DCF Education Research Series: Quality Instruction

All children should be taught by well-qualified, properly trained, and continuously improving great teachers. Educators need experiences for learning that are ongoing, job-embedded, connected to practice, aligned to school and district goals, and collaborative. To do this, it is necessary to go beyond professional development activities that may be isolated learning events and move toward implementing practices that promote professional growth. Professional learning decisions are made in consultation with the educators who are required to make instructional improvements.

We have always known that having a quality teacher is critical to student success.[i] Teachers have an impact on their students beyond just test scores – they can have long-term impacts on other factors such as graduation, college attendance, employment, and future wages. With few exceptions, the best teachers, the ones who make a difference in children’s lives year after year, are made, not born. Some research shows most of the gains from professional development happen in the first five years of teaching, but that research tends to focus on test scores. Additionally, professional development in this country is often lackluster, and a more targeted and thorough approach would have greater benefits to teachers throughout their careers.

The OECD reviewed nations around the world to analyze what good professional development is and how to get it.[ii] They found that effective professional development is continuous, includes training, practice, and feedback, and provides adequate time and follow-up support. It should also focus on clearly articulated priorities; provide ongoing school-based support to classroom teachers; deal with subject matter, instructional strategies, and classroom-management techniques; and provide opportunities for teachers to observe others and try new teaching methods. Professional development should be developed with extensive participation of teachers, principals, other school leaders, parents, and administrators.

A research report from the National Staff Development Council and the School Redesign Network at Stanford University[iii] found that intensive and sustained efforts of professional development over a period of time are more likely to be effective in improving instruction than intermittent workshops with no follow-up. Professional development is most effective when teachers engage actively in instructional inquiry in the context of collaborative professional communities, focused on instructional improvement and student achievement. This work also encourages the use of the term “professional learning” as opposed to development because it encompasses an ongoing process rather than just a one-off event.

[i] Goldhaber, D. (2016). In Schools, Teacher Quality Matters Most. Education Next, Spring, pg. 56-62.

[ii] Schleicher, A. (2016). Teaching Excellence through Professional Learning and Policy Reform: Lessons from Around the World. International Summit on the Teaching Profession, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[iii] Wei, R. C., Darling-Hammond, L., Andree, A., Richardson, N., Orphanos, S. (2009). Professional learning in the learning profession: A status report on teacher development in the United States and abroad. National Staff Development Council, Dallas, TX.

District E applications

Below are the responses given by the candidates who interviewed for the vacant school board director position.


I am a retired central office administrator from the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools (with 100,000+ students) in Louisville, KY. For part of my career, I worked in the Grants & Awards department and was responsible for assisting senior management by ensuring that all of the District’s hundreds of grants were properly administered (i.e. all regulations and laws were adhered to, all financial and programmatic reports were timely filed, thus generating audits which were relatively free of material findings). Later in my career, I managed the Gheens Academy, which facilitated the majority of the teacher training sessions as well as hosting sessions for all other types of employees. I supervised a core staff of 10 – 14 people, which could grow to 50+ during the peak times when over 1,000 teachers (out of about 6,000) were being trained simultaneously in various aspects of literacy, math, science, etc. Part of the duties included providing all financial support for the curriculum / content specialists, so I was exposed to and learned expansively about the various instructional programs and practices used by the District. This position also gave me multiple opportunities to gain experience with security procedures, as I had to ensure the safety of everyone on the campus, and it gave me a great foundation for how to deal with difficult people.

Throughout my career, I directly managed many sources of funding, including:
• General fund (operations, salaries)
• State grants (safe schools, literacy, textbooks, after school programs)
• Private foundation grants
• Federal grants (Titles I and II)
While the amount varied each year depending on grants received and assigned duties, I directly managed $75+ million in funds at the peak of the financial part of my career. At various times, I also had indirect oversight over funding for dozens of other grants such as Titles III and IV. My budget experience was not limited to the public schools, as I also administered funds provided to both private and home schools. Many times in my career, I have made tough funding choices to best utilize the available dollars, and therefore understand how difficult it is to reconcile what the fiscal needs are (and what the public wants) with what can truly be provided.

I served an elected term on the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) Board of Trustees, which oversees the retirement plans for over 240,000 active and retired public employees and has investment assets totaling about $16 billion. In that role, I served on the investment and audit committees and was chair of the audit committee. This was a great growth experience for me in that I was exposed to large scale investment strategies, tactics for providing excellent support for our retired members across the country, and, quite simply, having the responsibility for the ensuring that our members could count on KRS to provide the benefits in a timely manner that they had earned over the course of their careers.

My excellent problem solving skills have served me well throughout the years. I love being “hit” with a difficult problem and coming up with a positive solution. It’s important to me that everyone feels they have contributed to the success of whatever the endeavor or “issue of the day is,” so I truly enjoy working to build consensus with all stakeholders.

