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Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Hauser is living her dream job

Carrie Besnette Hauser, president of Colorado Mountain College, is shown at the Spring Valley campus south of Glenwood Springs. The institution stretches across much of the state’s central mountain region. One of Hauser’s accomplishments this year is a federal designation for the college as a Hispanic Serving Institution after efforts that increased its Latino representation to more than 25%.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Carrie Besnette Hauser considers her position as president of Colorado Mountain College to be a dream job.

“I’ve described it as a confluence, using a river term,” says the longtime river-running enthusiast. “It’s in Colorado, which I love. It’s the mountains, and it’s college.”

Hauser has embraced all three words in the name of Colorado Mountain College, which stretches across much of the state’s central mountain region, including Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties.

This summer, though, she celebrated a particular accomplishment regarding that middle word, “mountain,” achieving a new milestone in her avocation as a mountaineer by summiting the iconic and glaciated 14,410-foot-high Mount Rainier in Washington state.

It follows other climbing successes that include summiting 56 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, and 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. She also has trekked to Mount Everest base camp, at some 17,600 feet in Nepal.

Meanwhile, Hauser recently rose to prominence of a different sort, voted by the Colorado Wildlife Commission to serve as its chair until 2023. Her new position comes at a particularly pivotal time for the commission and CPW as they work to implement a measure approved by voters last year requiring wolves to be restored to western Colorado starting no later than the end of 2023.

“As much as it is a significant time commitment, I felt like during this year it was important for the Western Slope that a person from the Western Slope be a chair for the commission,” she said.

Hauser also has played a leadership role on another statewide issue of note, having been involved in efforts to bring the Olympic Games to Colorado.

It’s yet another reflection of someone with a longtime interest in outdoors and sports carrying those passions forward in her professional life and service to community.

Rabid about rapids

Even before Hauser became a gym rat in high school as a serious basketball and volleyball player, she was a river rat on the Colorado River. When growing up in Flagstaff, Arizona, her dad would take her on Grand Canyon hikes down to the Colorado River.

“Then he took me on a river trip when I was 12 or so, and I was totally hooked,” she said.

She later began working for Grand Canyon river-running company Hatch River Expeditions as a swamper, an entry-level worker who cooked, tended to porta-potties, led hikes, and on occasion rowed or drove boats.

“I just wanted to be in the Grand. That was all I wanted to do,” Hauser said.

Later on, though, she embarked on a professional career that took her to the Front Range, where one of her jobs was with the Daniels Fund. There, she served as a loaned executive whose work included time on the Metro Denver Sports Commission board to attract big sporting events. She co-chaired the women’s Final Four NCAA basketball tournament in Denver.

“As a former basketball player, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” Hauser said.

As for the Olympics, Hauser was part of an exploratory committee that went to the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy, when Denver was pursuing hosting the 2018 Winter Games.

She later was involved in a Denver bid for the 2030 Winter Games. Neither effort succeeded because of a variety of factors.

It doesn’t help that Denver was awarded the 1976 Games, but state voters rejected holding them in Colorado over concerns about costs and environmental impacts.

”That’s a hard one to overcome in the Olympic movement,” Hauser said.

‘Historic’ wolf work

Hauser became president at Colorado Mountain College in 2013. She recalls advice she received around that time from Russell George, the Rifle resident who has served roles including speaker of the state House of Representatives, director of what was then the state Division of Wildlife, executive director of the state departments of Natural Resources and Transportation, and president of Colorado Northwestern Community College.

“He said, ‘Say yes to everything,’” Hauser said.

The point was that stepping up to serve in capacities such as on state boards is a way for the Western Slope to have a seat at the table, and Hauser viewed agreeing to serve on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission as one way of doing that.

She sees the wolf-reintroduction situation as one where it’s important for all interested Coloradans to have a seat at the table to voice their views, from ranchers worried about what reintroduction will mean for their operations to Front Range residents excited by science suggesting wolves can help balance ecosystems.

”One way or the other, (reintroduction) will be a very historic thing for Colorado, and I hope that we do it well,” Hauser said.

In her day job, Hauser has been involved with initiatives such as boosting representation of Latinos in CMC’s student body to better reflect the proportion in public schools in the college’s district.

This year, the federal government designated CMC as a Hispanic Serving Institution after efforts that increased its Latino representation to more than 25%.

A Sueños (Dream) Fund program allows DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students not eligible for other financial aid to borrow money from CMC to pay to go to college.

The recipients then pay the money back interest-free through an income-sharing agreement, and the repaid money is used for other participants in the program.

Hauser also created a President’s Scholarship program, under which every graduating high school student in CMC’s district is offered $1,000 toward attending the open-enrollment school, as long as they agree to attend full time and apply for financial aid. Hauser said full-time students are far likelier to finish school, and students leave money on the table by failing to seek financial aid. These are issues the scholarship helps to address.

Peak achievements

Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Besnette Hauser accomplished an incredible feat earlier this year, summiting Mount Rainier with CMC faculty member Dr. Jon Kedrowski, who recently summited Mount Everest for the second time. Hauser is an avid outdoorswoman who has summited Mt. Kilimanjaro and climbed to Mount Everest base camp and is nearing completion of Colorado’s 58 highest peaks (14ers).
Colorado Mountain College/Courtesy photo

For anyone counting peaks — as climbers of Colorado’s fourteeners tend to do obsessively — 24 of the state’s 14,000-foot-plus peaks are in CMC’s district. Hauser has climbed some of the state’s fourteeners with her husband Jeff, including a particularly memorable one, Challenger Peak, 12 years ago.

When they summited, Jeff Hauser asked Carrie to sit down for a minute, and then asked her to marry him.

“His question for me was, ‘Are you up for a lifetime of challenges?’” she recalls.

On Rainier, her climbing partner was Jon Kedrowski, a geographer, CMC adjunct professor and mountain guide who this year also summited Mount Everest for his second time.

The memories of the Rainier challenges and the mountain itself are plentiful for Hauser, such as ominously hearing rocks and ice falling at night as she tried to sleep at a camp during the ascent.

But Hauser was particularly struck by a serendipitous encounter during the descent when she and Kedrowski began talking with a fellow climber they met, Don Nguyen.

They learned that he’s a mountain guide who cofounded a nonprofit called Climbers of Color — and was a student in CMC’s Outdoor Recreation Leadership program at its Leadville campus.

“His first comment to Jon and me was, ‘I would never be a professional guide if it wasn’t for CMC.’ Uh — OK, job done, mic drop,” Hauser said with a laugh. “That was pretty cool.”

George is impressed by the contribution Hauser makes to CMC and is glad she is chair of the wildlife commission, not just because of the wolf issue, though he thinks she’s well suited to play a strong leadership role handling that.

