Aspen school board candidates share views | AspenTimes.com

Aspen school board candidates share views

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Editor’s note: Three candidates, Carmen Dowley, Sandra Peirce and Sheila Wills are vying for two open positions on the Aspen School District Board of Education in the Nov. 1 election. Two of them will replace Fred Peirce and Laura Kornasiewicz, who must step down because of term limits. The Aspen Times asked the candidates four questions via email about their vision for the school district if elected to office.

Occupation: Mother, educator, wife, volunteer and athletic coach

Children in ASD: Kate is a senior at Aspen High School and an International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate; Libby is a sophomore at Aspen High School; and Maddie is an eighth-grade student at Aspen Middle School

Board/volunteer experience: Founding member PTO, Aspen Elementary School; founding member Parent Council Organization, Aspen Middle School; chaired opposition to alternative calendar proposal; Western Slope College Fair Organizing Committee; Aspen High School – School Accountability Committee; Aspen Education Foundation, former board member; Past Auction Chairperson for May Madness and Halloween Howl; Aspen School District 2005 mill levy election committee; Booster Club member; coach, Aspen Middle School athletics, city of Aspen Parks and Recreation; St. Mary’s Church St. Patrick’s Day Committee; Challenge Aspen volunteer

1.) Finances will likely continue to be a key concern for the Board of Education, and the administration has said all the “low-hanging fruit” has already been cut from the ASD budget. Where do you see future cuts being made – teaching staff (which means increased class sizes), reduction/elimination of programs like Ex Ed, technology, etc. – and how do you go about prioritizing them?

I believe that any financial cuts that may be needed must be kept as far away from the classroom as possible. Our district is unique in that three of our four schools and over 90 district of our students and staff are on the same campus. I would explore having the district operate as if it was a single K-12 school. Economies of scale may be achieved in areas such as academic review/supervision, technology, athletics and operations. Looking at the district as one school could also have academic benefits by delivering consistent academic standards and methods across core K-12 subjects such as English, math, languages and science. I will fight to maintain the unique programs that make our schools special.

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2.) Beyond the school budget, what will be the greatest challenge the Aspen School District faces in the next four years?

Our schools deliver a superior educational product, and we are constantly challenged to maintain that level. Our enrollment is growing and we must allocate our space efficiently and fairly. The world around us is changing and technology will play an increasing role in the educational experience and needs to be integrated into our processes. We must find ways to attract and retain a qualified staff to work with our children. Our methods for evaluating the performance of our students and staff must be in compliance with state and federal mandates, but also reflect the character and values of our community.

3.) As a school board member, who do you believe are your constituents? How will you change hats from parent of a child in the ASD to an elected official serving this constituency?

My constituents are the owners of the Aspen School District; the property owners, the parents sending children to the schools, the taxpayers of the district and especially the students themselves. In our democracy, we rule by the will of the majority, but are measured by how we care for those unable to care for themselves. My children are more important to me than anything else in this world, but the job of a school board trustee is to make decisions that are in the best interests of the owners of the district. I graduated from Aspen High School almost 30 years ago. My decisions need to be for students today and those graduating 30 years from now.

4.) At a recent public forum, it was apparent all three school board candidates were aligned in their views on many subjects. How do you differentiate yourself from your fellow candidates, and why should you be elected to the BOE?

I am the only candidate who is a product of the Aspen School District. I am the only candidate who has been a full-time tenured teacher, and as such, I believe I will have credibility when dealing with our staff on financial issues. I have personally experienced the many special programs that make our Aspen schools so attractive and will fight to maintain them. My experience teaching and living in Silicon Valley, as a free market homeowner in Aspen and as an Aspen native, give me the tools to relate and service the needs of the entire, diverse Aspen community.

Occupation: Substitute teacher

Children in ASD: One son, freshman AHS; one daughter, freshman Colgate University, graduated AHS 2011

Board/volunteer experience: District Accountability Committee (DAC), member, 8 years; Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention, president, 8 years; School Accountability Committee (SAC), member – AES, AMS and AHS, 9 years; Aspen School District Bond/Mill Levy Committee – 2005, 2008, 2010; Parent Advisory Group Chair – AES, AMS, 8 years; Principal Search Committee -AES, AMS, AHS; Colorado Western Slope College Fair, Organizing Committee, 5 years; Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, race co-chair, 2 years

1.) Finances will likely continue to be a key concern for the Board of Education, and the administration has said all the “low-hanging fruit” has already been cut from the ASD budget. Where do you see future cuts being made – teaching staff (which means increased class sizes), reduction/elimination of programs like ExEd, technology, etc. – and how do you go about prioritizing them?

Our community values education for our children and the BOE, as a group, should reflect the community’s values and priorities. Once those priorities have been established, a committee of district administrators, employees and stakeholders, including the Financial Advisory Board and the DAC members must go through the budget thoughtfully and thoroughly to look for ways to save money. For my part, I would like to preserve, to the largest extent possible, the programs that make our district unique, such as our outdoor/ex-ed programs and to keep the budget impacts as far from the classroom; students and teachers, as possible.

2.) Beyond the school budget, what will be the greatest challenge the Aspen School District faces in the next four years?

