In Aspen School District, numbers are only part of the staff retention story
Longtime local educator and parent gives human context to data at Board of Education meeting
Aspen School District’s staff retention data is clear enough on employee departures this year: At least 35 employees plan to leave at the end of the school year, including 22 teachers and other certified staff, three administrators and 10 paraprofessionals as of May 10, according to data Human Resources Director Amy Littlejohn provided via email at the time.
But data — even for those who love to crunch the numbers — is only one part of the story.
The statistics represent people, all of whom have left a lasting impact on the district in their commitment to education, according to Lori Anderson, a longtime district educator, parent and community member who spoke during public comment at a Board of Education meeting Wednesday night.
“Those who work with me know that I’m a data-oriented person and I love to analyze it,” said Anderson, who has spent 16 years in roles at Aspen Elementary and Aspen Middle schools as a teacher, special education coordinator and early literacy coordinator. “Today, I’m not here to discuss data. I’m here to shine a spotlight on people.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with many of them,” she added. “I would like to thank each and every one of these individuals for their professional contribution and dedication.”
Anderson acknowledged dozens of educators by name; their years in the district together account for nearly three centuries of departing staff experience, she said.
“For those moving on, I know that I represent many who wish you all the best,” she said. “You have been our children’s educators, our colleagues and our friends.”
Aspen Middle School has been impacted by the most departures so far.
Data from an April 29 email from Littlejohn indicated that the middle school had 14 departures across both certified and classified positions, including nine resignations, two leaves of absence and three retirements at the time.
The elementary school totaled six departures (three resignations, one leave of absence and two retirements) and the high school totaled seven departures (five resignations, one leave of absence and one retirement) at the time. The Cottage preschool had two resignations at the time.
Anderson, who is the parent of a fifth grader entering Aspen Middle School in the fall, expressed the emotional weight of the departures that signify the exit of more than just experience in education.
“The vacancies created leave our middle school threadbare,” she said. “The individuals that are leaving were part of the fabric of a strong and collegial professional culture at AMS. Collaboration, support, a willingness to go above and beyond for any child and humor are longstanding norms. … As a parent, I am grieving.”
Her sentiments echoed one of many takeaways from the results of this year’s climate and culture pulse-check survey that consultant Liz Wilson presented to the Board of Education in March.
Some staff “are angry, grieving and/or fearful about losing friends and colleagues who’ve left the district in recent years,” that presentation noted.
Now, with her son entering Aspen Middle School, Anderson said she felt both “wonder and uncertainty” about staff retention efforts, onboarding, district supports and burnout.
Anderson asked the district to conduct exit conversations with every departing staffer to “listen and learn from the individuals who can resolve the speculation around the departures and help us understand what could we have done, how can we do better?”
The district does conduct exit interviews, Board of Education President Katy Frisch said after Anderson’s comments, but those interviews happen around the time of the departure rather than months in advance.
“The essential next step would be to share the results transparently,” Anderson said during her comments. “Our entire staff and community is wondering: ‘What happened, and what can we do now?’”
This story is part of ongoing coverage of staff retention, climate and culture in Aspen School District. For more stories, visit aspentimes.com/education.
The Aspen Flight Academy is putting out the all-call for incoming Aspen High School students to participate this summer in the “Every Student Flies” program, which offers every student at the school an hour of free flight time.
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