Aspen School District Accountability Committee raises concerns, issues to Board of Education | AspenTimes.com
Erica Robbie | The Aspen Times

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Aspen School District Accountability Committee raises concerns, issues to Board of Education

The Aspen School District Accountability Committee has identified "some worrying trends and important issues that need to be addressed" by the Aspen Board of Education, according to a report released last week.

The committee, a state-mandated group consisting of about 10 members — a mix of parents, teachers and local residents — "among many things, makes recommendations on the school's Unified Improvement Plan and on spending as it relates to academic achievement," committee president and parent Anna Zane said Thursday.

At the start of the school year, the Aspen Board of Education tasked the committee with conducting an evaluation of the school district to make recommendations to the Unified Improvement Plan, Zane said, adding, "it hasn't been (done) for several years in this kind of degree."

She said "the thing that stood out to us at the beginning is, as we started analyzing (students') achievement scores since 2010, scores have dropped or are flat."

“The community, as taxpayers, are very generous to our schools. And we want to make sure that our district is very accountable with those dollars, and that it is being put to the best use possible to make sure our kids are getting the best education there is.” -Anna Zane, President, Aspen School District Accountability Committee

"That being said, Aspen is still a very high performing school district," Zane said. "But the committee believes there's always room for improvement."

One of the committee's "big recommendations," Zane said, is that the school district fully align its curriculum with the Common Core State Standards, a K-12 educational initiative that outlines "what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade," according to its website.

"I believe (the district) is in the process of doing this; it just seems to be taking a while," Zane said, adding that Colorado adopted its core standards in 2010.

She stressed the importance of Aspen's youth "learning everything they need to be learning."

The committee also recommended that the Board of Education reassess if the school district's monitoring report system "is the best evaluation tool of academic achievement," Zane said.

"From 2010 to 2016, of all the monitoring reports that were presented to the Board of Education, with the exception of the 2016 math monitoring report, the board voted unanimously that reasonable progress was being made," she said.

"Even when scores seemed to be flat or declining," added district Accountability Committee Treasurer Susan Zimet.

The committee also expressed concern with the school district's spending.

"The (Aspen School District) has dramatically increased spending since 2009-2010 and is one of the highest cost school districts in the state on a per pupil basis," the committee's report states. "We spend significantly more than benchmarked schools as well as the national average, to educate our students. Since 2011, spending per pupil has increased (three times more than) benchmark schools."

Given that the school district's "student-to-teacher and staff ratios are well above average, this leads us to conclude that curriculum and teacher effectiveness should be the areas of focus," the report said.

It continued: "(Aspen School District) underspends on teacher development when compared to benchmarks."

Citing information from the school district's budget reports and the 2014 Center for Public Education report on teacher development, the report said Aspen School District has gone from spending $417 per teacher to $699, still well below the most recent benchmark of $4,380.

Consequently, the committee recommends that the district consider reallocating its dollars to invest more in teacher development.

"The community, as taxpayers, are very generous to our schools. And we want to make sure that our district is very accountable with those dollars and that it is being put to the best use possible to make sure our kids are getting the best education there is," Zane said. "Honestly, teachers are the most impactful part of a child's education, so the more they are valued, the more they are trained, the better education they're able to provide their students.

"And that's what all research says right now in education," she added, to which Zimet agreed.

Aspen School District Assistant Superintendent Tom Heald, who is charged with crafting the district's aforementioned Unified Improvement Plan, said at a district Accountability Committee meeting Thursday that he is in process of incorporating some of these recommendations into his plan.

The idea of the improvement plan, which Heald said he intends to submit to the Colorado Department of Education on Monday, is to "identify (one or more) chief academic or student proficiency concern that you can begin to address and get some traction on."

As a whole, Heald said he found most of the committee's recommendations "very helpful."

"They inform the process," Heald said. "And it's really nice to have a team of people who care about this as much as the ones who are in the business doing it. They've put a lot of hours into this; they've given a lot of time.

"And that's not unappreciated."

Following the committee's presentation at the Board of Education meeting Monday, board President Sandra Peirce asked her fellow board members to review the committee's recommendations individually and reply to her with their thoughts.

Upon compiling the boards' feedback, Peirce said she would respond to the committee with a memo on its behalf.

Peirce, who is out of the country for Holy Week, told The Aspen Times via email that she "hopes to get the memo to the (district Accountability Committee) at the end of next week or early on the week of April 24."

She noted that she "did not set a specific deadline" with the board.

The committee's 2017 recommendations to the Board of Education are open to the public and are available at http://www.boarddocs.com/co/aspen/Board.nsf/Public.

erobbie@aspentimes.com