“She’s one of my absolute favorite people. I have as much regard for her as anybody. She’s brilliant, she’s dedicated, she means to do well, and she’s got the goods to do it,” he said.

This article first appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and is being reprinted by permission in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Aspen Board of Education candidates weigh top district priorities

Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education in 2021 (clockwise from top left): Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss, Susan Zimet and Anna Zane.
Editor’s Note

This is the fifth and final entry in The Aspen Times series of questions posed to the six candidates vying for three openings on the Aspen School District Board of Education. The Times published the candidates’ responses to one of the questions each day this week.

Each candidate was allowed up to 200 words for their response. Ballots were mailed to voters on Oct. 8 and Election Day is Nov. 2. To read all of their answers, go to aspentimes.com/education.

Today’s question: For the 2020-21 school year, a safe reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic was the top priority for the board. Now that schools are open and in person, what do you think should be the No. 1 priority of the district moving forward?

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Anna Zane is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Anna Zane

The board must continue to ensure safe, in-person learning. COVID taught us that schools must be adaptable and able to react quickly, mitigating negative impacts on staff and students. Prior to COVID, many students in our district were underperforming academically, and pandemic learning losses only worsened the decline. Our district has already taken important steps to reverse trend lines and must continue to identify ways to improve the academic experience of our students while building our teachers’ capacity to instruct.

Recovering from academic deterioration and learning loss must be our priority, though not to the detriment of student and staff emotional well-being. We have an obligation to formulate and implement a COVID “Catch-up and recovery plan” for students who’ve fallen behind. After 18 months of off-and-on isolation, remote learning, societal pressure and the increase of social media usage, we are witnessing a mental health crisis of epic proportions in our youth who suffer increasingly from anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideations. Our classrooms should engage our students academically, providing them with safe and positive learning environments. We need to continue awareness and support struggling students and, when necessary, provide help for parents and staff with access to mental health resources.

Aspen School District Board of Education President Susan Zimet is the sole incumbent running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Susan Zimet

For this school year, the top priority of the district is to make sure that each student experiences a year of academic growth towards reaching their potential, their dreams and their goals, while acquiring the life skills and citizenship that lead to fulfilling lives — all in a safe environment. Everything else is commentary.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Lawrence Butler is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Lawrence Butler

No.1 priority, unfortunately, is still COVID. We cannot compromise the health and safety of our kids or our teachers. No. 2: Continue to come up with new ideas to attract and retain the best teachers possible. Our schools can only be as good as our teachers! Lastly, No. 3, we need to continue to nurture, support and improve the programs that make our schools exceptional. The International Baccalaureate and the outdoor ed program are two examples.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate John Galambos is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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John Galambos

Remain open! Kids need the stability of in-person education right now. My vision for the BOE is to create stability, build bridges and restore community. We are an excellent public school. We need a period of stability so we can foster an environment where the professionals are able to do what they do best: educate our children. We are moving in the right direction, but need to be patient and trust that results will come. We must build bridges for all members of our community. This takes a reasoned approach of listening to all stakeholders so our decisions are well-informed and help all our students succeed. And finally, we need to restore community. Aspen is a unique small town in the mountains. We have the ability to be the best public school system in the state and not lose sight of our uniqueness. Our schools can be a place where our kids are emotionally healthy and feel the support of the entire Aspen community. Test scores and college acceptance is a byproduct. With stability, bridging and community restoration, Aspen School District can provide a place for all students to grow as thinkers, dreamers, innovators and world changers.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Christa Gieszl is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Christa Gieszl

We have an amazing school district with phenomenal teachers, an excellent International Baccalaureate program through all grades, and money from a recently passed bond measure to upgrade school facilities. We’ve done so much of the hard work already. Now our job is to put these plans into practice. I think the number one priority is healing the divisions in our school community that have occurred over the past few tumultuous years to achieve the following:

— Foster a climate of compromise and inclusivity in our school community so we can begin to heal our community and move forward.

— Advocate for ALL students at all levels of ability to receive the support they need, whether they are gifted and talented, require special education services or occupy the space in between where it is easy to be overlooked.

— Continue to work on strategic allocations of the bond and tax measures passed last fall.

— Pursue science-backed policies to keep teachers, school staff, and students physically and mentally healthy.

— Invest in housing and aggressive recruitment to attract and retain excellent teachers.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Stacey Weiss is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Stacey Weiss

Our No. 1 priority should be a focus on strengthening our core academics and arts programs, which includes the alignment of curriculum across the district, from grade to grade and school to school. This is particularly important when you consider that students may have learning gaps and other challenges as a result of the disruption and stress that COVID brought to our schools last year. We need to identify those gaps and provide support where it’s needed to help get our students back on track.

The goal of improving learning outcomes in core areas goes hand in hand with the adoption of the IB program in the elementary and middle schools, but everyone should be aware that the IB program is not a quick fix. This is a major initiative, requiring comprehensive planning and ongoing teacher training, along with significant budget resources. But if we’re serious about providing a world-class education in Aspen, then we need to prioritize this process.

Get to know the candidates and read their responses to Monday’s question (“What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?”), Tuesday’s question (“What do you see as the greatest strength of the district and where do you see room for improvement?”), Wednesday’s question (“How do you envision the relationship between the board and the community?”) and Thursday’s question (“In your eyes, what have we learned so far about the climate at Aspen School District, and where do we need to go from here?”) at aspentimes.com.

For six Aspen school board candidates, it’s all about the kids

The Board of Education candidates answer pop quiz questions on stage at the Aspen District Theatre in Aspen Elementary School during the candidate forum on Thursday, October 14, 2021. Candidates had to answer pop questions such as the superintendent’s salary, how many football games the AHS team had won this season, and budgets. After introductions and pop questions, the candidates went on to answer specific questions for their opinions on how to improve the school district. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The six candidates vying for three seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education have a lot they can agree on. First and foremost: It’s all about the kids, each and every one of them.

But a sentence doesn’t fill much of a 90-minute forum like the one that took place Thursday night at the District Theater, where incumbent Susan Zimet and five prospective school board first-timers — Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss and Anna Zane — took the stage to field questions about subjects like pandemic learning, mental health, climate and culture, equity and classroom dynamics.

Those topics weren’t treated as islands by the candidates, who identified the ways in which the pandemic impacted mental health (negatively is the gist) and considered how mental health, climate and culture as well as equity can influence classroom dynamics (candidates all hope for positivity).

Butler and Zane placed major emphasis on the importance of in-person learning from an educational standpoint.

Learning via computers and tablets was a “necessary evil” when schools went virtual last year, Butler said, but he’d like to see less reliance on devices especially now that students are back in the classroom. Zane, too, would like to see less screen time and more tactile learning, she said.

Technology doesn’t bode well for students struggling with mental health either, especially as a platform for cyberbullying, Galambos noted.

