Introduction to candidates for Aspen School District Board of Education | AspenTimes.com

Introduction to candidates for Aspen School District Board of Education

Staff report

Editor's note: The election for three open seats on the Board of Eduction for the Aspen School District is Nov. 7, with a candidates forum scheduled 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Seminar Room at Aspen High School.

The Aspen Times this week is publishing a five-part questionnaire with answers from the five candidates — incumbents Margeaux Johansson, Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero, and challengers Jonathan Nickell and Susan Zimet.

Below is the first installment of the series; the remaining segments will run Tuesday through Friday.

Margeaux Johansson

Education: Bachelor of Arts, Brown University

Family: Husband, Per; daughters Isabella, Stella and Annika.

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Personal experience with the Aspen School District: All three children attend Aspen public schools, and I am a current Aspen Board of Education member.

Explain why you are running for the board and what sets you apart for your opponents: I am running for the board to continue the work that the current board has undertaken, and to continue to find and support ways to fully fund our district. The elementary, middle and high schools currently have very strong leadership that is dedicated to improving our already high-functioning schools. For example, the board, administration and faculty have been meeting for the past year with the math faculty of all three schools to align and improve the math curriculum in the district. At our last board meeting, we had a discussion with language arts faculty, and decided to initiate a similar set of meetings to work with them to improve that curriculum within the district. I have also been involved with the School on the Mountain initiative at the high school, visiting other high-performing Colorado schools to determine what best practices we would do well to implement, and what we want to avoid. On one of our visits, an Aspen junior who was shadowing a student for the day was told by peers that the stress level on kids was so high that it was not a positive place to be. I certainly never want to forget that our students are not test-taking machines, but vital members of our community who also contribute outside school as artists, volunteers, teammates and workers.

Susan Marolt

Education: Master's in professional accounting, University of Texas at Austin

Volunteer and board experience: Aspen School District Board of Education 2013 to present, Aspen Public Education Fund board member, Aspen High School Booster Club co-president, College Fair Committee, Project Graduation Committee, Girl Scout Leader, Religious education teacher and parish council member St. Mary's Church

Family: Husband, Roger Marolt, and three children, Lucy, Max and Jane.

Personal experience with the Aspen School District: Board of Education member 2013 to present. My children have attended Aspen public schools K-12. I have volunteered in classrooms and on school committees throughout the last 18 years. My husband attended Aspen public schools K-12, and we have nieces and nephews currently in the district. I have been and continue to be a huge fan of and advocate for our schools.

Explain why you are running for the board and what sets you apart for your opponents: I am completing my first term on the Board of Education and am excited and willing to serve again. I am passionate about education and take seriously the role of preparing our children for the future. I bring four years of experience on the board and am ready to build on that experience to work for our kids. I seek continued feedback from parents and taxpayers. I believe that the most important job of the board of education is to reflect the values of the community as they relate to the school district. Elections are an important way for the community to express these values and I love being part of that discussion. I bring financial and accounting experience. I have worked as a CPA in my family's local accounting practice for over 25 years. Finally, I bring a continued commitment to improve and enhance the team atmosphere at the district and among the community.

Jonathan Nickell

Education: Master's degree in Business Administration, Harvard

Volunteer and board experience: School board member of high performing K-12 international school, 5 years; vice chair of the Aspen School District Accountability Committee, one year; professional board and committee experience includes Banco Falabella de Colombia (current), three years; Fanalca S.A. (current), three years; Falabella de Colombia, one year; Management Committee, Corona Organization (current), six years

Family: Wife, Paula, and three children, Matilde, Thomas and Juliana.

Personal experience with the Aspen School District: Starting in 2013, all of our children have attended, or are currently attending, Aspen High School and I have served as vice chair of the District Accountability Committee for the last year.

