Candidates grade Aspen superintendent by district’s performance (final part in series)
October 12, 2017
Editor's note: The election for three open seats on the Board of Education for the Aspen School District is Nov. 7, while ballots will be mailed out Oct. 16.
Today marks the last day of a five-part questionnaire with answers from the five candidates — incumbents Margeaux Johansson, Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero, and challengers Jonathan Nickell and Susan Zimet.
Using a scale of A through F, grade Dr. John Maloy's performance as superintendent of the school district, and explain your grade?
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One of the things I love about education in our community is that it is filled with lifelong learners, be they teachers, administrators or parent volunteers. It is a community where we expect people to grow in both their technical expertise and interpersonal relationship skills. With regard to our Superintendent Dr. John Maloy, I have those same expectations. Through my tenure I have seen him grow, and learn, and become more proficient at his job. He is an excellent administrator. He crosses his t's, dots his i's, and makes sure that we meet all the many state and federal reporting standards required of the district, which seem to grow each year. He has raised the visibility of the district and positively impacted the education of the students of Colorado by his work on the Executive Board of the Colorado Association of Superintendents, and his service on the board of the Western Slope College Fair and as a member of the Aspen Education Foundation. He has an educational vision for our children, and having worked with him for 20 months now, I know that he truly cares about our kids and our teachers.
The superintendent has worked extremely hard to further develop his management skills and the board has seen great growth from him in this area. Mistakes that were made early on in his tenure have not been forgiven nor forgotten in some instances. It was particularly difficult for the district that we did not have strong leadership at the high school for a number of years, but that has now been rectified. The superintendent's position can be a difficult one as he is the final arbiter in many decisions. It may seem as though he says "no" frequently, but when issues are ultimately brought to his attention, they have often already been through several layers of adjudication at the individual building level. On the whole, I believe our superintendent is an involved, capable administrator who has clearly illustrated his ability to learn and grown for the benefit of the district.
The Board of Education evaluates our superintendent based upon the overall performance of the district. I would give our district a B+. We are an exemplary school district by most measures. Our students go on to pursue post-secondary options that include exciting gap-year endeavors, attendance and graduation at a myriad of universities and colleges, and other training leading to successful vocations. In addition, our students graduate with a love of learning, a knack for perseverance, and an empathetic perspective of the world around them. Our outdoor and experiential educations programs foster confidence, resiliency and the ability to adapt to new situations while building strong relationships with fellow students and teachers. These are outcomes that I believe, mirror the values of our community.
We still, however, must always look for ways to improve: academic excellence for our kids, retaining dynamic staff, creating a positive culture. Our district should continue to investigate ways to engage more students through project-based learning, mentorships and internships. We should continue working on a district-wide, social-emotional curriculum. We must also strive to create an atmosphere that supports all: students, teachers, administrators, parents and community members in a team environment, all working for the good of our students. The culture of our board influences the administration and the teaching staff who then influence our kids. There must be a positive, collaborative culture where we look forward toward our goals for consistent improvement, support each other in each endeavor and celebrate our successes together.
I do not think that it is appropriate to give a grade; however, I think there are some important questions to be addressed.
Why are we falling behind in academic achievement? The average percentile rank of the Aspen School District has passed on average from above 90th percentile in 2010 to 76th in 2017, a 14.5-point decrease, while the Aspen Community School has increased scores at the middle school level from 87th to 93rd percentile. Aspen Elementary School was qualified by the Colorado Department Education in its preliminary report for 2017 as needing an "improvement plan," placing it in the bottom 32 percent of elementary schools in Colorado. The Board of Education is stepping in to review the math program, how did we get here?
ASD has stated we highly value our teachers; we appear to not have lived-up to this statement with our actions. All districts are facing similar financial pressures, and Aspen has increased spending by $5 million since 2011, but average teacher salary only increased from $57,587 to $58,287, losing competitiveness. Why is some of the increase not getting to our teachers? The TELL survey showed we had climate issues in our schools starting in 2011, so why did we delay taking corrective action and why did the BOE need to step in? These actions are reflected in comments from staff in the DAC survey (May 2017) "Disappointed about the lack of integrity/disconnect between the public face of teacher recognition and pay negotiations" and "District needs to invest and help develop employees to keep them. Toxic place to work. Soap Opera like atmosphere."
Moving forward, I would ask if we are doing enough to assure that we fix these issues and what controls are we implementing to make sure it does not happen again.
I would prefer not to grade any individual member at the School District, but rather grade the district as a whole. I would tend to issue a B, knowing that we are far from perfect (but beginning to move in a positive and constructive direction).
Achieving an A requires we all pull together better. In that regard, I am most focused on the priorities of improving our academic performance, strengthening our commitments to our teacher cadre, and broadening our community connections through better relations with our volunteer committees, our professional staff, our teachers, and our educational partners (at the Aspen Community School).
The superintendent serves at the pleasure of the board. The buck stops with the board.
For years, the current board unanimously voted to approve as "making reasonable progress" nearly all of the monitoring reports the superintendent submitted — even when large numbers of students were found to be falling short of a year's academic growth. I would not rubberstamp or approve reports that demonstrate under performance. I would insist on more aspirational goals in order for very child to make a year's growth every year.
We should be hard on the issues, not on the people. Under performance should not be tolerated without a change in plan — not in our students, not in the board, not in the board's employee.