Closing arguments from Aspen school board candidates
Editor’s note: The election for two open seats on the Aspen School District’s five-member Board of Education draws to an end when polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Today, each of the six candidates makes their final pitch to voters, in their own words
For this school board election, I am running alongside five other individuals for two board seats. Our community has a difficult choice between highly qualified candidates. I have been impressed with the amount of passion the candidates have shown, and the interest from the community this election has garnered. We are truly lucky to live in a community that values our children and their education so highly. I hope to be one of the people elected to serve our community, and I hope this attention and passion from our entire community continues well after the election.
I share our community’s passion about education and its importance in growing effective, happy and healthy human beings. My kids have been in the Aspen district since kindergarten, and have attended AES, AMS and AHS, and I’ll have kids in the district throughout the next four years. I’ve spent these school years volunteering on the FAB, in the classroom and on outdoor education, keeping my ear to the ground to listen to kids, teachers and parents. I believe in transparency, and a school board that listens, hears and communicates with our community.
I have served on multiple nonprofit boards in our valley in the 16 years we’ve lived here, including Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, Roaring Fork Youth Orchestra, Aspen Public Radio and the Wildwood School. I believe in serving my community and know how important transparency, communication and community appropriate values are to the success of an organization.
I believe the board of education should be managed with integrity and civil discourse. I’ve been disheartened to hear the negativity and mean-spiritedness that some candidates and community members have brought to this campaign. It’s inappropriate for the school board. I try to set an example for my children and lead a campaign, and manage an organization, in a way in which they can be proud. Education is about our children — a huge part of their education is watching how we conduct ourselves. I promise to engage only in respectful dialogue and to try to serve as a role model to our kids.
An effective board needs strong, experienced leaders and managers with critical thinking skills. My STEM and business educational background helps me understand what it takes for students to succeed post-high school. Additionally, I have run my family manufacturing company for years. My management and leadership experiences range from finance and logistics, to the stress and importance of making payroll, and how to effectively hire and gently fire people. I am experienced in creating and implementing strategic plans and building teams and gaining consensus. I know how to run an effective organization and believe my experience will help the district as we undertake to hire a new superintendent and to create a vision and a strategic plan for our future.
I have been rooted in the community for 16 years and remain committed for the long haul. I ask our community for the opportunity to serve on the school board.
I’ve been thinking a lot about community and how best to lead. “Leadership is a relational process based on mutual goals towards some action or change.” This quote summarizes the relational theory of leadership. Sadly, our society has digressed into more tribal methods of leadership: “If I tweet it, so shall it be” or “if you’re not woke like me, you’re canceled.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that effective leadership is best within community.
Robin and I have been a part of the Aspen community for 26 years. We’ve had the privilege of raising our three kids in the North Forty neighborhood. They all attended K-12 at Aspen schools where they were allowed to excel and grow into highly individual people. This small public school system launched them out into the world prepared for the challenges they now face in college; for that we are grateful.
It takes a partnership between parents, the schools and the greater Aspen community to raise great kids. Like a three-legged stool, you take one away and the child fails. We need leadership that involves the entire community to raise good citizens.
At the district level, we’ve been airing a lot of dirty laundry lately. There is a lot of emotion on all sides. Discourse is good. Most people want what’s best for our students. But I implore us to communicate in a civil and respectful way. We are a small town. You will run into that person you berated in an online comment. We need leadership that helps bring healing to the events of last year.
Overall, our schools are doing very well. We excel at many things. Our kids are being educated with excellence and are doing great things in the world. I credit our teachers for being passionate professionals. They are shaping exceptional students. But we need leadership to support our teachers as well.
How? I’m calling on the greater Aspen community to help our schools. Even if you don’t have kids in the system you can offer your talents and resources. Volunteer. Do you like to read? READ with ME is a great option. Did you come from the tech industry? Help program with robotics. Are you an architect or a developer? Collaborate on teacher housing. You can help at Youth Zone, edit college essays, be a coach. You can help fund one of the many programs AEF supports. And when we ask you to continue our local tax, please vote for our schools. Let’s put our collective minds together to solve some of the issues facing our district. We are better together.
