Farrell stays put | AspenTimes.com

Farrell stays put

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen School District Superintendent Tom Farrell is staying put.

Farrell learned Tuesday that he was not selected to take over operations at the St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, located 25 miles north of Denver. Farrell was one of three finalists for the job, culled from a nationwide search that began earlier this year.

St. Vrain’s decision, Farrell said, was not completely disappointing. The district is a world apart from Aspen’s school system – while Farrell currently administers to four schools, St. Vrain controls operations at 29 institutions, including 17 elementary schools. Aspen is a comfortable system that allows a superintendent to become acquainted with individual students, Farrell said, while St. Vrain is a bit more impersonal due to its size.

“It doesn’t bother me – I knew it was a long shot when I started,” he said. “Secondly, I don’t know, when you have 20,000 kids in the district. My strength is really working with students, and that job would have taken me away from all students.

“Really, I guess you’re a little bit disappointed, but it didn’t have that much of an impact on me.”

Farrell called the Longmont superintendent search a “good race” among qualified candidates. St. Vrain officials echoed the statement Tuesday when they announced that Dr. Randy Zila, former executive director of student achievement services in Loveland, was chosen as the district’s new superintendent.

Farrell said he’s ready to focus on what little remains of the current school year, especially after Monday night’s meeting of the Aspen School Board. Nearly 150 of Farrell’s supporters turned out to voice their opinions on a controversy that has recently pitted a pair of local women against the school district administration.

Aspen residents Carrie Morgridge and Laurie Michaels have recently begun what some see as a two-person campaign – but what they say is a representation of Aspen’s “silent majority” – to oust Farrell due to their complaints regarding his management style. Morgridge and Michaels have told school board members that they want Farrell fired and have launched a personal investigation of school district records to take a closer look at Farrell’s job performance.

Though the Morgridge/Michaels debate is still unnerving, Farrell said that seeing his supporters turn out en masse Monday night was enough to bolster him for the time being.

“I feel good about it,” he said. “It’s hard – it’s still stressful – but it’s nice to know that many people support you.”

Aspen School Board President Augie Reno said he offered Farrell his condolences upon hearing the news of the St. Vrain decision, but also encouraged Farrell to forget about future job applications.

“I told him, ‘Well, I’m sorry you didn’t get it’ – because anytime you don’t get something that you like or want, it can be disappointing – ‘but on the other hand, I’m glad you didn’t get it.’ And he actually agreed with me,” Reno said.

The board president and superintendent had a long discussion about Monday night’s school board meeting as the two reviewed supporters’ comments. Reno said he wanted to make sure that Farrell had “really heard what was being said,” and would take the advice of his backers into account and decide to remain with the Aspen School District.

As for the reason for Farrell’s job search – the Morgridge/Michaels controversy – Reno said that he advised the superintendent to ignore their campaign and allow the school board to handle further complaints.

“I’ll point him in the direction of school business, and we’ll deal with this on the board side,” Reno said.

Farrell said he has no plans to seek outside employment opportunities for now and planned to stick around Aspen for the summer to think things through. The superintendent’s current concern, he said, was to prepare Aspen’s Class of 2002 for their graduation this weekend.

“My next step is to focus on the kids’ graduation and make it a nice final four days for them,” Farrell said.

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