Parents grill school board |

Parents grill school board

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A group of anxious parents crowded a meeting of the Aspen School Board Tuesday night to discuss problems they say have plagued the district for years.

And one way to solve those problems, some parents said, might be to obtain a “fresh perspective” in the district’s top job.

The meeting was scheduled to end in a closed executive session, in which board members were to discuss district Superintendent Tom Farrell’s contract and annual evaluation. The agenda item spurred a group of nearly 30 parents to discuss what some said are problems with Farrell’s performance.

One mother addressed the board with concerns that, though Farrell is a “dedicated and upstanding individual,” he has encouraged “complacency that has become the status quo” during his 12 years as superintendent.

“What exactly is his job?” another mother asked.

As discussions progressed, school board president Augie Reno urged that public comment should steer away from personal attacks and more toward specific concerns within the group.

Farrell was not at the meeting as he is in Maine on sabbatical.

Talk then veered toward programs at Aspen Middle School, which some parents said have adversely affected their children’s course of study.

“It’s almost impossible for a middle school student to take advanced classes,” one mother said.

Other parents complained about a shortage of “specialized” teachers within AMS, resulting in generalized classes. Even more questioned test scores. Though Aspen Middle Schoolers scored within the 90th percentile during last year’s state-mandated reading and writing tests, only 55 percent of Aspen’s eighth graders passed the math portion.

This is just one reason to establish a district accountability committee that would allow parents to be involved in the education process, some parents suggested.

“We’re not necessarily here to slam an administrator – we’re asking for a process where parents can contribute to the district,” said Aspen resident Marilyn Frias.

One parent charged that apathy on the part of school administrators has spurred parents to yank their children from public schools and enroll them in alternative educational programs, such as those run by Aspen Country Day School or the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale.

“And that, to me, is a sign of a school not doing its job,” the woman finished.

“We’re really considering going to a private school unless we see some changes,” another mother added.

District teachers and a few opposing parents turned out Tuesday night to defend Farrell as well as district programs.

One man, identifying himself as a former nine-year member of the Aspen School Board, asked the crowd if their problems really stemmed from Farrell’s policies.

“It sounds like some people are just looking for a scapegoat,” he said.

Aspen Middle School Principal Griff Smith pointed out a few inaccuracies in some parents’ statements. One mother, who chastised the district for not establishing an anti-bullying program, was told that the district has adopted a program established by Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar. Smith also discussed high school-level courses taught at the middle school that prepare students for advanced-placement courses at AHS.

“You really need to know what you’re talking about, and frankly, I don’t know how many of you who speak against the programs do,” one man said before the close of the nearly two-hour long discussion.

At the end of Tuesday’s public comment period, Reno invited parents to contact any member of the school board whenever they encounter a problem within the district. Reno also listed meetings run by individual schools or classes that could help parents understand district policies – meetings which, he noted, have not been well attended in recent years.

“You can talk to any one of us up here,” Reno said, gesturing to fellow board members. “We’re willing to talk, and have wanted to talk for the last three or four years.”

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