I am asking you to elect me to the school board. When you vote, ask, “What kind of community do we want to create so our kids are successful?” I will bring collaborative, community minded leadership to every meeting. I will listen and communicate with respect and civility. And together, our students will launch out into the world well equipped to solve the next generation’s challenges.
Thank you for the opportunity.
As a 19-year resident of Aspen, with two children currently enrolled in the Aspen School District, I have a natural interest in our community, and especially our school system. The main reason I chose to run for the Aspen school board was that I saw an opportunity to contribute and wanted to make a positive impact. I felt my skill sets, experiences and personal passions were aligned. Over the years, being engaged with my children, communicating with teachers and the administration, I have learned about the many wonderful qualities of our school system, and have identified areas for improvement.
My campaign has been about listening, learning, and identifying creative solutions for existing challenges. Although I am fully aware I don’t have a monopoly on all the solutions, I feel I can contribute in a meaningful way.
In addition, my gratitude has only strengthened through this process. I am grateful to all teachers, administration and third-party entities who have cared for and watched over our children. This campaign has been an enlightening, engaging and rewarding experience. It’s OK that there are varying opinions about various topics. This is all part of the process. I have enjoyed meeting and hearing from each of the candidates, and I have enjoyed researching the issues and devising potential paths to solutions.
I am fully committed to the children, teachers, staff and the Aspen School District. I would be honored to earn a seat on the school board, and I would relish the privilege to add value to this body. I feel this recent election will generate new and positive momentum for our school system. Our school system is much larger than any single candidate or his/her potential contributions. Priorities have been voiced. Solutions have been offered. My hope is that, with or without me, the newly elected board can come together, and contribute in meaningful ways that our children, teachers, staff and parents alike can all feel good about.
The Aspen School District is a great place, filled with incredible students, teachers, staff, administration, parents and a supporting community! I am a firm believer in the whole-child approach to education ASD offers, and like many others, we chose Aspen because of the quality of the schools and mountain lifestyle. All three of my children have benefited from the education they have received at the ASD. Thank you!
However, we need to recognize that we have faced some challenges, especially at the district leadership level. Currently, we are in a state of transition, with interim leadership in place and long-term strategic planning underway. We face challenges in adequately supporting our teachers with competitive salaries and adequate housing. The decisions that are being made will affect the direction of our district for years to come. We have some work to do.
To successfully manage this transition, the board of education needs to work together as a team, working with the community to select the right leadership that aligns with our values. The BOE also needs to make governance changes to assure greater accountability, transparency and better communication. I have served on a school board for five years and selected new school leadership. I have 15 years of professional board experience and know how to improve our current governance systems. These experiences have also given me the necessary teamwork skills to develop consensus that moves organizations forward.
The job of the superintendent is one that requires both educational and business knowledge. As the leader of our district, she/he needs to have a variety of skills that range from finance to operations, but most importantly, she/he must lead and develop the organization. The BOE should be able to support the superintendent with sound advice and relevant experience in these areas. My experience in these areas is strong. I managed a manufacturing operation of over 600 employees at the age of 28. I have an MBA from the Harvard Business School and I am currently the chief financial officer of a multinational company with over 9,500 employees; 1,300 of them report to me. It was this experience that helped me to identify, with my fellow District Accountability Committee members, the issues related to the culture and climate at the ASD.
Finally, a board member’s most important job is to help the organization reach its full potential. ASD needs to take advantage of potential of our students, teachers, staff and community. We are fortunate to live in a community that has generously supported our schools. We have involved parents who care about education, six of them are running for school board. World class athletes are graduates. Influential leaders from business, government, arts, science, literature and philanthropy, visit and live in Aspen. Maximizing these advantages for the benefit of all our children, providing one of the best all-around educational experiencea in the country, is my dream for the ASD.
