New school year, new faces in Aspen | AspenTimes.com

New school year, new faces in Aspen

ASPEN – When the bell rings on the first day of school, Aspen students will be greeted by a couple of new faces.

In addition to a handful of new teachers across the district, Aspen High School and Aspen Middle School have appointed new top administrators – Kimberly Martin as principal of the high school and Craig Rogers as assistant principal at the middle school. Also new to the Aspen School District’s Maroon Creek campus is Melissa Long, who in late June was named executive director of the Aspen Education Foundation, which is the district’s nonprofit fundraising arm.

Kimberly Martin is tired of saying, “I don’t know.” But with just five weeks in Aspen under her belt, there is not much else she can say at times.

“I have a lot to learn; it keeps me awake at night,” said Martin, who is, in fact, well-spoken, intelligent and engaging. “But I am ready to listen and learn. I am giving everything I do here a lot of thought.”

Martin said she thought long and hard before even applying for the position of Aspen High School principal, a job that came available after the abrupt resignation of Art Abelmann in November.

It was that event that led to what Aspen Superintendent John Maloy called a “lengthy and transparent process” to hire Aspen High School’s next leader.

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Martin said last week she is not intimidated by the backstory at Aspen High. Coincidentally, the last job she accepted – at Thomas W. Harvey High School in Painesville, Ohio, where she served as principal for seven years – was one where the previous principal had been let go.

“I admire the staff here for what they do, how well they do it, … especially under the circumstances,” said the 37-year-old Martin, who relocated to Aspen with her husband and seventh-grade son. “This is the most dedicated, intelligent group of people I have ever worked with.”

It is perhaps the most passionate, too.

“I can see how much everyone here cares, and I am not prepared to make big changes now,” Martin said. “I think the key is to respect and honor tradition but also to be open to doing things differently if the situation calls for it.”

Martin, who holds a master’s degree in education and is working toward her doctoral degree, began her career as a high school English and history teacher. She also has taught English composition as an adjunct faculty member at Lorain County Community College in Elyria, Ohio.

But while her resume is rich, much of Martin’s experience is in urban schools – a seemingly opposite setting from Aspen. Martin sees it differently.

“When I interviewed with the (Aspen High School) student panel, once we warmed up to one another, it was clear they have the same concerns, stresses, problems that all kids have,” she said, admitting that the idea of leading the No. 1 Colorado high school is “terrifying.” “I know there will be some differences, of course, but at the end of the day, kids are kids.

“And parents are parents, who want the same things for their kids: success.”

Fortunately, Martin is up for the challenge of maintaining Aspen High’s record of success.

“I’m ready for this challenge,” she said. “I have no intention of failing, so I will do whatever it takes to succeed – for the kids, the parents, the community and for myself.”

Craig Rogers knows well the challenges that lie ahead as assistant principal of Aspen Middle School. As a 22-year Roaring Fork Valley resident and as a teacher with the Aspen School District since 1996, he has a wealth of experience with the local education system.

But in his new role, where he will spend half his day as an eighth-grade math teacher and half as assistant principal, Rogers admits the challenges will be different from those as a classroom teacher.

“It will be different, but I believe the time is right for me to take on this challenge,” he said, adding that he contemplated a move into an administrative role a decade ago but that it wasn’t the right move at the time. “I have learned a lot over the past 10 years, I have worked in a variety of roles, and I think this will really help me succeed.”

Specifically, Rogers, who holds a master’s degree in educational leadership, has worked in the Aspen School District as a middle school teacher, most recently as an eighth-grade math teacher. He was a recipient of the district’s Distinguished Teacher Award, is a teacher liaison to the district’s Financial Advisory Board, is chairman of the Aspen Ski Swap and, perhaps most pertinent, was an officer with the Aspen Education Association (which serves as the teachers’ association).

“I think working with AEA really taught me how to think outside of the classroom, how to interact with other teachers and administrators and the school board,” said the 45-year-old Rogers, who is married with two elementary school-age children. “I am really excited to be able to take this experience and use it to help the middle school.”

In fact, it is the potential to effect change at the school that helped drive his decision to become assistant principal.

“I look forward to fostering educator effectiveness, relationships and collaboration amongst the school community, with the ultimate goal of optimizing student growth and achievement,” he said.

Long looks toward financially stable future

Melissa Long has no problem telling people what her new job is all about: “I raise money for our schools.”

“There are many more articulate ways to talk about development and the critical need for raising money for the Aspen School District, but when I discuss my job with my children, it boils down to ‘I raise money for our schools,'” said Long, a mother of two who took the helm of the Aspen Education Foundation earlier this summer.

And while raising money in tough economic times – and leading the charge to pass a sales tax for education on the November ballot – might seem daunting, Long doesn’t see it that way.

“Asking for money is fairly easy when it is for such an important reason; consistently well-funded schools help our children meet their potential and prepare them for challenges and opportunities upon graduation. Who doesn’t want to support education?” said Long, who moved to Aspen two years ago from Hong Kong, where she served as festival director of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, a nonprofit organization.

Prior to that, Long lived in Oregon, where she worked as a deputy district attorney. But it is her experience with nonprofits and nonprofit boards that is perhaps most pertinent to her new job, as the Aspen Education Foundation has undergone some leadership shifts in recent years.

When asked if she has any concerns about “instability” related to the fact that the organization has employed four executive directors in two years, Long says the foundation’s record speaks for itself.

“One change over the decades has been that the funds raised now are essential to support critical positions and programs. Gone are the days when the funds could go to enhancing existing programs,” Long said, adding that over the past 20 years, the Aspen Education Foundation has raised more than $6 million for the public schools. “The fact that so much money has been raised speaks to past and present leadership.

“The executive directors before my term set the bar, and working with the current board of directors is a pleasure. They are invested, engaged and passionate about education.”

And, at the end of the day, Long says educating children is what her job is really all about.

“I work for the kids,” she said. “What I do in my role as director of AEF has everything to do with making sure our kids are offered the best opportunities for success.”

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com