Through my volunteer work at one of the Jefferson County (KY) Public Schools high schools, I gained tremendous appreciation for the arts. I was the theatrical lighting and sound engineer for countless productions by the show choir both at their school and around the country when we traveled for competitions. Our productions were significantly more elaborate than what a typical high school choir / theater department is able to do, because we had complete access to the sets and props of a company that designed and built them for the Oscars, Broadway and TV shows, and we were fortunate enough to be able to purchase the type of lighting and sound equipment usually only found in professional theaters.

I have been an active volunteer in my children’s (DCSD) schools for the past several years and look forward to continuing being active throughout their educational tenure. I have done odd jobs (such as assembling furniture) to assisting with book fairs, science fairs and athletic events to running the Holiday Shop. I am an active member of the Acres Green PTO and the Eagle Ridge PTA. I also volunteer for various functions at the church my family attends.

With one child in 3rd grade at Acres Green (in the Discovery Program) and twins in 1st grade at Eagle Ridge, I have a vested interest in ensuring that the DCSD continues to strive for the finest educational experience for all children. I always bring an open mind to the table, and when presented with difficult choices resulting from differing opinions, I will strive to listen to and understand all sides before committing to a decision that is best for our children’s future.

There is not one “right” way to increase or improve student achievement (both at the school and District levels), and therefore, it’s critical to include and listen to all of the District’s stakeholders before making decisions affecting the District’s prospective graduates. For instance, a given curriculum may be perfect for one school, but not for a neighboring school, and I’d like to ensure that parents continue to have wide access to a variety of programs (or educational approaches), cultures, management styles, etc

I am an exceptionally quick learner, and while I certainly have a lot to learn about the DCSD, my broad background in K-12 education will easily allow me to “hit the ground running” if fortunate enough to be appointed to the BOE. A personal goal would be to meet with the District’s cabinet level staff and several department heads within the first month for “DCSD 101 training” in order to develop a foundation for understanding how the District operates, who is responsible for what functions, the history of the District, etc. Along those same lines, I would also like to meet with front-line educators and staff to hear what is going great, what is not, and most importantly, what we can do to support them 100%. Being a stay-at-home dad gives me the distinctive opportunity to meet and interact with District and school staff as well as parents and other stakeholders during the day. It is certainly my intent to serve more than one year, and therefore, I plan on running for election to the Board when the appointed term ends.


Summary of Qualifications:
Five years of classroom teaching.
28 years of full-time administrative experience at the junior, middle, and high school levels.
Five years as a principal of academic summer school.
Proven experience in the teacher evaluation process.
Developed and maintained positive rapport with students, staff, and community.
Supervised, mentored, and evaluated teachers through their colleges and universities seeking certification in teaching, counseling, and administration.

Volunteer Work:
Youth Celebrate Diversity, Board Member
Walk-about at Rocky Heights Middle School
Classroom assistant at Buffalo Ridge Elementary
SAC Committee representative at Buffalo Ridge Elementary
Boys’ Basketball Assistant Coach at Highlands Ranch High School
CHSAA, Appeals Board Member
Golf For A Future, Board Member
Boys’ Basketball Assistant Coach at Aurora Central High School
American Cancer Society, Member and President
RECCS Scholarship Committee

To leverage my 33 years of administrative experience within a public school setting to accomplish academic excellence.


Summary of Qualifications:
* 31 year resident in Director District E and a registered Republican.
* I have been a long-time friend of the District, since 1990, which continues to this date.
• Earned Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management / Economics from University of San Diego.
• Active for seven years on the Board of Trustees of the Douglas County Educational Foundation, including two years as President. Instrumental in raising, in excess of $250,000, for worthy grants for students, teachers and parents.
• Served on several committees (budget, Special Education, deaf and hard of hearing) at the request of Rick O’Connell, then Superintendent of DCSD.
• Our daughter was a Special Education student in DCSD from Child Find pre-school to graduating with distinction from Douglas County High School.
• Gained important perspectives by participating in the tri-annual “Staffings” and annual IEP’s for our daughter.
• I supported and was very involved when Rick O’Connell asked my wife to co-chair for a DCSD Bond and Mill Levy campaign, which was successfully passed.
• Merchandise Control & Systems Manager for entire Sears’ western territory. Major responsibility was budgeting for all 800 + retail stores’ inventory.
• Regional Vice President for America’s Cash Express, 125 stores. Key responsibility was developing an annual line level budget for each store.
• Great sensitivity for employee relations, since I have had direct responsibility for over 250 employees during the last 30 years.
• Vietnam Navy veteran, 1968 and 1969, with a Construction Regiment (on-land).

