years ago to bring about some meaningful improvements in the public schools that we both graduated from.  So, I’ve certainly been out there.  I’ve gone to several forums in the last week, and I’ve got several coming up, and talking about the great things we’ve been able to accomplish in just two years.

KAFER:  Well, and I think it’s interesting how, at least at the time, it was a bit controversial, and that’s the AP US History standards.  And you as a board had considered looking at these just to make sure to see, you know, if they were balanced or not.   And as it turns out, they were not balanced, and the AP History – they’ve actually kind of worked on them and made them—the standard, a little bit better.

NEWKIRK :  Yes. And I’m very proud of that and I’m proud of my colleague, Julie Williams, for being on the forefront of that.  We have a policy in our district – technically it’s Policy IGA, that states that anytime there is a change in a curriculum or the framework, that it must be reviewed.  And no only that, but it has to be reviewed every so many years – I think it’s 3 to 5 years.  I don’t have a policy in front of me.  So, we asked the question, was A) we know there’s been a major change to the framework, and B) When was the last time that this particular curriculum – AP US History—was reviewed.  And, uh, I didn’t get any satisfactory answer, so of course I supported reviewing the curriculum.  But they turned that all into a censorship meme, which, to me, that was way unacceptable.  I mean, we’re talking about an exploitation of impressionable young people by persons in a position of trust.  They told these students we were censoring their history, which was not only inaccurate but grossly unfair to those kids.

KAFER:  Well, the College Board has now changed the frameworks to make–.  They recognize that they were biased and they’ve made some changes. My understanding, having interviewed Stanley Kurtz a couple weeks ago, that the changes really probably didn’t go far enough, but at least they acknowledged there was a problem they did something about it.  So, have you received either in, you know, in voice or in print, an apology from the union?

NEWKIRK :  No.  No, we haven’t. And in fact we’ve received a lot of positive stories on this nationwide.  I mean, there was something in the Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago.  There was something in National – oh, what was it?  — I don’t know, it was National Review or New Republic – something like that, last week, saying that, you know, this was a proper thing to do because if anything was being censored, it was things that were left out of the prior framework that has since been changed.  So, I think that was a very positive outcome.  There was also a monopolistic component of the College Board that bothered me somewhat, too.  When they told us, “Hey, you know, this is the curriculum.  Take it or leave it.  And we will not give you college credit unless you take it.”  That kind of started a little discussion in my mind of, “How can these people take – say, dictate what the curriculum is or else our kids don’t get college credit?”  So, there are other alternatives now.  There’s concurrent enrollment. There’s, you know, local colleges where they can get college credit, as well.

KAFER:  Well, it’s fascinating that – this conversation I had with Stanley Kurtz, is that there are people in DC and New York and other places actually looking at setting up a parallel system – a college board that would have standards and tests similar to AP but perhaps in History or some other subjects that have become fairly biased, that they would reflect a more mainstream ideology, and that kids would be able to take those tests and get college credit.  It sounded like a very exciting project.

NEWKIRK :  Mm-hmm.  Well, good!  And if it took something like this, last year, to start that dialogue, well, you know, all the better!

KAFER:  Well, when it comes to particularly history, I – as somebody – and that’s—my Bachelor’s is in History – I am particularly sensitive.  The idea that teachers are teaching Howard Zinn without providing any balance is – it bothers me.  And Stanley Kurtz was saying that Howard Zinn weighs heavily in — not in – you won’t find him in the standards, but what you’ll find him in is in some of these supporting, you know, teaching supports – the training that teachers are provided, the books that teachers are provided – there is definitely a “Zinn-tilt” towards some of those materials.  So, having some materials that are more broad-based and not so anti-American, would be helpful. What are some other messages that you, as a board member, are getting out about the last couple of years that you’ve been in office, the things that you’ve been able to accomplish?

