As Aspen School District fine-tunes its vision, school board members consider what’s ‘best’ for the kids |

As Aspen School District fine-tunes its vision, school board members consider what’s ‘best’ for the kids

School officials continue to wordsmith five-year strategic plan for the district

Stacey Weiss, right, is sworn in as one of two new members to the Aspen school board during the board of education's meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, inside the Aspen School District offices. Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

What does it mean to be “the best”?

It’s a question that the Aspen School District Board of Education has been chewing on for weeks as school officials fine-tune what will eventually become a five-year strategic plan that includes a vision and a mission for Aspen’s public schools.

The board is now entering its third month and what will soon be a fourth reading of review on the strategic plan; school officials got the ball rolling in early October and the board conducted its third official reading at a regular meeting Nov. 30.

The vision statement component of the plan has been something of a sticking point with its aspirations “to be the best district in the country” while also focusing on critical thinking, independence, health, resilience, kindness and global citizenship.

“The likelihood of any one district landing on top and being No. 1 is a quite a hard thing to achieve,” said new board member Stacey Weiss. “Certainly something to strive for, but at some point, I think someone is going to ask us, ‘Well, you know, you aren’t No. 1 last year according to this measure, or that number. Who is doing the measure? What are the parameters that we’re measuring against?”

That notion of “the best district in the country” also raised concerns during the second reading Nov. 9, when board members noted that the term “best” might be too vague or too lofty. But reaching for the stars isn’t as much a sticking point as determining what stars the district wants to reach for.


Newcomers Stacey Weiss and Christa Gieszl were sworn in at Tuesday’s meeting alongside incumbent Suzy Zimet, who is entering her second term. Longtime members Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero also bid their farewells to the board as their terms came to a close.

The consensus was much the same Nov. 30.

“All vision statements need to have an aspirational aspect to them, and I do not feel bad having a vision that I want to be the best in the country or the world or the county (or) Aspen,” board member Jonathan Nickell said. “And the fact that I’m not there should not limit that aspiration. … (The philosophy is) to set a goal that’s out there so people start reaching for it … and that means it needs to be but also you have to pick the right benchmarks.”

It’s up to Superintendent Dave Baugh and school officials to come to the board with what those benchmarks would be and how they would be measured, Nickell suggested. But ultimately, “We’re the ones who define who’s best with the community, whatever that means to us,” Nickell said.

Baugh has several times floated the idea of a broad community outreach effort to get feedback on that effort.

A bit of wordsmithing in the district vision on Nov. 30 has brought the board a bit closer to clarity, by adding the word “at” so the vision reads that the district aspires “to be the best district in the country at recognizing our children as individuals where all students will become critical thinkers for an independent, engaged approach to living full lives as healthy, resilient, kind, global citizens.”

There’s still a bit more tinkering to be done, and those goals won’t be set in stone once the board does eventually adopt the strategic plan.

“It’s meant to be a living document, not a sit on the shelf document,” said Katy Frisch, who is now the sitting president of the board. “So if there’s a word we don’t like six months from now, we can change it. The concept is that it will be used, fleshed out in full, tie in both Dave’s goals, the board’s goals and the district’s goals, and really flesh out all the details related to it, as we go through it.

The strategic plan also includes five “core goals” for the next five years: attracting and retaining “world-class teachers,” individualizing education for a “custom learning experience,” fostering a “culture of innovation,” strengthening relationships with community partners and families, and promoting responsible stewardship of district resources.

The current draft also updates the mission statement for the district: “The (Aspen School District) cultivates inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people to reach their fullest potential,” the proposed new mission statement reads, “who help to create a better and more peaceful world, through education that is rigorous, relevant, and reflective of mountain culture while building intercultural understanding and respect.”

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