With the backdrop of rocky labor negotiations and student protests, several high-ranking Jefferson County School District employees to resign their positions in recent months.
Most recently, less than a month after hiring Lisa Pinto as the new …
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With the backdrop of rocky labor negotiations and student protests, several high-ranking Jefferson County School District employees resigned their positions in recent months.
Most recently, less than a month after hiring Lisa Pinto as the new Jeffco chief communications officer, 40 percent of the district’s communications department is gone. On Feb. 2, media relations specialist Melissa Reeves tendered her resignation effective immediately, while her colleague and assistant director of communications, Marlene Desmond, waits on administrative leave for her possible termination.
“With people’s personal decisions, I wish them well. I wish my former employee the best and I hope she has a successful career, but this strategy going forward is to have a collaborative conversation with the community, make sure we’re engaged and we get feedback,” Pinto said in regards to Reeves' departure. “It’s a strategy of community engagement, collaboration and speaking face to face with the principals, and that’s the direction the superintendent’s office wants us to go.”
With five staff positions, the department in charge of handling all communications between the district, staff, teachers, community and media is running shorter-staffed than it ever has in recent memory. According to community members, over the past 14 months, communications from the district have begun to slip. Key Communique, an email publication within the district, has disappeared, and memos and press releases haven’t been sent in a timely manner or in multiple languages.
Pinto says the the current situation a restructuring time, and that she will increase the size of the department to help spread the word about the positive things that are happening in the district.
“We’re right in the process of doing that right now. Some districts have, I believe, 35 people — we’re not going to 35 — but we are going to be along the same lines as where we were last year,” she said on the expansion. “Just building a team, a great team has always been the goal here. What’s really important is that children and teachers are messaged properly, none of the outside diversion or discussion.”
Prior to this, the district’s previous chief communications officer, Lynn Setzer resigned in November of last year to join a neighboring school district. Former media production specialist Lorie Hirose had also tendered her resignation, opting for a production company.
These individuals are not alone in their decision to leave. Over the past 14 months, the district has seen an extensive amount of resignations. Teachers and district staff alike have been resigning amidst a highly political and tumultuous culture within the county.
While seen as a restructuring opportunity from within, the moves by Reeves, Setzer, Hirose and possibly Desmond have raised concerns among those in the community, such as Support Jeffco Kids founder Jonna Levine.
“What happened in Douglas County is their communications department did a big switch-around, their expenditures went through the roof, they weren’t getting accurate information out to the district, so we’re going to watch it real careful to see what they do, if there are any replacements there, new hires, what kind of stuff they put out ... There are a lot of glitches already and we’re going to watch it real closely.”
According to Pinto, these times, while difficult, don’t discount the work Jeffco students and teachers are doing.
“There’s been some tough times in Jeffco over the last year, we know that, and I was brought in to take a fresh look at the communications structure in Jeffco and try to message the great things we do for children in this district and get rid of all the outside discussions that are not relevant to our mission,” Pinto said. “There’s a lot that this district is doing really, really well … As things heat up this spring, teachers have to understand how deeply they’re appreciated and cared for, and we want that message to get out.”
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