I am fully retired and have the willingness and time to invest as a member of the BOE. I can make all time investments as stated in the application. My commitment is to visit all District E schools within the first 30 days to observe and listen. I have personal strengths consistent with the obligations stated in the application “Board duties and responsibilities may include: a. acting as an advocate for students and public education… d. establishing District priorities through approval of the budget…” As a member of the BOE, I would have as a focus, not only all students but, especially those students with disabilities as well as their parents. I have learned the difference between “advocating” verses being “adversarial” in order to work well with Special Education providers. I would be eager to use my background in budgeting to help inform the entire BOE on moving all possible budget dollars down to the “last three feet, where the students are.” I am pro “choice” by advocating funding for the great neighborhood, charter and alternative schools within DCSD. I believe in utilizing the ‘consensus model’ where we can reduce the heated rhetoric and increase the meaningful dialog on the BOE.


My husband and I have lived in Douglas County since we moved to Colorado in 1996. Our children both attend DCSD schools and we’ve had very positive experiences throughout the 11 years we’ve been part of the DCSD community. I currently serve as Vice President of Business Intelligence at CHI, the third largest non-profit health system in the country. In my role as VP, I lead a team of 65 people who design and develop information solutions to improve the health of our patients. In addition, I manage operational and capital budgets in excess of $10M annually and lead governance efforts with senior leaders and staff nationally. My role requires gathering various points of view, working through controversial topics, and fully understanding complex issues. I feel one of my greatest strengths is leading teams to consensus decisions making that aligns with the best interest of the organization. In addition to the skills I bring from my current role, my prior work and volunteer experiences would make me a valuable addition to the DCSD Board. I have Bachelor of Science in English Education from Illinois State University and taught high school English and Communications and coached speech team for several years. I also worked in higher education at Regis University for over 10 years in various positions including admissions, administration, and operations. My volunteer experience includes SAC member at Acres Green Elementary and district delegate for Highlands Ranch Community Association (HRCA). Previously I tutored through Douglas County Libraries for adult ESL. I enjoy volunteering at my kids’ schools and our church.

My family has had wonderful experiences being a part of DCSD and I’d like to see our district continue to have a positive influence and reputation within our community.

My experiences as a teacher, parent, and professional uniquely qualify me for this role. I believe my skills and personality will provide a positive impact to the current board and the DCSD community.


Navy Officer with 6 years of Active duty service, 2 years in the Reserves – Healthcare Executive at UCHealth Anschutz – Previously employed at Davita Health Partners – MBA in Health Administration

The quality of our schools is a critical part of maintaining a dynamic economy over the next 50 years. Douglas County needs a highly educated work force that can thrive in the new economy. We need innovative schools that challenge convention, inspire our children and support our teachers.

I would be humbled by the opportunity to serve Douglas County on the Board of Education.


I have a Ph.D. in education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During my 30-year career, I was a classroom teacher, administrator, education professor, researcher, international consultant, and consultant for Colorado Department of Education. I have been retired for six years, and currently do volunteer work in the Douglas County School District.

I have a granddaughter who attends a Douglas County school. She is 5 years old. I provided full-time daycare for her since her birth. I want her to have an education that ensures that she has both hard and soft skills, so that she can follow her dreams and meet the challenges of the 21st century. I have volunteered in her kindergarten class, and I love all those kids, too. I want for them and all students what I want for her. That is my only agenda.

My core belief is that public education is essential for the success of students, their communities and, indeed our nation. As such, those who are responsible for the direction of public schools must provide an environment for success held to diverse measures and standards which include input from children, parents, citizens, leaders and educational institutions. There is no single way to educate children. There is no single way to measure the success of education. Educational ideas, practices, outcomes and standards flourish in a climate of diversity, support, collaboration, trust, and belief in the merit of each other’s ideas.

MITCHELL WHITUS–Withdrew his application

As a recent 2010 graduate of Douglas County High School, and having attended school in Douglas County from kindergarten through twelfth grade, I experienced first-hand the school district’s education system from a student’s point of view. This is a unique perspective that I hope to bring to the Board of Education.

Additionally, I am the elected president of Liberty Toastmasters-Denver. Managing a team of six officers and over twenty members, I am comfortable setting and achieving goals in a team setting, and I can articulate my vision and values with clarity. We are currently on track to achieve President’s Distinguished status, which is the highest honor given from Toastmasters International for club performance.

During my time at the University of Colorado at Boulder, after being elected Vice President of the Arts and Sciences Student Government, I gained experience working with fellow legislators to prioritize a budget of nearly $100,000 and communicate with stakeholders.

Finally, in my current role as Director of Operations with a public affairs company, I understand the value of good communication. I am responsible for the development and oversight of numerous recruitment events and daylong leadership and educational training.

Being a former K-12 student in the Douglas County School District, I want to ensure that the county provides a world-class education. I plan on continuing to live in Douglas County long-term, and it’s important to me that the school board fosters an environment in which students have the greatest opportunities to succeed, teachers are respected, and parents have choice in their child’s education.

I want to serve on the Board of Education because I believe that I can provide value as a former Douglas County student, and I believe that I can contribute to a positive culture shift in the school district. At the moment, good communication between the board, district employees, students, and parents is critical. I believe that I could provide some of that communication with my skill set and background.

