There was an outpouring of public support Thursday for Aspen High School Principal Kim Martin, one week after a group of teachers gave her a vote of no confidence.
Thursday’s Aspen Board of Education meeting was listed as a board of education retreat, but most of the audience members were there to voice their support for Martin during public comment.
Last week’s no-confidence vote during an Aspen Education Association meeting garnered a strong reaction from several Aspen High students earlier this week. At Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, it was mostly parents who gave unanimous support to Martin.
Sheila Kennedy Wills, president of the board, told audience members that the board would not be discussing the matter because it wasn’t on the meeting agenda.
“We’re a policy board,” Wills told the audience at the meeting. “We govern through written policy. We do not hire and fire teachers. We do not choose curriculums. We do not pick textbooks, but we do set the policy upon which all of those are done. If you would like to comment on anything, you’re more than welcome to. This board is your mouthpiece; you should come to us with your concerns because that’s how those concerns get turned into action. Personally, I’m thrilled you’re all here.”
Late Thursday afternoon, the Aspen Education Association sent this statement to The Aspen Times:
“Aspen High School has dedicated teachers who work tirelessly to educate their students and are committed to advocating for their learning conditions. We are disappointed by the fact that incomplete information was released to the media about a recent meeting at Aspen High School. On June 5 the faculty of Aspen High School did indeed meet to discuss concerns they have about the current learning environment for their students. We are committed to working collaboratively with the principal and superintendent to problem solve these issues in the best interests of our students.”
Most of the parents who spoke at the meeting told stories about their personal experiences with Martin and wanted more information about the teachers’ meeting where the vote of no confidence occurred. Another common request was for more transparency from the teachers.
Doug Knaus spoke to the board about his daughter at the high school. She played soccer and suffered a serious knee injury during the final game of the season and had to miss 10 days of school following her surgery.
“My daughter went from being an ‘A’ student to someone who was behind in her work,” Knaus said. “We approached Martin, and she acted like the CEO of a real-life corporate company on how she analyzed the issue and came up with the action steps to help my daughter’s situation. She was very student-centric and was terrific in how she dealt with my daughter.”
Parents Blanca and Cavanaugh O’Leary praised the district and the teachers they’ve had experiences with as their child went through the Aspen school system. Blanca O’Leary said that she was surprised the teachers took any type of action without a formal sit-down with Martin.
“We still think this can be worked out,” O’Leary said. “We want what’s best for our students. We need a procedure to work out these differences.”
Since the board sets its agendas at least two weeks in advance, Cavanaugh O’Leary said it’s critical to address Martin’s situation as soon as possible before any decisions are made about her future.
“There’s a big concern we could end up losing this principal who we all adore and have great respect for from delays in taking action,” he said. “That’s why we’re all here now to show our support. We don’t want anything irrevocable to happen.”
When Wills said she signed Martin’s renewal contract last week, the audience cheered.
Rudi Scheidt is the father of Ryan Scheidt, one of the Aspen seniors who started an online petition in support of Martin this past week. Rudi Scheidt voiced his support of Martin and then explained his disappointment with the teachers who held what he called a “secret meeting.”
Only one student spoke at the meeting. Junior Piper Hamill said there isn’t a teacher the students respect more than their principal.
“It’s really too bad she’s had to question herself in this process,” Hamill said.
When the comments ended, Wills explained that the board would discuss the comments and there would be information coming “fairly soon.”
Board member Bob Glah then said that in a small community like Aspen, people often are afraid of retribution for speaking their minds at a public meeting.
“That’s what I’ve seen,” Glah said. “I think it’s wrong because it prevents transparency from occurring. I would hope our teachers or administrators would never hold anything against somebody who spoke their piece. But it is a fact that I have heard about, behind the scenes, from community members.”
One parent responded by saying they felt they were taking a risk by speaking out against the teachers who voted no confidence toward Martin and who might hold that against their children because they spoke out.
“All of you are extremely brave for coming out and speaking your piece,” Glah said. “I wish more people did so when needed. It helps us connect with you and understand where you all are coming from.”
Ruth Harrison, a former Aspen teacher, expressed her disappointment that none of the opposition to Martin came to the meeting.
“To not have the guts to come to this meeting and share your feelings, to me, is appalling,” she said. “Believe in what you believe in, stand up for it ,and be open and honest.”
The Aspen Education Association said it would have no further comment until it is able to problem-solve with administration.