“The internet, Instagram, Facebook are really terrible for middle schoolers, and if you’re a parent I would monitor carefully what’s going on. … Middle school is hard enough,” he said.

While the district has extensive policies about bullying on campus and at school-sanctioned events and does have some messaging and guidance on cyberbullying, monitoring and discipline get much trickier when hate takes place online but can be accessed at school. Galambos and Zane both said that while the district can help address the issue through education, it’s also the responsibility of parents to teach and enforce good digital citizenship.

WATCH: Aspen Board of Education candidate forum

“We have to constantly be on our kids and remind kids that growing up is hard, and you have to treat everybody with dignity and respect,” Zane said.

That idea of dignity and respect speaks to mental health’s role as a top-of-mind topic among the school board slate. Creating an environment in which all students feel heard and listened to is part of the equation but so are resources like counselors and intervention strategies.

“We can do more, and we will do more, and we should do more, and we need to do more,” Zimet said. “I think, sadly, for some time, this valley has been afflicted with higher rates of anxiety, depression and suicide than other communities, and these mental health conditions, as we all know, have been only been exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. This is a critical situation.”

Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education in 2021 (clockwise from top left): Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss, Susan Zimet and Anna Zane.

It ties into the culture and climate of the schools, too, Gieszl said. She envisioned a “proactive” response rather than a “reactive” one that focuses on “finding things before they happen.”

“A huge component of this … is the community response, making the culture and climate of the school community inclusive, accessible to everybody, as well as our larger community exemplifying these values,” she said.

And the same goes for the classrooms, because “students need to be mentally healthy to learn,” Weiss said.

“It occurs to me that when we’ve been talking about climate and culture — and we generally refer to that as being the climate and culture of the adult part of the community — but we need to consider the climate and culture for our students, and how we built a community in the school,” Weiss said.

That’s a question Galambos was considering, too.

“What kind of community do we want to be? It’s not about the issues, it’s who we are,” said Galambos, who has mostly focused on stability and bridge-building rather than specific hot-button topics that the district needs to address.

He’s not the only one campaigning on consensus: nearly every candidate used the word to describe their ethos behind finding balance in the boardroom.

But other candidates do see the campaign as an issue-based one — especially so for Butler, who considers himself an “outspoken” candidate.

“I do feel very strongly about the hot button issues, and I do feel that whether you like it or not, they’re part of the school,” Butler said. “They’re part of how we figure out the curriculum, and they’re part of everyday life and can’t be ignored.”

There’s one more thing all the candidates are on the same page about: it sure feels good to have such a robust, enthusiastic slate of candidates for three seats on the board.

“The fact that we have six candidates running for three seats speaks well about the vitality of democracy in Aspen, and it points to the high regard that our community has for its schools, and that’s a really wonderful thing,” Weiss said. “It’s very encouraging. It makes me feel very optimistic about our future and our kids.”

Candidate Gradebook

Candidates warmed up with a pop quiz to test their knowledge on a bit of school district trivia. Questions were selected randomly from a hat; some got a bit closer to the mark than others.

The total amount of the bond that funds facilities updates and housing is $114 million. Anna Zane answered all the right digits but in the wrong order when she guessed $141 million.

There are 1,636 students enrolled in Aspen School District schools as of the Oct. 1 headcount this year. Stacey Weiss answered 1,645, which is pretty close; the number fluctuates throughout the school year, and the student funded enrollment stat quoted during budget presentations earlier this year was 1,645.

The Aspen Community School is located in Woody Creek. Susan Zimet was spot-on with her answer.

Superintendent David Baugh makes $203,940. John Galambos wasn’t wrong when he said “six figures,” but he didn’t have the exact number on hand.

Aspen High School’s football team has won two games so far this season. Christa Giezl answered correctly; she attended those games, she noted.

Aspen School District’s budget for the 2021-22 school year is about $169 million — a larger-than-usual amount because of capital projects funded by the bond. Lawrence Butler jokingly asked if he could answer a question on pop music instead before guessing $70 million, which would have been pretty close if he had to answer the question last year; the 2020-21 budget was in the $66 million ballpark.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Aspen Board of Education candidates consider climate and culture in the district

Editor’s Note

This is the fourth installment in The Aspen Times series of five questions posed to the six candidates vying for three openings on the Aspen School District Board of Education. The Times is publishing the candidates’ responses to one of the questions each day this week through Friday.

Each candidate was allowed up to 200 words for their response. Ballots were mailed to voters Friday, and Election Day is Nov. 2.

Today’s question: Climate and culture has been an ongoing topic in the district. In your eyes, what have we learned so far about the climate at Aspen School District, and where do we need to go from here?

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Stacey Weiss is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Stacey Weiss

We’ve learned from the past that the board and the superintendent must take the lead in setting a positive tone and direction for the district by improving communication with all stakeholders. We also came to understand that everyone has a role to play in making the system work by committing to respectful and solution-oriented dialogue.

The board must reach out proactively to parents with clear and frequent communication related to upcoming board agendas, making it easier to participate in the process. Teachers need to know that they can voice their opinion without fear of retribution and that the board and the administration will be responsive to their concerns.

Finally, we learned that when a problem seems unsolvable, it’s OK to ask for help. With the support of an outside consultant, we have begun to address and improve our climate and culture. It’s an issue we must continue to work on because a healthy climate is what allows us to stay focused on our students.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Anna Zane is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Anna Zane

While serving as District Accountability Committee co-chair from 2016-2018, we took a deep dive into the cause of the district’s deteriorating academics and climate/culture. We identified issues such as poor communication and a lack of respect and trust between the staff and the previous district leadership, which also failed to acknowledge or address weaknesses.

Thankfully, many important changes have occurred with the arrival of new leadership already improving the climate. However, change is hard, especially amid a pandemic, which instilled uncertainty, fear and strain in our staff.

That’s why we must focus on improving the district’s climate and culture by fostering respect for all stakeholder opinions, building positive relationships and engendering trust. Board members must be approachable, good listeners, responsive and unafraid to acknowledge and address weakness. Though we’ve improved outbound communication from the board to the community, we must continue to improve inbound communication, which is necessary for building trust and problem-solving. The climate and culture will also improve as the board prioritizes and addresses the high cost of living faced by district employees. Fair and transparent policies will lead to more productive dialogue, build trust and foster respect.

Aspen School District Board of Education President Susan Zimet is the sole incumbent running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Susan Zimet

The reason the board recently hired a new superintendent, who in turn hired a new assistant superintendent and new principals, was because we felt that action had to be taken to change our climate and culture. This was not a time to shuffle around the deck chairs and pretend everything was fine; rather, we needed major improvements.

Having made them, I am now confident that we have an administrative team that is really going to produce for our community. One of the main reasons why I am seeking another four-year term is to bring to fruition all the work that we’ve teed up the previous four years.