I have spent most of my life in Douglas County. Except for my time during and immediately following college, I have been a resident of the county, and I care very deeply about the education system. I would be very excited for this opportunity to serve the school district which provided me so many opportunities.

Fagen’s Contract: Worth Over $1.5 Million

Fagen contract 1

Superintendent Fagen’s latest five year contract is a great deal–for her.

Fagen employement term

Salary and Perks

Fagen’s base salary is $273,715.05. The salary may be increased at any time during the contract. Based on the two hundred sixty day contract, Fagen’s per-diem (daily) rate is $1,052.75.

Fagen contract salary

If Fagen has paid speaking engagements, she must use her personal or vacation time in order to keep the compensation from those engagements.

Fagen contract outside activities

But that’s not much of a problem, because she has thirty-five PAID days off annually.

Additionally, the Superintendent can be paid out for up to ten days at the per diem rate (of $1,052.75), per year. That is a perk valued at $10,527.50, per year.

Teachers are allowed to cash out unused sick days (for right now) if they have at least ten consecutive years of service. The cash amount for their sick days is currently $48/day, according to the Compensation and Benefits Handbook.

Fagen contract leave

Evaluation Rating: Highly Effective

Fagen’s rating of “Highly Effective” earned her a 5.4% bonus this year. That brings her compensation up to $288,495.66.

Fagen contract performance pay

PERA and Additional Retirement

As a district employee, Fagen receives PERA (Public Employee Retirement) instead of Social Security. She also receives supplemental retirement benefits of up to $20,000/year. Assuming she is receiving the maximum, her annual compensation is $308,495.66.

Fagen contract retirement

In addition to the maximum contribution of $20,000, the district will match any contribution Fagen makes herself–up to one and a half times (the IRS limits the total employer/employee contribution to $53,000)–meaning a possible additional yearly compensation of nearly $20,000.

Fagen contract retirement 2

Anyone who has been to Board meetings knows how much the DCSD school board despises PERA. So, it’s especially interesting that Fagen’s own required employee contributions, 8% to PERA, are generously being reimbursed to her by the taxpayers of Douglas County on the authority of the Board.

Eight percent of her salary, including Pay for Performance, as that is PERA eligible, is $23,079.64. This brings her total compensation up to $331,575.31.

Fagen contract PERA

Fagen contract Fringe Benefits

Fagen’s insurance premiums for her family coverage are fully paid by DCSD, as well as all of her deductibles and co-pays. This means that when Dr. Fagen, or anyone covered by her family coverage, goes to the doctor the district reimburses her out-of-pocket expenses.

Additionally, she has a life insurance policy equal to twice her annual salary.

Fagen contract insurance

Contract Buy-Out with a Million Dollar Price Tag

There is a clause for termination of the superintendent’s contract which includes a buy-out of the contract.

Fagen contract unilateral termination

Using the most conservative number to calculate the buy-out of the contract (base salary only), and given that Fagen has fifty-six months remaining on her contract, the cost to buy Dr. Fagen out of her contract right now is $1,277,336.90.

Intellectual Property

Employees know that all of their lesson plans, notes, programs, etc. that they create as a part of their employment with DCSD belongs to DCSD, based on laws around “Intellectual Property.”

So, one of the most “interesting” parts of Fagen’s contract is this:

Fagen contract ownership of original works

The current DCSD Board of Education has proven to be very liberal with Douglas County taxpayer dollars when it comes to their superintendent. At the same time this school board was vocalizing their desire to be prudent with taxpayer money when it comes fully funding schools and addressing the capital needs of buildings and facilities, they approved an extremely lucrative contract for their superintendent.

The Truth Behind DCSD and the “US News” Best High School Rankings

Liz Fagen and Kevin Larsen spoke on KHOW 630 AM last week to address the fact that NO Douglas County School District (DCSD) schools were ranked on the US News and World Report Best High Schools list, for the second consecutive year. Fagen and Larsen claim that DCSD schools aren’t on the list because US News unfairly “weights” poverty (free and reduced lunch eligible) and therefore DCSD schools don’t qualify. The host of the radio program, Mandy Connell, agreed, and commented that Cherry Creek (CCSD) also didn’t have schools on the list. That, however, is not true–CCSD does have schools ranked on the list, although CCSD has a higher free and reduced lunch percentage (30%) so it’s irrelevant to the argument.

Fagen says, on the KHOW recording, that she believes it was last year that US News changed their methodology–adding a “weighting” for particular students (at risk and minority). Interestingly, US News did change their methodology this year to make it easier for schools to appear on the lists (see screenshot below explaining step 1).

Connell explains that “weighting” means that schools with higher free and reduced lunch percentages “start out ahead,” that the methodology “give[s] them extra points.” Fagen says, “right.”

Fagen goes on to say that schools have “to show that those students [at risk, poverty, minority] perform high in these metrics, so if you are a district that has fewer your schools are penalized in the formula . . . you are unlikely to be able to be in the ranking.”

