Accountability the topic of school meeting | AspenTimes.com

Accountability the topic of school meeting

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The first meeting of the Aspen School District’s accountability committee Thursday night brought community members and school officials together in an attempt to “open the door of communication.”

The meeting came after a tense gathering last week in which some questioned the superintendent and the lack of communication between parents and the school district.

The Aspen School Board met in executive session last night to discuss Superintendent Tom Farrell’s contract and annual evaluation, but calls to school board members were not returned.

The newly formed District Accountability Committee (DAC) took Thursday night to select committee leadership as well as determine the group’s focus over the next year.

State law requires that school district accountability groups contain at least six members: three parents, one administrator, one teacher and at least one “at large” member of the community who is not necessarily a parent of a district student. Thursday’s meeting seemed to represent each area well; aside from the 30 parents who attended, at least five teachers and the principals of the elementary, middle and high schools turned out.

The group also plans to seek out a larger number of “stakeholders” in district policy, including taxpayers and community members without children who still take interest in school activities.

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The re-establishment of the DAC was discussed at length during the Feb. 4 meeting of the Aspen School Board. Aspen resident Gary Beach informed the board that he spoke with nearly 25 parents interested in reviving the DAC, which has languished in previous years due to low membership.

The board encouraged Beach to organize his group and bring a list of possible topics of review back for further discussion.

Beach started Thursday’s meeting by warning that the DAC was created as an opportunity for communication, not as a way to take control of district policy.

“This isn’t intending to take anything away from any other parent group,” Beach said.

He also stressed his interest in remaining an active DAC member, but not necessarily as a part of the group’s leadership committee. Instead, the group voted 11 attendees of the meeting, including Aspen High Principal Kendall Evans, to the DAC executive committee. Evans, along with middle school Principal Griff Smith, said that each school would also appoint teachers to serve on the executive committee.

The group also discussed how to include students in the committee’s discussions. The suggestion of an invitational “student night,” or even the inclusion of students on the DAC executive committee, will be examined further at the group’s next meeting.

A list of 18 “items of study” was discussed Thursday as the DAC attempted to focus its role before its next meeting with the school board. Included in the items the group hopes to discuss are the performance review process for teachers and administrators, policy governance, school curriculum and the items that affect “the social well-being of students,” including homework loads and bullying among classes. A few teachers also asked that an evaluation of the district’s programs for at-risk students be included in the DAC’s agenda.

The executive committee is expected to meet in the next few weeks to elect officers, as well as discuss the formation of smaller committees that will oversee actions at individual schools. Executive committee member Carrie Morgridge suggested that the next meeting also include the discussion of a possible “complaint committee” that would allow parents and teachers who have felt let down by the district the chance to make their concerns heard.

Morgridge reported that parents have sent her anonymous letters because they fear retribution from the district.

“I would like to make a safe place for people to come and speak their minds,” she said.

Aspen resident L.J. Erspamer warned that the “complaint committee,” as well as the DAC itself, should involve district input to avoid becoming too involved with local politics.

“I don’t want the accountability committee to become a witch hunt,” he said.

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