Explain why you are running for the board and what sets you apart for your opponents: I feel this is a great way for me to give back to a district, teachers and community that has been good to me and my family. Performance on academic achievement ratings has been declining when compared to our peers, and the preliminary rating of the Aspen Elementary School by the Colorado Department of Education places it in the bottom 32 percent of elementary schools in Colorado in academic achievement and growth ratings. We need to turn things around and I feel that I have the skills and experience to help implement needed changes and enable the Aspen School District to once again reach its potential to be not just one of the best school districts in Colorado, but one of the best anywhere. The skills and experience that most differentiate me from my opponents are my overall board and professional board experience, my professional and volunteer experience in developing successful business and educational strategies, as well as my experience in organizational development and finance. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to experience a variety of schools across the United States and internationally, enabling me to bring a different perspective to the board.

I will focus on developing, attracting and retaining great teachers. The current board has not led in supporting teachers with the most competitive salaries, providing a great organizational climate, a long-term vision and plan for housing, or adequate professional development.

I want the Aspen School District to have a vision of being world class and I will work diligently to make that happen. I do not want to compare Aspen to "state averages" or other school districts with "similar demographics." I will work to inspire the teachers, staff, students and the community to compare ourselves to examples of world-class. whole-child educational models and work to develop a world-class education for our world-class community. I will collaboratively work with the administration to work to improve our schools. However, I will maintain my independence and hold both the board and administration accountable for taking action and delivering results. Currently the board evaluates itself only on policy process, without any connection to student or organizational outcomes.

Dwayne Romero

Education: MBA, Harvard Business School, Harvard University, '97; Bachelor of Science, engineering management, United States Military Academy, West Point, '87

Volunteer and board experience: I am deeply committed to community service at all levels of "community" — I have 11 years of military service to our nation, 12 years of elected and appointed public service to our local community (two terms, Aspen City Council; two terms, Aspen Fire Protection District; one term, Roaring Fork Transit Authority), and three years of appointed public service at the state level (executive director and commissioner, governor's cabinet member, at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade), together with nearly two decades of local and national nonprofit service and leadership (Veterans for National Service Foundation, Aspen Rotary Club, Leadership Aspen/Roaring Fork Leadership, Aspen Historical Society, Hospice of the Valley).

Family: Wife, Margaret, and three daughters, Perry, Grace and Abigail.

Personal experience with the Aspen School District: Father of three children attending Aspen School District, husband of a longtime school teacher in the district (Margaret, currently teaching at the Aspen Community School).

Volunteer work includes assistant coach, Aspen High School boys baseball team ('98-99, 2015 to present); workshop moderator, Military Academies and ROTC Opportunities, Western Slope College Fair (2010 to present), and chain gang member (some say the best member, others disagree) Aspen High School football home games, (2015 to present).

Explain why you are running for the board and what sets you apart for your opponents: I have humbly and gratefully served our community as an appointed school board member for the past 16 months, and I am super-excited about the opportunity to continue my service. There is much more work to done. If elected to serve another four years, I want to: 1) help to further the goals of the district (specifically, continue to strengthen our academic performance at all levels, to attract and retain a dynamic and talented teacher cadre, and to provide for the long-term financial stability of our district); 2) contribute my resources, talents and abilities to the district board in a collaborative, constructive and open manner, striving to earn the trust and confidence of the community as a grateful servant leader; 3) work hard with other board members and district staff to achieve our goal of building a stronger district culture of trust, appreciation and respect for our entire teaching cadre, our professional staff and the community at large.

Being married to a longtime teacher in the district enables me to bring an added dimension and perspective to the board, helping to further round out board empathy, vision and awareness on policy matters impacting our teacher cadre. Our community greatly appreciates the talent and dedication of our teachers, so it's important to fairly and fully represent their voice on the board.

 Susan Zimet, M.D.

Education: Harvard ('84); Columbia Medical School ('88).

Family: Husband, Millard, and sons Max and Michael.

Experience with Aspen School District: Past chair and current officer, District Accountability Committee; past member, School Accountability Committees.

Explain why you are running for the board and what sets you apart for your opponents: I am running for the school board because our community can do a lot better and we need change. Our community is being told that our schools are great. But that is no longer the case. Our scores are down. Our spending is up. Our teachers are leaving. These trends can't be allowed to continue. Our community generously funds our schools. But we are not getting bang for our buck. There are five candidates running in this election, and three of them are incumbents. I do not mean to be hard on individuals, but I do want to be hard on the issues. This board has produced poor results.

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