Aspen Board of Education candidates talk about board-community relationship
Six candidates answer five questions in lead-up to election
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Developer Mark Hunt, along with the Aspen School District, are proposing to convert a free-market building just east of town into deed-restricted teacher housing.
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