Aspen Board of Education candidates talk about district’s strengths, weaknesses
Six candidates to answer five questions in lead-up to election
This is the second 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: What do you see as the greatest strength of the district and where do you see room for improvement?
Strengths: Our teachers/staff, our community and our kids. When our kids attended ASD, the vast majority of their teachers were excellent. Last year they did an amazing job in very difficult circumstances. Our community values education, as reflected in last year’s bond and tax funding passage. I’m grateful our community values the outdoors, as reflected in the experiential education program. Finally, our kids are amazing. They bore the brunt of the pandemic and are resilient, but now they need our support.
Improvements: Stability and vision. We’ve had overwhelming staff turnover. The board must create a stable environment in which administrators lead, teachers teach and kids learn. Teachers need an environment of support from the board, administration and community. This includes continuing to purchase housing to retain teachers. Our curriculum also needs stability. That is why I support International Baccalaureate for all grades as a framework.
We also need to develop a longer-term vision for our district. We are an excellent public school, and our graduates are generally well-equipped for their future of their choosing. However, we are not just a test score-focused college prep school, but a district that supports the holistic development of every child. The district must continue to develop and articulate this vision to the greater Aspen community.
The Aspen School District is one of the best in the state and the country, and it was the biggest factor in my family’s decision to move here four years ago. The dedication of our teachers is unparalleled, and the course offerings are astounding, especially for a small school.
Yet our community is at a crossroads. Our children’s education has suffered due to the pandemic, we’ve had multiple changes in school leadership, and the challenges of managing COVID-19 have wrought turmoil and division. We must renew our commitment to excellence in learning while also forging stronger communication with the public, to rebuild support and trust as we move forward.
As co-chairman of the Aspen School District Accountability Committee since 2018, I pushed to extend the International Baccalaureate program through all grades, increasing collaboration between the schools and ensuring that we shape our children at all ages into critical, creative and ethical thinkers. Through introducing open committee meetings and inviting key stakeholders to attend, I helped foster better communication with the public. Only through embracing diversity, forging compromise and ensuring that all voices are heard can we rebuild our community and put into practice the values we teach our children.
ASD’s greatest strength lies in our commitment to educating the “whole child,” meaning that we address the cognitive, social, emotional, physical and talent development of each student. Our outdoor education and International Baccalaureate programs, small class sizes and instruction geared to the diverse needs and learning styles of each student demonstrate the “whole child” philosophy. But these programs don’t teach themselves. We have to give credit to our highly qualified and dedicated teachers, who bring the curriculum alive and motivate our kids to do their best.
There is room for improvement in our core academic programs and specifically in English language arts and math, as indicated in the 2021 Colorado Measures of Academic Success results. To improve outcomes in all subject areas, we need to work on overall curriculum alignment so that content progression and expectations are seamless from elementary through high school.
The good news is that our district campus is well-suited to an aligned curriculum and the full adoption of the International Baccalaureate program will be an important part of this endeavor. I’d also like to see more robust support for our music, theater and arts programs, because these are essential to the philosophy of the “whole child” approach to education.
Overall, Aspen School District has been high-performing because of our great teachers, caring staff, involved parents, innovative community partnerships, generous resources and strong programs. We boast a near-perfect graduation rate and extremely high college acceptance rate. ASD’s students are well-rounded because of our outdoor education programming, project-based learning initiatives and multitude of program offerings.
However, for some years our district has been in academic decline, highlighted by recent disappointing math and reading scores. Despite ASD’s best efforts, the pandemic took a toll on our students, teachers and administrators. On the accountability committee, we worked with the board and new administration to address this decline. Comprehensive math and language arts audits led to the successful acquisition of new curricula and the adoption of “IB for all” to upgrade, align educational goals and provide continuity. Moving forward, the board and administrators must work to ensure the successful implementation of these programs and continue to address academics with additional subject audits. In addition, the board must address other challenges related to teacher training, retention and affordable housing. We must ensure a calendar that continues to honor the diversity of the community and what best works for our various stakeholders.
The Aspen School District is now poised for great success. During my four-year term, the board hired a new district superintendent and assistant superintendent; hired new high school, middle school and elementary school principals; hired a new Cottage preschool director; closed on a $114 million bond offering after a successful community vote approving the bond; conducted a curriculum audit and a facility audit; increased teacher pay; and purchased teacher housing.
Improvements will come from following through on the groundwork that has been laid. Our new superintendent was recently Superintendent of the Year in Pennsylvania and is doing great job for us. After the bond issue, the district is now on sound financial footing and, where prudent, we will continue to purchase additional teacher housing and make facilities improvements. Perhaps most importantly, we are constantly looking at our curriculum and instruction to make sure they are delivering for our students.
The greatest strength of ASD is its community. Our district is filled with financial and cultural resources. This includes a committed teaching staff, involved and concerned parents, excellent district and school administrators and nature-loving citizens.
There is room for improvement with the relationship between teachers and the board and the district administration. Everyone must work in concert to create the kind of top-notch learning experience we all want to provide to our students. We are in the midst of considerable cultural changes — not to mention a pandemic. The past few years have been difficult for everyone. Hopefully, COVID-19 will be kept in check, and we can refocus our collective efforts on making ASD the best in Colorado.
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?”) at aspentimes.com.
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In the race for three seats on the Aspen School District Board of Education, some candidates have taken a more spartan approach to campaign finance than others, contribution and expenditure reports show.