This portion of the conversation starts out about 75% of the way through the interview, available here.

Well, one might start to feel sorry for DCSD–it seems that the chips are stacked against a district with only 11% of students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch and has a student enrollment that is 76% white.

However, the sixth ranked school in Colorado is Aspen High School (ranked 214 Nationally). Aspen school district has a 5% free and reduced eligible population (and less diversity) while DCSD has 11%,–so much for the argument that schools with low free and reduced eligible students aren’t eligible for ranking.

Below are the Free & Reduced Lunch statistics for some districts in Colorado whose schools did show up on the ranking.

Free and Reduced percentages

Here are a few other examples that negate the argument that Fagen and Larsen insist is the reason DCSD doesn’t have any schools ranked on the list.

  • Academy 20 District
    • Air Academy, ranked #30, #1039 Nationally
    • 13% free and reduced eligibility (just two points higher than DCSD)
    • 74% white student demographic
  • Cheyenne Mountain District
    • Cheyenne Mountain ranked #20, #643 Nationally
    • 14% free and reduced eligibility (just three points higher than DCSD)
    • 74% white student demographic
  • Lewis Palmer District
    • Lewis Palmer ranked #17, #608 Nationally
    • 9% free and reduced eligibility (two points lower than DCSD)
    • 81% white student demographic

US News and World Report outlines the methodology used in the rankings. In Step 1–districts must have students perform “better than statistically expected for students in their state.” Clearly, Aspen and Lewis Palmer, with lower free and reduced eligible percentages, and Cheyenne Mountain and Academy 20, with percentages three and two points higher, respectively, than DCSD, all met that criteria. (See step 1 of the methodology below).

US news methodolgy step 1

Step 2 in the methodology is determining if a district’s “disadvantaged students – black, Hispanic and low-income – were outperforming disadvantaged students in the state.”

US News methodology step 2

Provided that a district (or school) met the step 1 and 2 criteria, the final step involved college readiness, including Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate data. Fagen and Larsen seemed to be blaming the methodology in step 1 or 2, rather than 3. However, step 3 is below.

US News methodology step 3

The methodology also takes into consideration the minority population of the schools. Below is district minority statistics found on Colorado Department of Education’s website. DCSD has a similar ethnic make-up to the other districts as well.


%White %Black %Hispanic %Asian %American Indian or Alaskan Native %Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander %Two or more races
DCSD 76% 2% 14% 4% 0% 0% 4%
Academy 20 74% 3% 12% 4% 0% 0% 6%
Aspen 86% 1% 11% 2% 0% 0% 0%
Cheyenne Mtn 74% 3% 14% 4% 0% 0% 5%
Lewis -Palmer 81% 1% 10% 3% 1% 0% 4%

Interestingly, US News and World Report states that it was actually easier to pass step 1 this year than last year. And yet, still no DCSD schools were ranked, whereas other districts with comparable poverty and minority students (some with less poverty and less diversity) did make the list. Perhaps these districts are truly “world class” and DCSD should be learning from them.

We know how hard the students and employees of DCSD are working each day. However, the bottom line is, the reforms being forced on the students of DCSD are not working and these are the results.


Douglas County School District Climate Survey of Teachers and Staff 2014/2015 School Year

Previous to the Liz Fagen era (July 1, 2010 to present), DCSD superintendents conducted annual “culture and climate” surveys of their staff.

In 2011, after hearing increasing concerns from members about a negative culture and climate in DCSD, the Douglas County Federation contracted a third-party vendor to conduct a “climate and culture” survey of DCSD staff during the 2011-2012 school year. Those results showed a high level of dissatisfaction among staff working in DCSD.

After five years of waiting for another DCSD staff survey, it became apparent that Dr. Fagen has no intention of doing so. Therefore, the DCF decided to once again fund a third-party survey of DCSD staff and in February hired Strategies 360 (S360) to conduct an anonymous survey of teachers and staff.

According to S360, the sample size of respondents was robust enough to make well-informed assessments about attitudes across the district. S360 also reported that the survey attracted responses from across the spectrum in terms of length of employment in DCSD.

Strategies 360 (S360) conclusions from the survey:


  • By nearly any measure, morale has fallen across the board–even beyond the record lows measured in 2012 (page 3).
  • This deeply-rooted dissatisfaction with district administration and priorities is not sustainable (page 3).
  • One of the most salient findings in this data is the extent to which teachers loathe their own evaluation system (page 6).


  • These are not token sentiments; teachers report a greater likelihood and desire to leave the district than ever before (page 3).

Below are some of the results, please click here for the complete report.

I believe the district is moving in a positive direction

(page 4)

The highest priority of a school district should be the quality of education its students are receiving, therefore the following conclusion of the survey is very concerning:

Fewer than 10%

(page 3)

Turnover continues to be a problem in DCSD and the survey results indicate it will continue to be a problem. DCSD stands to lose veteran and new teachers.