NEWKIRK :  Well, you know, as I said, we were elected by a fairly strong majority to bring about some meaningful improvement to these schools. And of course, that’s real close to my heart because I attended these schools—Wilmott Elementary, and Evergreen Middle, and Evergreen High School.  And so we set out to do certain things that we put out on our campaign websites and by and large, we pretty much said what we were going to do, and we’ve done it, although we still have the proverbial miles to go before we sleep.  A few of these things are – well, over the last two years, we’ve increased the teacher compensation by over 7% and despite predictions to the contrary, we’ve had a lot of people moving into our district, especially up in the northwest.  We’ve had, you know, after years of declining enrollment – over a decade, I think–our enrollment is going up.  And we were able to fund building a new school, in northwest Arvada, without going into debt—by [inaudible] savings, other places – an $18 million school.  And we worked on something called ‘student-based budgeting’ that kind of empowers the local principals to make more local decisions.  And a big one for me, is, you know, in Jefferson County, we’ve got over seven – between seven and eight thousand public charter schools who have chosen to go to one of 16 charter schools.  Historically, they had been underfunded.  You know, –what?–$700-$800 dollars per head less per year.  Now, you look at a classroom of 25, you know, and that makes a big difference – that $25,000 for that classroom.  We ensured that every student is funded equally now, regardless of what public school they are choosing to attend.

KAFER:  Well, I appreciate that you’re bringing fairness to that.  You know, the number of charter schools – it’s interesting that Jeffco and Denver, very similar in terms of population, and yet Denver has I think twice as many charter schools.  I appreciate that this board has been more open-minded to parent choice than previous boards, and – not only in terms of how you fund students in these schools, but also in being open to having some new schools open up. I really appreciate that.

NEWKIRK :  Well, thank you.  And of course, it’s a matter of quality, you know – not quantity.  You know, I’m not out there to say we have to have X number of charter schools in Jeffco.  They have to be quality charters.  But as you said, Krista, you look next door to Denver, and especially with our at-risk population, and some of these ACT statistics that just came out in the last few days are very interesting, especially a charter school called DSST and others — STRIVE and KIPP and so forth – which are flourishing in Denver, but frankly I think that they are a little, or were, historically, intimidated to try to apply in Jefferson County, right across Sheridan.  And they could do some great things for this district, with this population.  And they have, in Denver.

KAFER:  Yeah, particularly in Lakewood.  Well, and I’ve noticed the northern suburbs – Lakewood, Arvada – there just aren’t a lot of charter schools.  And particularly, you know, there are parts of Lakewood,  — well, and I say, you know, every community can benefit from having a charter school, because you have charter schools that are for at-risk kids, you have charter schools that are for high performing kids, you have  charter schools that simply offer a different curriculum but bring in all kinds of kids.  But it’s an exciting part of our school portfolio, in any district.  And so I remember just being disappointed when I was a school evaluator that there were far fewer charter schools in Jeffco than the population would predict.  So you guys – go on.

NEWKIRK :  I was astonished the other night when we were at a public forum, and one of the candidates who is seeking to replace me in the recall made the statement that charters do not equal choice.  Uh – and that is –

KAFER:  Maybe it’s because – maybe she’s open to – maybe she wants vouchers.  I’m being facetious!

NEWKIRK :  Well, I don’t know but to me, you know, you ask any of those seven or eight thousand students who choiced into Golden View Classical Academy, and to Adambrook Classical Academy, and into Mountain Pheonix, and – any of these.  Um, if that wasn’t a choice that they deliberately made, because they thought that was the better fit for them or their children, and uh, that is absolutely an important part of our portfolio of choices, as you say.

KAFER:  Well, it’s interesting that we’ve got a board candidate running to replace you that does not support parent choice. Parent choice is, — whether you exercise that choice or not –.  You know, every parent is going to exercise that choice, depending on how– what neighborhood they chose to live in, whether or not they chose a charter school, a private school, um, or use inter-district school choice.  It’s interesting that we’ve got somebody running for office that opposes parents using choice to select charter schools.  John Newkirk, we’ve got to go.  We’ve got a break coming up.  How can folks tap into knowledge about you?  Do you have a website?

NEWKIRK :  Well, you know, I had a – I didn’t think I was going to have to be running another campaign, here, in two years.  But you can go online and google John Newkirk, Facebook John Newkirk for Jeffco Schools, and really, you don’t even have to remember my name or the names of any of the other candidates. You just have to remember to vote ‘no’ on the recall for all three, and let the staggered board terms proceed as they were intended by law.  That’s really how we can – how they can help me.

KAFER:  Plus it’s a repudiation to the, you know, thousands and thousands of dollars that are being wasted on this recall, given that there’s a real election coming up in the near future where they could have made those choices.  Thanks, John Newkirk, for coming on!  We’ll have you on again in the future!