JCEA History: The Fight for Lives!

The past six years have been an extraordinary time in our Association’s history. As we look back and plan for the future, we think how important our history is to JCEA members of the past, present and future. We know and understand that from 2013 to 2015, our very existence laid in the very balance of survival and what we found out was that “When We Fight, We WIN.”

In November of 2013, a conservative TEA Party School Board majority was elected in Jefferson County. The new BOE, John Newkirk, Julie Williams and Ken Witt, backed by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, the Independence Institute and other ultra conservative groups, planned to destroy JCEA and eventually dismantle public education in Jefferson County, Colorado.

In February 2014, after 12 years, Superintendent Cindy Stevenson announced her retirement saying “I can’t lead and manage because I am not respected by this board.” Dr. Stevenson’s departure from the district was a major blow to educators and administrators in Jefferson County and was a low point for many of us in 2014. But, even though morale was low, there were signs that educators were warming up for a fight.

During the winter of 2014, teachers, support staff, administrators and community members packed school board meetings at Bear Creek HS and Golden HS. The although the total number has been in debate for years, the fact remains that so many people showed up at both facilities, to the point that both high school auditoriums were filled to capacity and the fire marshal turned people away.

The sheer amount of people showing up to BOE meetings sparked a massive protest in May of 2014. In May 2014, the first of three “Boots on the Boulevard” happened and without a doubt was the largest protest during the School Board Majority years. Over 3500 pro-public education supporters lined Wadsworth Boulevard, from Standley Lake HS in the north, to Columbine HS in the south, to show the School Board Majority that our collective voice would not be silenced.

Throughout the 2014-15 school year, JCEA began to lay the foundation for change by reorganizing itself for the “Fight.” The most important organizational accomplishments during the 2014-15 year, was the establishment of a new governing body. JCEA leadership understood that if we were going to survive, we were going to need to get “our house” in order. We needed to change ourselves from a professional service union, to a fighting union. JCEA believed it needed to make this change before it could take on the School Board Majority head-on.

JCEA adopted a new board of directors to govern itself, known as the JCEA Operational Board. This was a major shift in organizational power away from staff and into the hands of leaders and the rank and file members of the JCEA. This bold move transformed JCEA and has become an example of democratic unionism in the education world today

Once JCEA had its own house in order, the organization started it’s “Going Public” campaign. In September 2014, the School Board Majority, made a huge political mistake by taking on Jeffco’s secondary social studies teachers. Julie Williams wanted to establish a new curriculum review committee to review the AP US History curriculum. This event sparked teacher sick-outs in five Jeffco high schools and massive student walk-outs across the districted. This story caught fire and JCEA capitalized on this event by getting our members in front of all of the major national media affiliates. This resulted in a nationwide conversation about Jeffco Public Schools, Jeffco students, the School Board Majority and JCEA. It was crucial time in JCEA’s struggle and was a major turning point in the battle for public education in Jefferson County.

“Going Public” included JCEA releasing a strike FAQ to its members in May of 2015. This was also picked up by the mainstream media and also caught fire.  The strike FAQ raise the question of a potential JCEA strike in August of 2015. Soon after the strike FAQ was published, three Jeffco parents pulled recall petitions for the School Board Majority.

Over the next six months JCEA members worked tirelessly on the recall campaign and getting our message out to the public any chance we could. In addition to the nationwide coverage of the AP History curriculum and the Strike FAQ, other memorable social media moments include: Burritogate, the Salsa Summit, Ken Witt filing an ethics complaint against himself, Americans for Prosperity buying an ad in support of the School Board Majority during a Monday Night Football game featuring the Broncos, shutting JCEA out of New Educator Induction and calling the Lakewood Police, the hiring of Lisa Pinto and many more.

The fight for public education culminated in November 2015 and became a defining moment in JCEA’s history. Leading up to election night, more than 800 JCEA members canvased for the recall of WNW and more than 100 members canvased more than three times. In all, about 33% of JCEA members engaged in the Recall election and 96% of JCEA members who were eligible to vote in the election voted.

On November 3rd, 2015, with the national spotlight on the Jefferson County’s school board election, we all held our breath and waited for polls to close. Shortly after the polls closed on election night it became clear that Jeffco had taken back its schools. By an almost two to one margin the Board Majority was recalled and all five JCEA recommended candidates won by large margins.

The bottom line is, “When we fight we WIN!