How likely would you be to leave
(page 7)

leave education . . .

(page 8)

DCSD claims that their “market pay” system attracts and retains the best employees–however, their employees don’t agree.

Furthermore . . .

(page 7)

The working environment for teachers and staff is the students’ learning environment, which is what makes the following results very concerning.


(page 4)

Another initiative the district claims is attracting and retaining the best employees is the “Pay for Performance” plan. Survey results indicate the opposite.

pay for performance

(page 6)

Collaboration is one of the “4 Cs” that DCSD claims they value–however, according to these results, what they are putting into practice is not encouraging collaboration.

Additionally, the results of the survey indicate that only 3% of teachers find CITE, DCSD’s teacher evaluation system, to be a valid and reliable instrument to measure their effectiveness.

Climate statements

(page 6)

Finally, in response to a question about confidence in their Superintendent, DCSD employees have given a definitive response.

superintendent confidence
(page 5)

It appears, based on this data, that teachers and staff members who are working daily with students believe the reforms being imposed by Liz Fagen and the DCSD Board of Education are negatively impacting their students and the climate of DCSD.


Employees asked to donate to the DCEF

On March 13, 2015, employees received the following email asking them to donate a gift of “any amount” to register their “name for a future payroll deduction with the Douglas County Educational Foundation (DCEF)” for a chance to win Garth Brooks concert tickets.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.19.57 PM

Financial experts often recommend that people investigate any charity before donating money. However, finding a rating for DCEF is difficult; they are not listed on Charity Navigator. A quick Google search for DCEF brings up some interesting articles:

In 2013, the DCEF paid the majority of a fee charged by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute to write a white paper titled the Most Interesting School District in America with the remaining cost covered by DCSD, violating Colorado’s Fair Campaign Practices Act.  

To be fair, the new director of DCEF Jason Christensen, who is paid $7,500 a month or $90,000 a year (about $35,000 more than the average DCSD teacher–see screenshot below), has promised that “under his direction and a newly created strategic plan, the DCEF has no intention of following a similar path.” And that the good work of the DCEF has gotten lost in “so called controversy.”

jason christensen pay

Because the DCEF is not subject to Sunshine Laws, the full cost of past spending on white papers touting DCSD’s innovations as well as a recent DCSD Innovation Summit will remain unknown.

Of course, it is completely up to employees if they want to donate to an organization that in the past has worked to tout the current reforms in DCSD and has paid experts to share how well the reforms are working.

Perhaps the DCEF, under new leadership, will finally open their books to show exactly which groups are donating and how those donations are being spent.



Teachers and Staff–we want to hear your voices

Previous to the Liz Fagen era (July 1, 2010 to present), DCSD superintendents conducted annual “culture and climate” surveys of their staff, the most recent was during the 2009-2010 school year. In the five years she has been superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Fagen has never surveyed her staff.

During the school year before Dr. Fagen was hired, the district conducted a total of seven surveys of every conceivable “stakeholder.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 8.18.55 PM
In 2011, after hearing increasing concerns from teachers and staff about a negative culture and climate in DCSD, the Douglas County Federation contracted a third-party vendor to administer a “climate and culture” survey of DCSD staff during the 2011-2012 school year. The results showed a high level of dissatisfaction among staff working in DCSD.

After five years, it has become obvious that the the BoE and superintendent still have no intention of conducting a staff survey. Therefore, the Douglas County Federation has decided, once again, to fund a third-party survey of DCSD employees.

While the DCF commissioned this survey, it will be administered, housed and analyzed by Strategies 360. The survey window will be open from February 20th through March 13th.

We have no idea what this survey will reveal, but feel strongly that it’s been too long since teachers and staff have had a chance to share their perceptions of the learning environment in DCSD.



DCSD struggles with unfilled sub days

There has been an increase in unfilled sub days in Douglas County School District (as shown in the chart below). Teachers report having to cover classes for sick teachers leaving office staff scrambling to make sure classes are covered.

Below is a chart of jobs for substitutes for the first five months of this school year. Remember, in October schools are closed for one to two weeks and in December for one and a half weeks.

August, 2014 September, 2014 October, 2014 November 2014 December, 2014
Total sub jobs 1,864 4,503 3,743 3,924 3,460
Total filled 1,832 4,345 3,652 3,769 3,224
Jobs unfilled 29 147 84 147 228
Job fill-rate 98% 96% 98% 96% 93%

“The primary root cause for this challenge is same-day teacher absences, for example employees who have woken up sick or have a sick child.”  (source: 2/3/15 email to DCSD substitute teachers).

However, this has always been a reason teachers would need a same-day scheduled substitute. This is not a new phenomenon. Sadly, teachers tell us their increased stress levels have caused them to take more sick days.

With stress comes lowered immune systems and more illnesses. Stress compromises the immune system. According to The American Institute of Stress, workplace stress is associated with . . . having little control but lots of demands–” which sounds like the definition of working in the Douglas County School District.