I am proud to run on my record. I am pleased with the direction our new team is taking this district and firmly believe that our climate and culture are now also heading in the right direction. Moving forward, in order to monitor this issue and not slip backward again, we are implementing a program of regular climate and culture surveys.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Lawrence Butler is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Lawrence Butler

The climate and culture of this country are dangerously polarized, and I worry that ASD might mirror this. COVID-19, critical race theory, cancel culture and gender fluidity are all hot button issues in every school district in this country. My personal views on all of these topics are spelled out in my guest column in The Aspen Times.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate John Galambos is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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John Galambos

Aspen loves studies and surveys. People feel like they’re being heard but most often nothing changes. There may have been some momentum with the 2019 climate/culture study, but it went completely out the window with COVID. The district has pretty much been in survival and reaction mode. As a result, everyone is burned out. Take the topic of “leadership communication.” Two years ago it was on the negative end of the survey. I think this was magnified last year. The BOE communicated with a heavy hammer. Parents communicated with heavy hammer. The Aspen Education Association pounded back in response. It’s time to re-examine our climate and culture.

Where do we go from here? We need to restore community. We are going to have to compromise to bring a spirit of trust and professionalism back. We need more open avenues for communication. We need to restore the culture of the school district to be one where people want to work and can do what they do best. We need to remember that we are an excellent public school and our kids are the No. 1 priority.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Christa Gieszl is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Christa Gieszl

​​The lesson of the past several years is that confusing and inconsistent messages can quickly spread and foster a culture of distrust. But the opposite is also true. I am running for school board because I believe that — through smart policies, transparent decision-making and a respect for diverse opinions — we can rebuild a strong community where teachers, administrators, parents and students all feel that their views are taken into account and their voices heard.

We’re immensely grateful to our excellent teachers and staff who came to work last year, week after week, to educate our children under daunting conditions — making us one of the few districts in the state to accomplish that. But our teachers deserve more than our thanks and our praise. They deserve strong and consistent policies, transparent communication and rapid sharing of information, so that they can do their work safely and with confidence. I am committed to delivering straight talk and solutions to restore a community built on trust, tolerance and inclusiveness.

Get to know the candidates and read their responses to Monday’s question (“What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?”), Tuesday’s question (“What do you see as the greatest strength of the district and where do you see room for improvement?”) and Wednesday’s question (“How do you envision the relationship between the board and the community?”) at aspentimes.com.

Aspen School District’s first major bond housing acquisition almost finalized

It has been just shy of a year since voters approved a $94.3 million bond for facilities upgrades and teacher housing in the Aspen School District.

And thanks to high investor demand, the district’s high rating and current interest rates, the net project fund is actually around $114 million, according to an Oct. 8 email from current school board president Suzy Zimet and an attached March 25 memo forwarded by district Chief Financial Officer Linda Warhoe from Dan O’Connell, the managing director of RBC Capital Markets. The extra net proceeds do not come at a cost to taxpayers, Zimet wrote.

It breaks down to about $45 million in facilities work, $50 million in housing (most of that for acquisitions) and $20 million in discretionary funds, according to the bond update presented Tuesday at the Board of Education meeting.

So, what’s been done so far?

For one, the district is just about to cross the finish line on its first major bond-funded housing acquisition, a collection of seven units near the intersection of 8th Street and West Hallam Street on the site that was formerly home to Poppies Bistro Cafe.

“It’s the first major acquisition within this bond effort and it’s pretty cool and pretty special,” Superintendent David Baugh said during the meeting.

Housing program manager Elen Woods-Mitchell is “striving to have leases start Dec. 1,” she said at the meeting.

“I want to thank all of those who have been involved — this is a joy to present and the beginning of many more projects,” she added.

The district has not yet officially closed on the sale of the properties — there’s still a “punch list” of to-dos to clear through first — but intends to do so “soon,” Woods-Mitchell said Wednesday in phone interview.

“We are not current owners but we are slated to be,” she said.

An open house for some district stakeholders is slated for this Monday, Woods-Mitchell confirmed; the goal is “to keep people as updated as possible” moving forward, she said.

But that’s hardly the only thing that’s been ticked off the bond to-do list, according to the latest update from Damion Spahr, who works for the facility planning, design, and management company SitelogIQ and is a member of the owner representative team for the bond. (Spahr and Bob Daniel, who is also part of the owner representative team, have made frequent appearances at school board meetings this year with a runthrough of the latest progress on bond projects.)

Also in the books are a number of maintenance projects and updates across the elementary, middle and high school campuses, with the Denver-based Haselden Construction at the helm. Deferred maintenance is a top priority in the bond spending, Daniel said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

At the elementary school that includes roofing repairs and replacement of the terrace metal stairs — both “substantially complete,” according to the update — and the installation of no-touch faucets and flush valves is ongoing. (At the middle and high schools, those no-touch toilet and faucet projects are already substantially complete.)

At the middle school, roofing repairs are substantially complete, and installation of heat tape at the northeast entry to prevent snow buildup is ongoing; at the high school, science wing roofing repairs and an asphalt paving extension are both substantially complete.

Sitewide concrete repairs for safety also fall under that “substantially complete” category; light pole and head replacements are ongoing. There will be more concrete and asphalt repairs coming up, plus electrical metering at the bus barn, vent piping repairs at the high school bathroom and other repairs that are being priced and completed.

There’s also a continued effort to make headway on “immediate repairs and replacements for liveability” at existing housing owned by the school district.

Architecture and design firm Cuningham is working on design and pricing for the next phase of deferred maintenance projects, as well as a slew of other initiatives like design for safety and security updates and classroom and learning environment upgrades.

Also on deck is a study of District Theater and performing arts facility use that involves community meetings to get stakeholder input, plus work related to net-zero initiatives bus barn upgrades, athletics and recreation facilities and a new Cottage preschool and district administration offices.

As for future updates in the housing realm, the district has been working with McKinstry, a company that specializes in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of high-performing buildings, to conduct a housing facilities assessment to evaluate the laundry list of repair and maintenance needs.

That assessment will be published this month, according to the update presented on Oct. 12; the work to finalize repair scopes and contracting methods is already underway.

Coming up in bond progress, keep an eye out for development and recommendation on project scopes, budgets and schedules.

“Significant work” is slated to occur next summer, and there’s designing to be done in all areas; work on safety and security and deferred maintenance will be put on the fast track, according to this week’s bond update.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that a March 25 memo was forwarded by Linda Warhoe but originally sent from Dan O’Connell, managing director of RBC Capital Markets.

Aspen BOE candidate forum set for Thursday at District Theater

The six candidates vying for the three open seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education will discuss their reasons for running and their ideals during a forum from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Aspen District Theater.

