Aspen Board of Education candidates weigh top district priorities
Six candidates answer final question in five-part series leading up to election
This is the fifth and final entry in The Aspen Times series of questions posed to the six candidates vying for three openings on the Aspen School District Board of Education. The Times published the candidates’ responses to one of the questions each day this week.
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. To read all of their answers, go to aspentimes.com/education.
Today’s question: 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?
The board must continue to ensure safe, in-person learning. COVID taught us that schools must be adaptable and able to react quickly, mitigating negative impacts on staff and students. Prior to COVID, many students in our district were underperforming academically, and pandemic learning losses only worsened the decline. Our district has already taken important steps to reverse trend lines and must continue to identify ways to improve the academic experience of our students while building our teachers’ capacity to instruct.
Recovering from academic deterioration and learning loss must be our priority, though not to the detriment of student and staff emotional well-being. We have an obligation to formulate and implement a COVID “Catch-up and recovery plan” for students who’ve fallen behind. After 18 months of off-and-on isolation, remote learning, societal pressure and the increase of social media usage, we are witnessing a mental health crisis of epic proportions in our youth who suffer increasingly from anxiety, depression and even suicidal ideations. Our classrooms should engage our students academically, providing them with safe and positive learning environments. We need to continue awareness and support struggling students and, when necessary, provide help for parents and staff with access to mental health resources.
For this school year, the top priority of the district is to make sure that each student experiences a year of academic growth towards reaching their potential, their dreams and their goals, while acquiring the life skills and citizenship that lead to fulfilling lives — all in a safe environment. Everything else is commentary.
No.1 priority, unfortunately, is still COVID. We cannot compromise the health and safety of our kids or our teachers. No. 2: Continue to come up with new ideas to attract and retain the best teachers possible. Our schools can only be as good as our teachers! Lastly, No. 3, we need to continue to nurture, support and improve the programs that make our schools exceptional. The International Baccalaureate and the outdoor ed program are two examples.
Remain open! Kids need the stability of in-person education right now. My vision for the BOE is to create stability, build bridges and restore community. We are an excellent public school. We need a period of stability so we can foster an environment where the professionals are able to do what they do best: educate our children. We are moving in the right direction, but need to be patient and trust that results will come. We must build bridges for all members of our community. This takes a reasoned approach of listening to all stakeholders so our decisions are well-informed and help all our students succeed. And finally, we need to restore community. Aspen is a unique small town in the mountains. We have the ability to be the best public school system in the state and not lose sight of our uniqueness. Our schools can be a place where our kids are emotionally healthy and feel the support of the entire Aspen community. Test scores and college acceptance is a byproduct. With stability, bridging and community restoration, Aspen School District can provide a place for all students to grow as thinkers, dreamers, innovators and world changers.
We have an amazing school district with phenomenal teachers, an excellent International Baccalaureate program through all grades, and money from a recently passed bond measure to upgrade school facilities. We’ve done so much of the hard work already. Now our job is to put these plans into practice. I think the number one priority is healing the divisions in our school community that have occurred over the past few tumultuous years to achieve the following:
— Foster a climate of compromise and inclusivity in our school community so we can begin to heal our community and move forward.
— Advocate for ALL students at all levels of ability to receive the support they need, whether they are gifted and talented, require special education services or occupy the space in between where it is easy to be overlooked.
— Continue to work on strategic allocations of the bond and tax measures passed last fall.
— Pursue science-backed policies to keep teachers, school staff, and students physically and mentally healthy.
— Invest in housing and aggressive recruitment to attract and retain excellent teachers.
Our No. 1 priority should be a focus on strengthening our core academics and arts programs, which includes the alignment of curriculum across the district, from grade to grade and school to school. This is particularly important when you consider that students may have learning gaps and other challenges as a result of the disruption and stress that COVID brought to our schools last year. We need to identify those gaps and provide support where it’s needed to help get our students back on track.
The goal of improving learning outcomes in core areas goes hand in hand with the adoption of the IB program in the elementary and middle schools, but everyone should be aware that the IB program is not a quick fix. This is a major initiative, requiring comprehensive planning and ongoing teacher training, along with significant budget resources. But if we’re serious about providing a world-class education in Aspen, then we need to prioritize this process.
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?”), Wednesday’s question (“How do you envision the relationship between the board and the community?”) and Thursday’s question (“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?”) at aspentimes.com.
A group of 19 local, high school students have been busy sharing a little bit more than the usual “What did you do this summer?” stories to start the new school year.
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