DCSD updated their Board Policy this year. The policy states that “Employees who expect to be absent from work for more than three (3) consecutive days should discuss their circumstances with the Benefits Department to determine if a leave of absence is appropriate for the absence situation.” If a teacher has the flu, for example, and really needs five days to fully recuperate, having to apply for a leave of absence after the third day might be motivation to return to work ill.

Additionally, several schools are piloting a program (Substitute Budget Pilot 2014-15) where participating schools are given a lump sum to pay for subs for the year. If the schools don’t spend all of the lump sum, they get to keep the remaining money at the end of the year.

Teachers have shared with us that they feel pressured not use their sick days–knowing that essentially, every day “costs” their school directly. And with schools continuing to ask parents for direct donations and holding “fun-runs” and other events to pay for running their schools, this money is quite the carrot for both principals and staff.

Here’s an idea, why doesn’t DCSD address this possible cause of teacher absenteeism. The negative culture and climate of DCSD may be making employees physically ill. And as all of us know, a teacher’s working environment is a student’s learning environment. Of course, DCSD could conduct a staff climate and culture survey–and then everyone would know the truth about what is happening to staff and students in DCSD.




Early Childhood Education: “affectionate and supportive” or “rigorous?”

One might argue that the growing concern of parents, guardians, teachers, and school staff members about the implementation of Common Core is tied closely with concerns about the standardized testing that comes along with it.

In answer to these growing concerns “Dr. Liz Fagen wants Douglas County School District parents to know that the Common Core Standards are not rigorous enough for our kids” (emphasis added). In fact, the district often refers to the common core as the “common floor.”

As part of this introduction of rigor, and exceeding the floor of Common Core, DCSD has their own GVCs (Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum) for preschoolers and WCOs (World Class Outcomes) for kindergarteners.

According to the GVCs, our preschoolers are supposed to

“Evaluate evidence to distinguish relevant and non-relevant information to support a position”
“Create meaning strategically in reading and writing”
“Reason abstractly and quantitatively.”

According to the WCOs, our kindergarteners are supposed to

“Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others”
“Analyze the principles of personal well-being”
“Develop emotional and situational perspectives of self and others”

While the prominent researcher in child development, Jean Piaget, explains that abstract reasoning occurs in the formal operational stage at about age 11-12, DCSD’s
World Class System will be churning out 3 year olds who are expected to “reason abstractly and quantitatively” and 6 year olds who are going to be “critiquing the reasoning of others.”

According to DCSD, GVCs and WCOs “surpass the state standards by requiring students to use higher levels of thinking,” apparently regardless of whether or not it is developmentally appropriate or even feasible.

The Colorado Model Content Standards for preschool (which have Common Core State Standards embedded) sure do sound easier. Are they, perhaps, more developmentally appropriate for 3 to 5 year olds? In fact, “the mother of early childhood literacy,” Marie Clay’s Concepts of Print are part of the State Standards for literacy.


  • Hold books in upright position, turn pages sequentially, recognize correct orientation (top to bottom, left to right)
  • Recognize print in the environment
  • Draw pictures to generate, represent, and express ideas or share information
  • Orally describe or tell about a picture
  • Use shapes, letter-like symbols, and letters to represent words or ideas


  • Quantities can be represented and counted
  • Shapes can be observed in the world and described in relation to one another
  • Measurement is used to compare objects

Here’s where it gets confusing. Dr. Fagen recently retweeted this article, which seems to contradict the rigor of the GVCs and WCOs.

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The article supports “ . . . a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play.”

It sure seems that describing early childhood education as “…a rich, stable, and safe world, with affectionate and supportive grown-ups, and lots of opportunities for exploration and play” sounds more reasonable than the realities of what is being pushed by the upper administration of DCSD these days, which is a rigorous education for Douglas County 3-6 year olds.


  1. strictness, severity, or harshness, as in dealing with people.
  2. the full or extreme severity of laws, rules, etc.
  3. severity of living conditions; hardship; austerity:the rigor of wartime existence.
  4. a severe or harsh act, circumstance, etc.
  5. scrupulous or inflexible accuracy or adherence: the logical rigor of mathematics.
  6. severity of weather or climate or an instance of this:the rigors of winter.
  7. Pathology. a sudden coldness, as that preceding certain fevers; chill.

Are we to think that Fagen believes early childhood education should be “affectionate and supportive” or “rigorous?”

Do we think Fagen understands the real concerns of parents and teachers about Common Core? About standardized testing?

Do we think Fagen might seek to understand through a staff survey? A parent survey?

Perhaps we should be asking, does she care?

It appears the answer is no.

World Class Math

A report on Cherry Creek School District’s website tells the story of Cherry Creek’s new-hires for the 2014/15 school year; it is interesting reading. The report lists turnover rates for CCSD and surrounding districts, as well as the number of new-hires who taught previously in other districts.

