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Amy Kamb, a literacy interventionist for kindergarten through third-grade, has taught at Parr Elementary School in Arvada for three years. Jefferson County Public Schools announced last week that it is recommending closing multiple elementary schools in the district in 2023. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

More than 400 Jeffco teachers and other school staff members who work in 16 elementary schools that could close at the end of the school year must reapply for jobs if the closures are approved and they want to stay in the district in the future.

It’s a consequence of a Colorado state law dating back to 2010, one that some of the metro district’s educators worry will drive teachers and other employees out of Jeffco Public Schools after the school year is over.

“I’m scared that people might leave the profession and leave just because of this and that we’re going to lose some really good educators because they don’t want to jump through these hoops just to maintain these positions in Jeffco,” said Brooke Williams, president of the Jefferson County Education Association. “It has potential to have huge ramifications.”

District leadership last week announced recommendations to shutter 16 elementary schools, many of them serving far fewer students than their capacity and also catering to kids from low-income families. 

The proposals were largely prompted by declining enrollment across Jeffco Public Schools — a trend other districts across the state and country are experiencing as lower birth rates translate to fewer children in classrooms. The school board will vote on the recommendations in November, and if they approve the closures, students attending those schools will be redirected to other neighboring schools identified by the district, Chalkbeat Colorado reported

Meanwhile, 422 staff members — including 188 teachers — will have to polish their resumes and brush up on their interview skills if they want to remain in the district at another school. 

Both non-probationary staff members, meaning employees who have been deemed effective and are in good standing, and probationary staff members, referring to employees who may be facing a performance improvement plan or employees who have not yet completed three years and finished the induction process for licensure, will have to reapply for new jobs in the district, according to district spokeswoman Kimberly Eloe. Those in good standing will be guaranteed a job they meet the qualifications for in Jeffco Public Schools for the 2023-24 school year, even if it’s not a position they want long term. However, while probationary teachers will have the opportunity to apply for jobs in the district, if they are not hired, their contract will not be renewed for the 2023-24 school year.

The requirement for employees to apply for other positions in the district is also spelled out in Jeffco Public Schools’ contracts with JCEA, the local teachers union, and the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association to reflect a state law framed around educator effectiveness and evaluations.

“I think it needs to be completely rewritten or redone,” Williams said. “We’re all for accountability, but this is deterring people from entering education and staying in education.”

The human resources team within the district of about 69,000 students and about 14,000 employees will help affected staff with resume writing and interview preparation as they apply for jobs for the 2023-24 school year, Eloe said. The district, which has a capacity to educate about 96,000 students, will also pay for any educator interested in going back to school to earn endorsements that will qualify them for hard-to-fill positions, including in special education and secondary math and science.

Eloe said the district, which currently has 410 staff vacancies total, including 89 teachers, will have a high need for teachers and support staff across the district for the next school year, particularly in schools taking in displaced students. Staff members whose schools close may be able to be hired on at the schools their students move to, Eloe noted.

“It’s not a guarantee, but we do believe there will definitely be opportunities available for those who are interested in doing that,” she said.

The district, in partnership with local unions, is also considering reviewing internal candidates only for the next school year before they add external applicants into the hiring pipeline, Eloe said, adding the district may begin its hiring process in December, at least a month earlier than usual.

“This is very difficult work,” she said. “School closures and consolidations are among the most difficult work that any school district will engage their community in, and we are extremely aware of how challenging these changes.”

Parr Elementary School is one of multiple schools within Jefferson County Public Schools that could close in 2023. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Amy Kamb has seen the devastating toll a possible closure at Parr Elementary School where she works is taking on employees, particularly longtime staff members and even an educator who has spent her entire career at the Arvada elementary school.

“We were all hopeful it wouldn’t be us, even though we knew it was a possibility,” said Kamb, a K-3 reading teacher in her third year at Parr Elementary School. “Until we heard the words, we hoped we would be saved, and I’m sure all 15 other schools thought the same thing. It was a very shocking and sad moment for the staff.”

Kamb plans to apply for another job in the district after nearly two decades in classrooms in Vermont and Colorado so that she can help students who struggle to read, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. The hardest part for Jeffco educators will be watching, waiting and wondering, she said, as the district may not have final details about school staffing numbers or budgets until next year. Some educators worry about whether there will be positions for them as schools consolidate, Kamb said. Others may be lured by better pay to other school districts or to jobs outside education.

For now, Parr Elementary School teachers and staff must mask their emotions for the sake of their students and focus on helping them learn throughout the first few weeks of school, Kamb said.

They’re hoping the district will be supportive as they navigate the stress of having to find another job, she said, “while still maintaining our professional smiles on our face in front of our children and doing the very best for them in the moment, which we all will do because that’s who we are.”

Chris Cottingham is among the Parr Elementary School teachers who have already decided to leave Jeffco Public Schools should the board approve closures — even after Cottingham attended Parr Elementary School as a student, himself, along with his brother, mother and aunt.

The first grade teacher, who now works beside one of his own teachers, is wrestling with both grief and frustration as the threat of closure looms over his school, a place that does much more than educate students.

“It’s the cornerstone to our community, and I think that there’s sadness to see that go,” said Cottingham, who noted that most of the school’s students come from low-income homes and rely on the school for essentials like transportation and clothing.

Having to reapply for jobs in the district is stirring up anxiety among teachers, many of whom have already been on the edge of leaving, Cottingham said. He plans to continue his career in education but hopes to teach somewhere closer to his home in Aurora, where his two sons attend school.

But the thought of Parr Elementary School shutting down for good brings him to the verge of tears.

“It’s a loss of a piece of the community,” he said.

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Erica Breunlin

Email: erica@coloradosun.com Twitter: @EricaBreunlin