Organized by local media organizations — The Aspen Times, Aspen Daily News, Aspen Public Radio and Grassroots TV — the evening will offer candidates two-minute opening and closing statements, with a Q&A filling out the remaining 90 minutes, with topics including climate and culture at the district, managing COVID-19 in and out of the classroom, mental health, teacher and curriculum concerns, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

Susan Zimet, who served as school board president during her previous term, is seeking re-election. The other seats were left vacant by Susan Marolt, who is term-limited, and Dwayne Romero, who is not seeking re-election.

Anna Zane, Christa Gieszl, John Galambos, Larry Butler and Stacey Weiss round out the field.

Jonathan Nickell and Katy Frisch, the two most recent school board members, have two more years to serve on their terms.

The forum will be broadcast via Grassroots TV on grassrootstv.org, and a small audience will be permitted onsite, with proof of vaccination and masks, per the school district guidelines. Registration for the in-person event is free and can be done online via aspenboeforum.eventbrite.com.

Ballots were mailed to registered voters Friday, and votes — whether returned via drop boxes, mail or at the polls on Election Day — must be received by Nov. 2. The three winning candidates will take an oath of office in early December.

Aspen Board of Education candidates talk about board-community relationship

Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education in 2021 (clockwise from top left): Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss, Susan Zimet and Anna Zane.
Editor’s Note

This is the third in The Aspen Times series of five questions posed to the six candidates vying for three openings on the Aspen School District Board of Education. The Times will publish the candidates’ responses to one of the questions each day this week through Friday.

Each candidate was allowed up to 200 words for their response. Ballots were mailed to voters on Oct. 8 and Election Day is Nov. 2.

Today’s question: How do you envision the relationship between the board and the community?

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Christa Gieszl is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Christa Gieszl

The school board should reflect the values and goals of the Aspen community. While we all want to help students succeed in education and life, balancing competing needs has been especially difficult.

As a physician with the Veterans’ Administration and vice president of the Pitkin County Board of Health, I have a unique skill set to bridge the needs of the school and the resources in the community. I am comfortable evaluating medical science and finding common ground between disparate communities. When COVID-19 complicated the return to schools last fall, I worked to set up and administer free testing of teachers, staff, and students, ensuring that schools stayed open and making our district one of the few in the state to accomplish this. Recently, two of my boys came down with colds and I discovered that the current health protocol for returning to school was almost impossible to fulfill. Through cooperating with my colleagues in public health, we amended the protocols, making the lives of families easier.

As a school board member, I would call on my experience and strong relationships in the educational and medical communities to follow reasonable policies and give our children the learning they need.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Stacey Weiss is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Stacey Weiss

The board’s mission is to serve as a link between the district and the community. For this relationship to be healthy and productive, the board should strive to communicate with transparency, mutual respect and inclusion to build trust across the community.

Parents and community members should feel welcome at board meetings and have ample opportunities to express their views. Board members should be accessible and attentive listeners to the concerns of parents, administrators, teachers and voters. Conversely, parents and community members should also be respectful and concise in expressing their views at meetings.

All sides should focus on addressing the problem, not attacking the person. Sadly, we have all seen that school board meetings across the country have become contentious and combative. I believe that here in Aspen, we can address our differences on issues with civility and a commitment to working together for the good of our children.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Anna Zane is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Anna Zane

The basic function of a school board is to provide citizen oversight of public education, representing the interests of the members of their community. Board decisions impact students, parents, district employees and the overall economic well-being of the community. Therefore, the board must listen to, respect, and balance the desires of these stakeholders. School board members should welcome stakeholder input and encourage community dialogue.

The school board must be fiscally responsible with the generous funding from the community, evaluating budgets and expenditures in terms of how they advance the primary goals of providing an excellent education to all students and adequately resourcing our teachers and staff. The board should be transparent in its decision-making, policy changes and allocation of resources. School board members should champion safe and inclusive learning environments which encourage free inquiry, civil discourse, and diversity of thought. School boards represent the entire community and are “apolitical” governing bodies. Despite individual members’ different backgrounds, philosophies and experiences, they have an obligation to the community to function as a team to fulfill the vision and mission of the community for the sake of its children’s education.

Aspen School District Board of Education President Susan Zimet is the sole incumbent running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Susan Zimet

During my first four years on the Aspen District School Board, the community has been very supportive of the board. People realize that this position pays nothing and requires many hours every week (significantly more time is required when one is president of the board, as I am this year). Nationwide, there is a lot of acrimony directed at school board members, so I’m truly grateful for the support our community has provided.

And in my experience, the key to being an effective school board member is not to be seen as being beholden to any one group. Rather, one has to be able to listen carefully to all the various stakeholders in our education system and yet still be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of our kids.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Lawrence Butler is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Lawrence Butler

The relationship must be collaborative. As I said previously, all community constituents must have a say in how our schools are run. The Board must be able to clearly communicate to the community what the district’s plans are and how we (board, teachers, administrators) will achieve those plans.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate John Galambos is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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John Galambos

Often we see the schools as off on their campus disassociated with the greater community. We drop children off with the expectation that the school’s job is to educate and everything will be alright. The Board of Education needs to be the bridge between the community and the district.

The Aspen community is really good at supporting “education” but we’re not so good at supporting kids. We have some classic Aspen problems that need to be bridged: excellence for all; emotional/mental health; large gap in resources; self-medication and substance use. These need to be tackled in partnership with the greater Aspen community to support each child’s education holistically. There needs to be greater collaboration between our schools and our governments, nonprofits, and faith communities to help our kids thrive and prepare for their futures.

How? Our decisions must include all stakeholders and be collaborative. This can get messy. So my grid for decision making is: kids, teachers, administration and parents, in that order. For example, if I feel the teachers are pushing for something that is not the best for kids, I’ll pick the kids. I’ll listen, ask questions, give direction and let the professionals do what they do best.

Get to know the candidates and read their responses to Monday’s question (“What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?”) and Tuesday’s question (“What do you see as the greatest strength of the district and where do you see room for improvement?”) at aspentimes.com.

Aspen Board of Education candidates talk about district’s strengths, weaknesses

Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education in 2021 (clockwise from top left): Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss, Susan Zimet and Anna Zane.
Editor’s Note

This is the second in The Aspen Times series of five questions posed to the six candidates vying for three openings on the Aspen School District Board of Education. The Times will publish the candidates’ responses to one of the questions each day this week through Friday.

Each candidate was allowed up to 200 words for their response. Ballots were mailed to voters on Oct. 8 and Election Day is Nov. 2.

Today’s question: What do you see as the greatest strength of the district and where do you see room for improvement?

