Aspen schools survey shows greater trust among principals, staff

While members of the Aspen Board of Education have expressed concern over recent survey results regarding trust between the school district’s staff and senior leadership, the same survey showed more faith placed in the organization’s school principals and other department heads.

When it comes to trust in the workplace culture, a majority of those surveyed said the most important aspect is “showing caring and empathy to create bonds of friendship. Intentionally building relationships. When we dismiss others’ ideas and are disrespectful, we cause pain.”

Of the 176 responses to a survey question asking teachers and staff members about how supportive their superiors are concerning that aspect of trust in the workplace, roughly 67 percent deemed the assistant principals and principals of the elementary, middle and high schools as “effective,” more than double the 24 percent reporting senior leadership to be effective. Another 54 percent responded that senior leadership is “ineffective” in that regard, while 22 percent said the same about the principals.

Senior leadership, according to the survey, accounts for the superintendent of the Aspen School District, as well as the five-member board of education.

“The principals are more effective at supporting and caring than the senior leadership,” Susan Marolt, vice president of the Board of Education, said Monday at the board’s meeting.

The survey also showed 48 percent of respondents finding other department heads as effective in the arena of trust, while 35 percent reported other district administrators to be effective.

Board member Sheila Wills noted at the meeting that it should be expected that the faculty and staff would have more trusting relationships with supervisors within the buildings in which they work, as opposed to those with whom they don’t directly work on a daily basis — Superintendent John Maloy and the board members.

Likewise, Liz Wilson, a consultant with Denver firm Wilson Foxen, which conducted a climate and culture study into the district beginning in January, said it would be of more concern if senior leadership outranked the principals in that regard.

“It’s clear the principals and assistant principals are delivering much better along the lines of trust,” she said in an interview this week. “That’s a good thing. You wouldn’t want it the other way around.”

Members of the Aspen Parent Action Committee, a group that formed in the fall, sent a letter this week to the Board of Education expressing their concern about the workplace trust in the school district.

“Senior leadership is not supporting our staff in developing a climate of trust,” the letter read in part, also adding the “staff clearly does not trust our leaders.”

At Monday’s meeting, Maloy said the district would benefit from more “face-to-face meetings” with employees.

“One of the key takeaways I had is there’s too much electronic communication,” he said, noting emails can lead to misinterpretations about what is being said. He said “it’s really important” to have more person-to-person dialogue and communication.

“We need to reverse the numbers and use this as a wake-up call,” board member Susan Zimet said.

The survey had a 69 percent response rate among the district’s 306 employees, while 58 percent of the staff completed the entire survey.

The education board hired Wilson Foxen in December to conduct the climate and culture study after various parents made claims about slipping academic performances, high teacher turnover and unsatisfactory leadership at the Aspen School District. The firm released the results last week.


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