Evans’ exit marks end of fateful bet

Naomi Havlen
Kendall Evans is retiring after 30 years in the education field. During the next school board election, "someone who pounds nails for a living" should be voted in, he says. Aspen Times photo/Paul Conrad.

Aspen High School’s outgoing principal, Kendall Evans, applied for the job on a bet.As a principal in Oklahoma, where he was born and raised, a colleague bet him a steak dinner that he couldn’t get an interview with Aspen High officials. Evans and his friend dropped off their resumes, and back home a secretary from the Aspen School District called him, asking him to fill out an application.”I said, ‘I’m not really interested,’ and she said, ‘We’ll send you one anyway,'” Evans said. “It came with four essay questions, and each night I worked on one, thinking, ‘I’m not doing this – this is stupid.'”But he finished the essays and was called by then-superintendent Tom Farrell to come to Aspen for an interview.”I always told my teachers that you need to challenge yourself, and to step out. I got to thinking that this is a challenge for me as much as anyone else, so we decided to do it,” Evans said.

He never got that steak, but now, after 10 years on the job, Evans, 52, will have plenty of time for such dinners. He is graduating along with the class of 2005 and heading toward retirement – his permanent summer vacation.Evans came to Aspen from the heartland of Kingfisher, Okla. He received his master’s degree in education administration from Kansas State University, and taught history and coached basketball in the state for six years. He later spent 14 years as a principal in Oklahoma.In coming to Aspen, Evans said the day-to-day school operations were the same as his former schools. But he did find he had left the predominantly blue-collared families behind for a population of students that predominantly go on to college.”Kids in other parts of the country have different issues and challenges that kids don’t traditionally have in Aspen,” he said. “Once kids walk across that [graduation] stage, the whole world is still open to them. There aren’t any barriers or closed doors, and they can go out and do whatever they want to do – I think in their minds the kids feel that way.”Of the 92 students that graduated yesterday, Evans said almost all of them are going on to college. Others are Olympic hopefuls and are deferring college for a year or so to travel and compete.”I think the most satisfaction any principal gets is seeing a kid move from freshman year to senior year and graduation,” he said. “You see that transformation academically, socially and in other ways.”

Assistant Principal Charlie Anastas will fill Evans’ shoes next year, and Evans predicts the main challenge in the future as retaining the school’s uniqueness and creativity. “A lot of things are encroaching on high schools across the country, like state-mandated testing, rules and regulations, and the No Child Left Behind stuff that came out of the federal government,” he said. “All of those things are very impacting on schools and school districts. Letting us do what we need to do, in the way we want to do it without being told from outside forces, is very important.”For his part, Evans said he feels any principal has to be an entrepreneur, looking at creative solutions for problems, and he hopes Anastas is given the same leeway. In his 10 years here Evans established the school’s International Baccalaureate program and served as the driving force behind the school’s $41 million expansion and renovation.One wonderful day on the job, he said, was “the day that we moved into the new building – it was the culmination of a lot of work, effort and energy on the part of a lot of people. To finally see that was pretty exciting for me.”Students who moved from mobile trailers and the old school into the new facility in 2002 were amazed at the changes, he said. But now that most of the students never knew the old facility, they might not be as appreciative of their modern, up-to-date facility.In the past 10 years, Evans said Aspen has changed, and its high school has become a bigger, different facility, welcoming students here from all over the country who bring different cultural expectations with them. He said in the next school board election he’d like to see “someone who pounds nails for a living” elected to the board, bringing a little more diversity.

For now, Evans has some traveling in his future – visiting a daughter who is in the Peace Corps in Bangladesh. He also had a trip through Argentina planned. He’s retiring, but if the right full-time job comes along, he may consider it.He said he doesn’t know yet if he’ll be good at retirement – in the past 30 years, he’s only been unemployed for two weeks.”I’m going to have to remind myself that I’m not unemployed, I’m getting income from my retirement,” he said. “I’ve been at this so long that a friend of mine told me the other day that I don’t need a watch, I just need a calendar.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is