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate John Galambos is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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John Galambos

Strengths: Our teachers/staff, our community and our kids. When our kids attended ASD, the vast majority of their teachers were excellent. Last year they did an amazing job in very difficult circumstances. Our community values education, as reflected in last year’s bond and tax funding passage. I’m grateful our community values the outdoors, as reflected in the experiential education program. Finally, our kids are amazing. They bore the brunt of the pandemic and are resilient, but now they need our support.

Improvements: Stability and vision. We’ve had overwhelming staff turnover. The board must create a stable environment in which administrators lead, teachers teach and kids learn. Teachers need an environment of support from the board, administration and community. This includes continuing to purchase housing to retain teachers. Our curriculum also needs stability. That is why I support International Baccalaureate for all grades as a framework.

We also need to develop a longer-term vision for our district. We are an excellent public school, and our graduates are generally well-equipped for their future of their choosing. However, we are not just a test score-focused college prep school, but a district that supports the holistic development of every child. The district must continue to develop and articulate this vision to the greater Aspen community.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Christa Gieszl is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Christa Gieszl

The Aspen School District is one of the best in the state and the country, and it was the biggest factor in my family’s decision to move here four years ago. The dedication of our teachers is unparalleled, and the course offerings are astounding, especially for a small school.

Yet our community is at a crossroads. Our children’s education has suffered due to the pandemic, we’ve had multiple changes in school leadership, and the challenges of managing COVID-19 have wrought turmoil and division. We must renew our commitment to excellence in learning while also forging stronger communication with the public, to rebuild support and trust as we move forward.

As co-chairman of the Aspen School District Accountability Committee since 2018, I pushed to extend the International Baccalaureate program through all grades, increasing collaboration between the schools and ensuring that we shape our children at all ages into critical, creative and ethical thinkers. Through introducing open committee meetings and inviting key stakeholders to attend, I helped foster better communication with the public. Only through embracing diversity, forging compromise and ensuring that all voices are heard can we rebuild our community and put into practice the values we teach our children.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Stacey Weiss is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Stacey Weiss

ASD’s greatest strength lies in our commitment to educating the “whole child,” meaning that we address the cognitive, social, emotional, physical and talent development of each student. Our outdoor education and International Baccalaureate programs, small class sizes and instruction geared to the diverse needs and learning styles of each student demonstrate the “whole child” philosophy. But these programs don’t teach themselves. We have to give credit to our highly qualified and dedicated teachers, who bring the curriculum alive and motivate our kids to do their best.

There is room for improvement in our core academic programs and specifically in English language arts and math, as indicated in the 2021 Colorado Measures of Academic Success results. To improve outcomes in all subject areas, we need to work on overall curriculum alignment so that content progression and expectations are seamless from elementary through high school.

The good news is that our district campus is well-suited to an aligned curriculum and the full adoption of the International Baccalaureate program will be an important part of this endeavor. I’d also like to see more robust support for our music, theater and arts programs, because these are essential to the philosophy of the “whole child” approach to education.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Anna Zane is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Anna Zane

Overall, Aspen School District has been high-performing because of our great teachers, caring staff, involved parents, innovative community partnerships, generous resources and strong programs. We boast a near-perfect graduation rate and extremely high college acceptance rate. ASD’s students are well-rounded because of our outdoor education programming, project-based learning initiatives and multitude of program offerings.

However, for some years our district has been in academic decline, highlighted by recent disappointing math and reading scores. Despite ASD’s best efforts, the pandemic took a toll on our students, teachers and administrators. On the accountability committee, we worked with the board and new administration to address this decline. Comprehensive math and language arts audits led to the successful acquisition of new curricula and the adoption of “IB for all” to upgrade, align educational goals and provide continuity. Moving forward, the board and administrators must work to ensure the successful implementation of these programs and continue to address academics with additional subject audits. In addition, the board must address other challenges related to teacher training, retention and affordable housing. We must ensure a calendar that continues to honor the diversity of the community and what best works for our various stakeholders.

Aspen School District Board of Education President Susan Zimet is the sole incumbent running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Susan Zimet

The Aspen School District is now poised for great success. During my four-year term, the board hired a new district superintendent and assistant superintendent; hired new high school, middle school and elementary school principals; hired a new Cottage preschool director; closed on a $114 million bond offering after a successful community vote approving the bond; conducted a curriculum audit and a facility audit; increased teacher pay; and purchased teacher housing.

Improvements will come from following through on the groundwork that has been laid. Our new superintendent was recently Superintendent of the Year in Pennsylvania and is doing great job for us. After the bond issue, the district is now on sound financial footing and, where prudent, we will continue to purchase additional teacher housing and make facilities improvements. Perhaps most importantly, we are constantly looking at our curriculum and instruction to make sure they are delivering for our students.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Lawrence Butler is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Lawrence Butler

The greatest strength of ASD is its community. Our district is filled with financial and cultural resources. This includes a committed teaching staff, involved and concerned parents, excellent district and school administrators and nature-loving citizens.

There is room for improvement with the relationship between teachers and the board and the district administration. Everyone must work in concert to create the kind of top-notch learning experience we all want to provide to our students. We are in the midst of considerable cultural changes — not to mention a pandemic. The past few years have been difficult for everyone. Hopefully, COVID-19 will be kept in check, and we can refocus our collective efforts on making ASD the best in Colorado.

 

Get to know the candidates and read their responses to Monday’s question (“What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?”) at aspentimes.com.

Meet the candidates for Aspen School District Board of Education

Six candidates are vying for three open seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education in 2021 (clockwise from top left): Lawrence Butler, John Galambos, Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss, Susan Zimet and Anna Zane.
Editor’s Note

This is the first in The Aspen Times series of five questions posed to the six candidates vying for three openings on the Aspen School District Board of Education. The Times will publish the candidates’ responses to one of the questions each day this week through Friday. Each candidate was allowed up to 200 words for their response. Ballots were mailed to voters on Oct. 8 and Election Day is Nov. 2.

Today’s question: What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Lawrence Butler is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Name: Lawrence Butler

Age: 59

Family: I am happily married to Marla Butler. We have three children attending Aspen public schools: Folbe (ninth grade), Joshua (eighth grade) and Marshall (fifth grade).

Education: I have a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from UCLA.

Occupation: I am primarily in the real estate business (none in Aspen other than my house). I also spend considerable time investing in a variety of businesses.

Years living within Aspen School District: Six

Previous experience on boards and with nonprofits: I am currently a board member and chair of the Finance Committee for Ascendigo Autism Services, a Carbondale-based nonprofit which provides a variety of services to children and young adults on the Autism Spectrum. I have served on the boards of several for-profit companies and am currently a board member of Collective Liquidity, Inc.

Previous experience in the education sector: None other than being a parent.