CCSD New Hires 2014

Sadly, no another district provided a greater number of experienced teachers to Cherry Creek than Douglas County. According to Cherry Creek School District’s website, and an article by Jane Reuter, seventeen percent (90 total) of Cherry Creek’s new licensed staff members are from DCSD.

While CCSD has made an effort to show exact numbers and details around their new hires and turnover, the opposite continually seems to be the case when DCSD releases limited information about their hiring and turnover numbers.

Prompting us to ask, is this world class math?

For example–the DCSD Human Resources report presented at the September 2, 2014 Board of Education meeting shows that only 65 DCSD “effective or highly effective” licensed employees left the district to work in another district. Littleton Public Schools reports that 17 of their new teachers (out of 78) are from DCSD and CCSD reports 90, for a total of 107 licensed employees. Without considering other area districts, the number is already 42 licensed personnel higher than Cesare accounts for. Apparently one is to assume that CCSD and LPS hired a combined total of 42 less than “effective” teachers?

DCSD turnover HR report 2013-14

Cherry Creek also published a chart with licensed staff turnover percentages for surrounding districts.

CDE turnover per CCSD

DCSD uses their own “logic” to place their turnover closer to 13%; however, it seems that other districts use the accepted actual logic of numbers–all available from the Colorado Department of Education.

DCSD CDE turnover "logic"

The BoE Vice President, Doug Benevento, even wrote an opinion piece for the Denver Post, in which he uses this alternative logic to state that DCSD’s turnover rate was 13%, while the actual amount is 17.28%.  

There were 897 postings for the 2014/15 school year, compared to 356 in the 2010/11 school year. DCSD hasn’t built any new schools or significantly reduced class sizes across all levels.  At the September 2, 2014 BoE meeting Brian Cesare was asked if DCSD had added more positions and if that would explain why the number of postings has increased. He responded, “We believe there’s been growth but we don’t have that exact number for you.”

DCSD staffing requisitions 

If turnover is not an issue for DCSD, why then a jump in numbers of positions being posted? The inarguable, logical even, point is that DCSD’s actual turnover numbers are higher than most other districts and the state’s average.

Of course, DCSD believes the final word is spoken when they claim that they are getting rid of ineffective teachers. But–again, the way they present the numbers is illogical. They say they got rid of 100% of the ineffective teachers.

DCSD turnover by rating

And, how many teachers is that? According to Douglas County Parents 256 teachers who were rated effective or highly effective left the district, while 74 teachers who were rated partially effective and 9 teachers who were rated ineffective left the district. In other words, of all the teachers who left DCSD, 76% of them were rated effective or highly effective.

DCP teacher turnover real story


From all of this, what should be the logical conclusions?

More than 17% of teachers left DCSD at the end of last school year.

The majority of these teachers (76%) were effective and highly effective.

CCSD benefited from the purposeful chaos and disorder in DCSD by hiring 90 of these great teachers and other certified staff.

Ignoring what is really happening in DCSD is hurting both our students and our community–a fact that can’t be explained away.

The Real “World Class”– A Review of Independent Research

The Real

The Colorado Department of Education publishes District Performance Frameworks. One of the purposes for the Frameworks is to “hold districts and schools accountable for performance on the same, single set of indicators and measures.”  The 2012/13 Frameworks are found at here on the CDE website.

The first table shows performance of Denver area school districts in 2010 and the most recent results from 2013.

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Another way of looking at the Frameworks is to compare districts with a similar 2013 Framework index. This table lists Colorado school districts with scores from 72.2-72.8 (DCSD’s score was 72.4). These are districts that are now comparable to DCSD. Take note of the Free and Reduced Lunch percentages from these districts with similar scores.

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Currently, there are forty nine school districts in Colorado with a better performance framework percentage than DCSD. Four years ago that number was twenty.

It’s important to rank DCSD with districts that have a similar Free and Reduced Lunch Percentage because those districts are DCSD’s comparable districts.

Below are the Performance Framework scores for these districts.  Notice that DCSD’s score has dropped 7.4% between 2010 and 2013.
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When looking at teacher turnover, research proves that it harms student performance.
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The Schools Teachers Leave, The University of Chicago

How Teacher Turnover Harms Student Achievement, Matthew Ronfeldt, Hamilton Lankford, Susanna Loeb, James Wyckoff, The National Bureau of Economic Research

On the Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of Beginning Teachers, Mariana Haynes, Alliance for Excellent Education

A total of 455 teachers left DCSD at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, or about 222 MORE teachers than other Denver-area suburban school districts. In real school terms, this means an additional 5 full elementary schools of teachers left DCSD last year.

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Finally, let’s consider the continuing attacks on teacher’s unions. If we really care about our students and we want a “World Class” educational system, it’s time to pay attention to the research.

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Is this just the DCF trying to spread propaganda?

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If the leaders of DCSD truly cared about improving our schools, they would read Lessons from PISA for the United States and follow the advice from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development).

But don’t believe us, do the research for yourself.

The full Powerpoint presentation can be viewed here.