I respectfully request your vote. Let’s keep the positive change moving forward. http://www.jonathannickell forschoolboard.org
This has been an amazing election. While getting to know my fellow candidates, I have also heard from the community on what topics they feel are important for our schools and our children. I look forward to hearing more from parents and others about what challenges they have with our schools, how we can build upon our successes, and make necessary improvements. Numerous people have told me they identify with what I have been saying during this campaign — and I am so grateful for all of their support.
A fundamental part of my campaign is the idea that we need a wider slice of locals to be involved with our schools. Our children are important to the entire community and we need longtime locals from the whole community to be involved.
The district has a serious problem with transparency. What goes on within the district has been opaque with the general public for years, and the district has not felt that they needed to explain themselves to either parents, teachers or the community at large.
This cannot continue. The district administration and school board works for all of the citizens of the district, and they have a duty to be open with all of those folks. With changes in management that have happened over the last year, and adding two new school board members, hopefully the schools will be moving towards being more open with the public, and change the way the district communicates with its members. I fear, however, that the lack of transparency in the schools may be a symptom of greater communication problems within the district, and I look forward to reversing that culture. The change must start at the top. Whether it is town halls, office hours, or any other means, the board must create safe and open means to hear from the voters in the district and the teachers that make it up. I am excited to be a part of that movement and look forward to the challenge.
Throughout the tumultuous last year within the Aspen School District, as well as during conversations throughout this campaign, improving communication has become the linchpin to improving our schools. As a member of the school board, I look forward to strengthening the communication within the schools. There are no problems facing our schools — whether it is teacher pay or housing, improving test scores, or changing the culture and climate within the schools — without good communication. Communication must be improved between the teachers, the public and the administration including the School board. As anyone who has worked with me knows, I spend my day communicating with people throughout the community. Every day I have to listen to individuals, both the public and professionals and have them describe their challenges and help to solve them. I literally work as a professional problem solver every day — right here in Aspen, and I look forward to using those problem solving skills to improve our schools for all students.
The final countdown. And a big disconnect. As we grind toward Election Day it is not hard to see why our national dialogue has gone awry. Rather than judging candidates on their merits, both resume and actual on-the-ground school involvement, we have been engaged in some pretty hefty political maneuvering complete with the kind of hypocrisy and thin-skinned vengeance emanating from the top of our national stage. One candidate feels that questions about the relationship between a volunteer oversight position, and the mess that said position was meant to monitor, is negative and not worthy of display in front of our children. Another talks of the need for healing, bended knee and gratitude while the source of the trouble lobs vicious personal attacks on other candidates. The underground gossip railroad picked up on my husband’s blog, a tongue in cheek satire, and were collectively offended by our “elitist attitude.” It’s worth noting that despite sharing the same Ivy League background as some of my brethren, I neither led with, nor mentioned, that particular fact other than as part of the initial “where did you go to school?” Aspen Times interview. I think my work on the SACs, DACs, School on the Mountain and Volunteer Match Initiatives are more relevant. Meanwhile, someone has been stealing my signs from supporters’ yards. And recently I got a piece of anonymous hate mail through the USPS! Apparently, “old Aspen” is watching and will do whatever it takes to keep me off the board. This all feels “extra,” as my teenager would say. I would really like to serve the community and help make the district the best it can be. That is why I decided to run. Since arriving in Aspen, I have jumped into the school district with both feet, and dedicated a lot of hours to helping in whatever capacity building leadership requested. At the end of the day, I will continue to work to better our schools regardless of whether I am elected. Another candidate has uncovered some mind-blowing budget data, hidden in plain site on the Colorado State website. It appears that if we normalize some of the categories that are completely out of whack with our peers, we have millions of dollars sloshing around that can be immediately applied to teacher salaries. That is what I am interested in. Elected or not, I can’t wait to actually dig into some of those numbers. I am fine if the price of getting our teachers fairly compensated was putting myself through this wringer. I will neither apologize for speaking truth to power, nor stop asking the hard questions until we get to the bottom of what appears to be a fair bit of financial mismanagement. If that level of honesty and diligence is too much for “old Aspen” in an elected position, so be it. I am proud to be able to model integrity in the face of intimidation for my children, as I firmly believe that standing up is what we need in our unstable world.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”