What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

The primary responsibility of a board is to develop a strategic plan and budget in concert with all of the constituents, including administration, teachers, students, parents and interested citizens having real input. The board has a duty to have the final say but only after others have had the opportunity to participate in the process.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate John Galambos is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Name: John Galambos

Age: 55

Family: Robin Galambos, married 30 years. Three children: Marta (24), Katia (22) and Nicholas (20). All three attended Aspen School District K-12. Marta graduated from California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly, SLO) in 2019. Katia graduated from Vassar College (2021) and Nick is a junior at University of Colorado Boulder.

Education: University of Minnesota, College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. Graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Architecture, a five-year professional degree program.

Occupation: Architect and Owner of Galambos Architects, Inc., founded in 1998.

Years living within Aspen School District: 20 years in the district, 28 total years in the valley.

Previous experience on boards and with nonprofits: I have served on various design review boards within the valley, the North 40 HOA and Crossroads Church Leadership board.

Previous experience in the education sector: I am currently a member of the District Accountability Committee. In 2020, I served as co-chair of the “Funding our Future” campaign, in which we secured $94 million-plus in bonds and renewed taxes for Aspen School District. Last year, I also served on the search committee for the Aspen Middle School principal as a community member. I organized and volunteered for Project Graduation in 2019, 2018 and 2017, and organized the interfaith baccalaureate ceremony in 2019. And I enjoyed many hours volunteering for various outdoor education trips and in the classroom when our kids were students in the district.

What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

The primary responsibility of a school board member is to act as a reasoned bridge between the community and the district. I use the word “reasoned” because as elected representatives, we need to be able to listen to all voices of our community, not only the loudest. I want to ensure we include the greater community in all decisions.

The second responsibility is to keep the mission and vision of the Board of Education (BOE) first and foremost. Our mission is to educate every kid who comes in our doors. A board member needs to make clear decisions that stay true to this mission. This may involve disappointing some of the loudest voices.

The BOE’s role is not to micromanage. The Superintendent is the board’s only employee and they are to execute the goals and mission of the board. I will bring up issues from the community to the superintendent to address. Our teachers, staff and administration are professionals and the BOE needs to allow them space to do their jobs. I want to be a reasoned listener and try to bridge the needs of the community and the needs of the district.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Christa Gieszl is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Name: Christa Gieszl

Age: 45

Family: Husband Bryan Gieszl; son in seventh grade, twin sons in fifth grade

Education: Bachelor of Science, Bowdoin College. Doctor of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Board-Certified in Internal Medicine. Fellow, American College of Physicians

Occupation: Primary care physician, Veterans’ Administration.

Years living within Aspen School District: Four and a half

Previous experience on boards and with nonprofits: Vice president, Pitkin County Board of Health, April to present (previously served as board alternate for six months). President of the Board, Girls on the Run of Western Colorado, 2018 to 2019 (previously served on the board for six years). President, Curecanti Medical Society, 2005 to 2006

Previous experience in the education sector: Co-Chairman, Aspen School District Accountability Committee, 2018 to present (previously served as member for one year). Member, Parent-Teacher Organization, Aspen Elementary School, 2018 to 2020. Member, Aspen Elementary School Accountability Committee, 2017 to 2020. Member, Aspen Middle School Accountability Committee, 2017 to 2019. President, Parent-Teacher Organization, Cottonwood Elementary School, Montrose, 2015 to 2016

What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

The school board should guarantee a quality education for our children while ensuring that the values of our community are respected. The past 18 months have made this challenging. Our children are at varying levels of education due to COVID-19 disruptions. Teachers have been working under great stress. And divisions have opened between health care workers and citizens, and between parents, administrators, and teachers.

As a board member, my priorities would be to ensure the excellent education of our children while working to heal these divisions. As a doctor and lifelong advocate for public health, a passionate believer in public education, and a mother of three children, I’m uniquely suited to operate in disparate worlds and to forge compromises. As co-chairman of the District Accountability Committee since 2018, I pushed to expand the International Baccalaureate program into all grades. As a doctor, I worked to secure free weekly COVID-19 testing for school staff and students, ensuring that in-person learning could happen safely, work that I continue as vice president of the Pitkin County Board of Health. As a mother, I understand the stakes — nothing less than our children’s future.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Stacey Weiss is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Name: Stacey Weiss

Age: 65

Family: Married to Cliff Weiss. Our daughter attended Aspen School District from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Education: Bachelor of Music in Music Education. Master of Arts in Music and Theatre Education. Graduate certificate in Educational Leadership and Administration.

Occupation: Retired public school teacher.

Years living within Aspen School District: 28 years

Previous experience on boards and with nonprofits: Aspen Choral Society board; volunteer at Aspen Thrift Shop.

Previous experience in the education sector: Public school music teacher with 30-plus years experience, including 20 years at Aspen Elementary School. Independent piano teacher since 2001.

What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

The school board’s primary responsibility is to ensure that every child in the district gets the best education possible to enable them to reach their unique potential by providing the oversight that allows local control over a community’s schools.

As the link between the community and the school district, the board fulfills this responsibility by making policies, setting educational goals, overseeing the budget and approving curricula. The school board also hires the superintendent and holds him or her accountable for the management of the schools.

In order to achieve our common goals, the board should communicate frequently with the community and be attentive to the concerns of parents and staff. Finally, board members should set a positive and inclusive tone and strive to model cooperation and respectful discourse for the benefit of all stakeholders.

Aspen School District Board of Education candidate Anna Zane is running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Name: Anna Zane

Age: 41

Family: Married to Ed Zane, and we have four school-aged children: Ella, Eddie, Tommy and Emma

Education: Bachelor of Arts from Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania. Double major in International Relations and Business

Occupation: First and foremost, mother of four children. Small business owner: Zane’s Tavern.

Years living within Aspen School District: Born and raised in Aspen.

Previous experience on boards and with nonprofits: Volunteer for youth organizations, including Aspen Junior Hockey, Aspen Lacrosse Club, Aspen Swim Team and Roaring Fork Youth Orchestra. President of local homeowners’ association and served on vestry at Christ Episcopal Church. Appointed to the bi-partisan Judicial Performance Commission for the Ninth Judicial District where I’m serving my second four-year term.

Previous experience in the education sector: As a college student, I worked with inner city school children as part of the America Reads program. Parent volunteer in my kids’ elementary school classrooms in support of their teachers, including chaperoning field trips, organizing the 2017 fourth grade boys’ leadership lunch, volunteering for the parent-teacher association’s book fair. Ten years on the District Accountability Committee, including as co-chair from 2016-2018. Our work led to changes in district leadership. Ten years on School Accountability Committees (SAC) at the elementary, middle and high school levels; current co-chair of the high school SAC. Served on recent superintendent and principal hiring committees; served on the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program Investigation Committee; worked toward the adoption of “IB for all” programs. Founding member of the Aspen Parent Action Committee, a parent group focused on improving climate and culture of the district.