The District’s greatest challenge will be finding a reliable, stable funding source amidst conflicting constitutional and statutory provisions. Although these are statewide issues; the district will have to work with the state to find solutions. Proposition 103, for example, is a proposal that would give the district some breathing room while exploring other options. Other pending challenges will include: finding and retaining quality teachers in these difficult budgetary times; issues presented by the new teacher effectiveness legislation; and capacity of the district’s physical plant; given current demographics and numbers of students in the elementary, middle and high schools.

3.) As a school board member, who do you believe are your constituents? How will you change hats from parent of a child in the ASD to an elected official serving this constituency?

Public schools are funded with taxpayer money; BOE members represent the community’s values, ensure the district reflects those and holds it accountable in their achievement. Ultimately, students are the District’s direct consumers and we must assure that the district is doing everything to empower every student to achieve success. When serving on the DAC, various school SACs, and committees, I always advocate for what is best for all students. This is a school board member’s number one priority. Unless attending a parent-teacher conference, a school board member’s role is to be reflective about all students and the district.

4.) At a recent public forum, it was apparent all three school board candidates were aligned in their views on many subjects. How do you differentiate yourself from your fellow candidates, and why should you be elected to the BOE?

I have had more consistent, hands-on, direct experience in the ASD than either of the other candidates. During the past ten years I have worked closely and built strong, working relationships with the administrators, teachers, students and parents of the district. I bring a strong background and depth of knowledge with regard to district issues and a recognized ability to work collaboratively with others. I am hard working, an advocate for all kids, a good listener and would be a thoughtful, consensus building member of the BOE; bringing an open mind to the position, with no preconceived notions or agenda.

Occupation: Attorney, real estate investor and developer

Children in ASD: One son, Matt, a sophomore at Aspen High School. Matt was born in Aspen. He attended Aspen Community School in Pre-K and began Aspen Elementary School in kindergarten.

Board/volunteer Experience: I spent most of my volunteer hours when Matt was young in his classroom. Additionally, I was a member of the first Western Slope College Fair committee and have served on that committee in various capacities for almost all of its seven years. I served on the Middle School Principal Search Committee that ultimately recommended Tom Heald. I was also an officer for the Middle School Parent Council. For six years I was a member of the administrative board of the Aspen Chapel. I currently serve on the board of trustees and the joint affairs committee for the Aspen Chapel and the board of directors of Alpine Legal Services.

1.) Finances will likely continue to be a key concern for the Board of Education, and the administration has said all the “low-hanging fruit” has already been cut from the ASD budget. Where do you see future cuts being made – teaching staff (which means increased class sizes), reduction/elimination of programs like Ex Ed, technology, etc. – and how do you go about prioritizing them?

My goal is to avoid any significant budget cuts. Through creative problem solving and community support, I hope that the district may be able to discover an alternative, stable, and adequate funding source.

The creation of the ASD budget relies upon a cooperative process requiring input and involvement from staff, principals, and district administrators. If, however, reductions are necessary, I would work with the various stakeholders to prioritize funding for core programs – reading, writing, math, and science. The district has only 13 years to educate a child, 13 years to lead, guide, encourage, and motivate each child to become a well educated and capable member of our community. Every year, every day, every minute the district does not provide its best for a child is a lost learning opportunity that child will never reclaim. With an impeccable core education, our children will have the tools necessary to attain their full potential and become valuable contributors to our economy.

2.) Beyond the school budget, what will be the greatest challenge the Aspen School District faces in the next four years?

Beyond the school budget, the greatest challenge the Aspen School District faces in the next four years is improving its math program. In looking at the percentage of students who are performing at “proficient” or “advanced” levels as determined by the 2010/2011 CSAP scores for grades three through 10, fully one-half of the grades are performing at levels lower than they were four years ago. Particularly troubling are the scores for last year’s 10th and tenth grades of which only 55 percent and 39 percent, respectively, are either proficient or advanced in math.

3.) As a school board member, who do you believe are your constituents? How will you change hats from parent of a child in the ASD to an elected official serving this constituency?

A school board member has many constituents – students, parents, teachers, administrators, the community members who pay the real estate taxes that fund schools, and the community at large to whom the district owes an educated population. By far the most important of these constituents, however, are the students. Every decision a school board member makes must be filtered first through the question “What is best for the students of the Aspen School District?” As a school board member, my parent hat that narrows my focus to the best interest of my child must be removed to focus on the good of the entire student population. I believe that my logical, pragmatic, analytical style will permit me to do this easily.

4.) At a recent public forum, it was apparent all three school board candidates were aligned in their views on many subjects. How do you differentiate yourself from your fellow candidates, and why should you be elected to the BOE?

Over the length of my diverse career, I developed a completely different set of abilities from my fellow candidates. Like the others I taught school and serve on volunteer boards, but my legal and business experiences provide me with additional, valuable skills. As an attorney I developed expertise in creative problem solving, crafting and understanding contracts, negotiating effectively, asking difficult questions when necessary, and recognizing hidden issues. As a business person, I acquired a strong understanding of financial statements, pro forma projections, the budgeting process, property maintenance, property management, and how to direct a team. Because my abilities are so different from those of my fellow candidates and because these abilities will be extremely helpful, I believe I will be a valuable school board member.

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