Aspen Board of Education candidates consider climate and culture in the district
Six candidates answer five questions in lead-up to election
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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Today’s question for the Aspen School District Board of Education candidates: 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?