What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

The board’s greatest responsibility is to ensure all students receive a high-quality education that prepares them for their post-high school ambitions. This means ensuring that all students have access to education professionals who are trained and resourced to help them advance based on their unique circumstances and talents. Therefore, school board members have two main jobs: 1) to set policies that guide administrators toward the fulfillment of district goals, and 2) to employ and oversee a superintendent who manages district operations toward the fulfillment of the board’s goals and vision.

In addition to being accountable to the local community, school boards are also accountable to the state. Under Colorado law, school board members are charged with overseeing educational programs, budgets, transportation, salaries, school calendars and other employment matters.

Having been immersed in our educational system — as a parent, classroom volunteer, and accountability overseer — I’m well-positioned to lend my accumulated knowledge and expertise to the fulfillment of the board’s mission to provide an excellent education to all students. Because our students and community are healthier when parents, teachers and administrators work together, I will strive to ensure that our education system is transparent, accountable and accessible to all stakeholders.

Aspen School District Board of Education President Susan Zimet is the sole incumbent running for one of three open positions in the 2021 school board election.
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Name: Susan M. Zimet, MD

Age: 59

Family: Two sons who graduated from Aspen High School (Max, class of 2010, and Michael, class of 2012), and husband Millard

Education: Harvard class of 1984; Columbia Medical School class of 1988

Occupation: Aspen Internal Medicine physician, 1991-2021

Years living within Aspen School District: 30

Previous experience on boards and with nonprofits: Chief of Medicine, Aspen Valley Hospital. Physician to Aspen Music Festival. Violinist, High Country Sinfonia. Board member, AIDS Aspen Cares. Red Cross Instructor, Guatemala. Ride for Life (transcontinental bike ride for hunger awareness).

Previous experience in the education sector: Chair, co-chair and treasurer of the Aspen District Accountability Committee; chair, Aspen Middle School Accountability Committee; member of the Aspen School Board, elected 2017.

What do you see as the primary responsibility of the school board members?

The primary responsibility of a member of the Aspen school board is to make sure all our kids get a good education. To be sure, there are a lot of adult stakeholders in the school system who are important, as well as a great deal of money involved and a fiduciary responsibility to spend those dollars wisely. So I don’t mean to downplay these issues.

But for me, it’s fundamentally about the kids. I was active in guiding my sons through the Aspen education system, and ran for the school board four years ago to give back to the community.

Because there are a lot of constituents in the school system, and a lot of shiny baubles that can distract us, I feel it is important for a school board member to have the education of our children first and foremost in mind.

Aspen District Theater is due for a bond-funded upgrade

Aspen High School students perform their in-person musical, ‘Songs for a New World,’ in the district theater during a dress rehearsal in Aspen on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Aspen District Theater and Black Box could use some upgrades, according to attendees at Thursday’s community meeting at the Black Box.

The entrance to the District Theater — located inside the elementary school — is also the entrance to the school itself, prompting safety concerns as well as issues with flow; the theater also shares bathrooms with the elementary school. (The Black Box theater, located in the high school, has its entrance to the east of the main doors.)

Access to the neighboring venues, while central to the district campus, isn’t easy to navigate for those with mobility challenges. And spaces near the District Theater stage that might otherwise function as rehearsal space or dressing rooms are currently operating as preschool classrooms.

Plus, the two on-campus facilities see use not only from student performers but from other community arts organizations like Theatre Aspen and the Aspen Community Theatre. That offers an “incredible opportunity” for students to gain exposure to professional productions, but it also means the facilities face challenges with availability and management, said Tammy Baar, who has been involved in both student and community theater in Aspen for decades.

Bookings must be submitted months or even a year in advance, and professional groups don’t always have access to all the facilities (like dressing rooms or a scene shop) that they need at the same space because many spaces serve multiple purposes.

“Clearly, the uses of (the theater) are limited somewhat by the design,” said Kurt Hall, who serves as the vice president and district liaison for the Aspen Education Foundation, a nonprofit that funds a variety of initiatives in Aspen’s public schools.

There’s an “enormous” amount of potential, said Melanie Muss, a local parent and real estate agent who is also involved in the community theater scene.

But considering the high caliber of performance that often takes place at the venues, the facilities themselves are “substandard,” she said.

“I think people come despite the spaces. … It’s more than just aesthetics, it’s a whole flow,” Muss said.

These issues are hardly new; back in 2005, the campaign for a $33 million bond issue floated the idea of upgrades at the District Theater, but that remodel never happened.

But now, there’s more funding to go around thanks to voters’ approval of $94 million in bonds for facilities upgrades — including performing arts facilities — and teacher housing last November.

Thursday’s community meeting was part of a series of conversations happening this month to help consultants and planners evaluate how some of that bond funding will address the need for upgrades at the District Theater and Black Box.

Got thoughts?

Talks between planners and community members kicked off in earnest with Zoom and in-person meetings this week and will continue into the next week, Gena Buhler said in an interview after the community meeting.

Buhler has been in touch with a number of local arts leaders, but she and Gilbert Sanchez encourage anyone with input on the future of the District Theater and Black Box to reach out to both of them via email (gbuhler@theatreprojects.com and gsanchezaia@gmail.com, respectively).

Architect Gilbert Sanchez, who has been extensively involved in the bond process with the district, facilitated the discussion alongside consultant Gena Buhler, the head of new business development in North America for the performing arts consulting company Theatre Projects. (Buhler previously served as the executive and artistic director of the Wheeler Opera House from 2015-2020.)

The target project costs for bond-funded updates to the District Theater and performing arts facilities is about $2-3 million, according to an Oct. 12 bond update that SitelogIQ’s Damion Spahr presented to the Aspen School District Board of Education.

A $6 million ballpark figure for the District Theater and performing arts improvements that was referenced during the community meeting was “simply an old number that was considered at one point in time,” said Spahr, who is a member of the owner representative team.

After years of master planning and pricing, an ultra-comprehensive, district-wide “wishlist” for improvements totaled $185 million in potential projects, $13.5 million of which was specific to performing arts, according to Sanchez.

In the meantime, “we’re going to have to prioritize,” Sanchez said. Doing so calls for an evaluation of the present and future uses of the two performing arts facilities.

Meeting attendees agreed that both the needs of the school’s students and the needs of the community should be part of the discussion moving forward; it’s not an either-or question but one of how to balance both.

Although the school owns and operates the structures, they are in no way exclusive to students, and the size of the District Theater — as well as the parking and bus accessibility available there — make it a “valley asset” with the potential to become a “world-class facility,” Hall said.

“I don’t think people realize what a unique asset it is,” Hall said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the approximate budget for bond funding for the District Theater and performing arts; it’s about $2-3 million, according to a bond update presented during an Oct. 12 Board of Education update.

kwilliams@aspentimes.com