Basalt’s ‘most inspirational’ teacher will pocket $10,000

Scott Condon
Aspen Times Staff Writer

It pays to be to inspirational if you’re a teacher in Basalt.

One teacher from the town’s public school system is going to receive $10,000 Tuesday as “Basalt’s Most Inspirational Teacher of 2002-03.” The financial reward is being offered by real estate agent and developer Bob Ritchie along with his Riverside Plaza project at Two Rivers Road and Midland Avenue.

“We’re looking for the teacher who has really affected the kids’ lives and changed them for the better,” said Ritchie.

He said the program and hefty reward will be an annual occurrence. The dollar amount needed to be high enough to really make the teachers become interested.

“What we want is something that will actually make a difference in a teacher’s life,” Ritchie said.

He launched the program because it seems to him to be the most meaningful way to give something back to the town. He wanted to give something back, he said, because of his success developing his commercial and residential project.

Ritchie lives in Aspen but he’s become increasingly active in Basalt since developing his project. He said he gets “bombed” with requests to help “every kind of nonprofit under the sun.”

He decided to help the schools because of his own experiences. He and three friends were math whizzes while attending the seventh grade in Fort Washington, Wis. They breezed through their assignments and were bored – until their teacher challenged them. He worked with them on geometry, then algebra and higher math during school and even during evenings.

“In less than a year he took us through college calculus,” said Ritchie. “He taught us that the human brain is capable of going well beyond expected limits.”

The studying paid off. Ritchie earned a master’s degree in physics and came within a whisker of getting his Ph.D. when he decided he didn’t want to take his life in that direction. He had lived in Aspen for a short time by then and decided that’s where he wanted to be.

Ritchie went on to become a partner in Coates, Reid and Waldron Real Estate and one of the most successful brokers in the upper valley.

Ritchie said he is certain that there are teachers in Basalt who are inspiring their students in the same way his seventh-grade math teacher inspired him. When he talked to the school principals about his idea, they were surprised at his offer. “They said, ‘Yes it’s a good idea and don’t go away,'” he said.

The principals have taken on administration of the program. Students in the elementary, middle and high schools were invited to nominate a teacher by Feb. 14.

Three top academic achievers from each of the grades four, eight and 12 will serve on the selection committee. Their votes will be weighted by grade level, giving older students more clout in the process.

The winner will be announced Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Basalt Town Council meeting.

Basalt Middle School Principal Patrick Henry said he welcomes the program, although some alterations may be required in the selection process in future years.

“I think that anything that puts money in the hands of teachers is a good thing,” he said.

Among teachers, the program has spurred “mixed emotions,” according to Henry. Some teachers were concerned that it would create jealousy; others felt it is good incentive and recognition for a job done well.