District Accountability Committee to Aspen school board: More communications, fewer rumors

An advisory group to the Board of Education says when it comes to public outreach, the Aspen School District is sorely lacking in its communications efforts because of ongoing rumors, misinformation and lingering questions.

Addressing that shortcoming starts with hiring a new superintendent with the background to devise a communications plan, as well as bringing in a communications director to oversee the plan.

“This is truly a crisis and it’s got to get solved,” said Jim Pomeroy, co-chair of the District Accountability Committee, which is a group of volunteers who regularly meet and bring concerns and suggestions to the board.

Pomeroy’s comments came during a routine work session between the board and DAC representatives, which was part of the BOE’s regular meeting Monday.

Reading from a prepared statement from the DAC, Pomeroy, who was accompanied by DAC member Mary Ellen Moore, said since fall 2018, the group has “noticed a common theme: Communications continues to dominate the issues we have observed and discussed. There are many wonderful things going on in our district that parents and the public are not aware of. At the same time, there are also topics that trickle out as rumors instead of being communicated properly.”

Pomeroy, who emphasized improved communications during his third-place run for the school board in the Nov. 5 election, said the community is missing out on both positive and important news coming out of the district, as well as key developments and top-level decisions.

Much of the community, Pomeroy said, is missing on what the DAC is seeing and hearing — such as updates from the three schools’ principals, the strategic planning sessions that interim Superintendent Tom Heald began earlier this year, and the alignment of the district’s curriculum being spearheaded by Jenna Barclay, the district’s second-year curriculum director.

“This needs to be tweeted out or filmed or something for every parent in the district, and every community member,” Pomeroy said.

Other changes, such as the status of advanced math at the middle school and opening up the enrollment last school year, spawned a “lot of rumors,” Pomeroy said, adding “when you have a black box, you end up with a lot of rumors.”

A communications director, Pomeroy said, would not replace what the district currently is doing — such as website updates and newsletters, for example — but “it simply supplements and strengthens those communications.”

During the 2018-19 school year, the district had two part-time communications specialists, but the roles were not budgeted for this academic year, said board vice president Susan Marolt.

“It’s not really a board decision to hire anyone other than the superintendent,” she said, noting, however, that the board could lend its support if it is convinced there is a need for such a position.

Oftentimes organizations have “challenges to communicate their mission, their word, and to be able to take in and receive feedback from the community it serves,” said Dwayne Romero, board president.

The superintendent search will begin to intensify the first week of December with meetings among the search firm members and such groups as the DAC.

“The board can hire a superintendent with a proven track record for improving communications at their district,” Moore said. “And that can be a very special criteria.”


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