Chris Basten wraps up five years as principal at Aspen Elementary School
Principal plans to move to Boulder for new position
Chris Basten has fond memories of his arrival in the Roaring Fork Valley five years ago, when he set foot in Aspen as a transplant from Skokie, Illinois.
“The thing I’ll remember probably the most is when I arrived here, I was just immediately embraced by the entire community, which is such a wonderful feeling,” the Aspen Elementary School principal said recently.
Now, Basten is eyeing a departure from the school. He announced last week that this will be his last year in Aspen; he accepted a position as principal at High Peaks Elementary School in Boulder and will move there later this year.
Reflecting on his tenure at Aspen Elementary School, Basten expressed thanks and gratitude for his time here.
“It’s really been an honor to lead this wonderful school for the past five years — the immense support that I’ve seen from the community has just been amazing,” Basten said. “I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done here at the elementary school, and I’m going to be working hard to help my successor be set up for success as they move forward.”
His work has included efforts to change the “culture and climate” at Aspen Elementary School, to shift to child-centered discussions of learning, and to dial in on “enhancing teacher voice” through administrative feedback loops, attention on teacher self-care and an investment in trauma-informed care training, according to Basten.
Teachers were prompted to share their visions for the future of the school; students were encouraged to “share their hopes and dreams with us,” he said.
The trauma-informed care training was a pre-pandemic initiative, but that training came in handy when COVID-19 hit Aspen, he said.
(The practice helps caregivers recognize the impacts of trauma and support those who have experienced trauma through guiding principles like safety, trustworthiness and transparency, and empowerment and choice Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
“Certainly the takeaways from that work that we’ve done as a staff (were) really, really important as we approached this new paradigm of the pandemic and how we were going to respond and keep an eye out for the social emotional needs for our kids and families and ourselves,” Basten said.
“It really couldn’t have come at a better time not knowing what was in our future, but it certainly helped guide us as a building to respond to the needs of our students and families.”
Adapting to the demands of pandemic restrictions and navigating online learning for elementary school-aged children wasn’t easy, Basten said.
“It was a real challenge to create an engaging and rewarding experience for our kids without burning them out,” he said.
Aspen Elementary School took an approach of “compassion” and “sensitivity” for students and teachers alike, according to Basten; staff worked to find ways to provide offline learning outside the virtual classroom to help give students a break from screen time.
But there have been triumphs, too, he said — things like that culture and climate shift, and a focus on child-centered, data-driven conversations.
“When we were working hard to come up with a plan for reopening in the fall and we were able to come up with a plan, it felt like it was really a community collaboration,” Basten said. “Everyone understood their part — parents did, kids did, teachers did, we all did. And that was an amazing thing to have come together, and to feel the support of our parents. … I’ll always remember that as being something incredibly special.”
It’s that supportive community that Basten said he will miss when he moves on later this year. At the “March of the Graduates” ceremony in May, he’ll watch a class of fourth-grade students whose five years at Aspen Elementary align with his own prepare to take their next steps just as he is preparing to take his.
“It’s always powerful, it’s always heartwarming and emotional, and it’s such a cool thing to see: to see our kids grow and go through the system and go out into the world and forge a life of their own,” he said. “(You’re) feeling like — hoping that you play a small role in that growth and that they’ll have a smile on their face as they look back, particularly at their years at the elementary school and say, ‘I really loved that place.’”
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Today’s question for the Aspen School District Board of Education candidates: 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?