Public deserves more details in principal’s resignation
December 1, 2011
The Aspen School District’s handling of the recent resignation of its high school principal should be a lesson for us all in how not to manage an issue that impacts the greater good of the public.
Details surrounding Art Abelmann’s exit last month are scant. He did not address the high school’s student body publicly about his departure, though Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy says he was given several opportunities to do so but declined. Rather, Abelmann sent a note to close friends and colleagues that suggested he wanted to say more but couldn’t.
For the record, Abelmann and Maloy simply said the principal of 16 months was leaving for “personal and family reasons.”
This seems disingenuous, especially given the abruptness of his departure, its timing – during the middle of the semester – and the fact that nobody is answering the community’s many questions.
Those who knew Abelmann say he did not leave for personal reasons; they believe that a movement was long afoot for Abelmann’s ouster, which finally happened a week before Thanksgiving. Maloy, the sole person charged with hiring and firing administrators such as Abelmann, contends that this is not true.
Whether Abelmann was the right person for the job is up for debate. Evidently many students and parents held him in high regard, but some staff members were uncomfortable with his style and approach toward educating the students and managing their teachers.
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Whatever the case, the school district’s public handling of this situation sets a bad example for its most coveted asset – the students.
The message students received was that when facing a crisis, circle the wagons and keep your mouth shut. We understand that both Abelmann’s and Maloy’s hands likely were tied when it came to revealing the true nature of his departure. Clearly there were legal reasons why they could not talk, and chances are that Abelmann’s $30,000 severance package would have been nullified had he discussed the issue.
Still, when Abelmann, Maloy and whoever else negotiated his severance package and exit strategy, it certainly seems that they did not have the public in mind.
In a small town like Aspen, Abelmann was a public figure and leader. The community deserves to know the true reason for his departure – for better or worse. This is the same community that has supported the school district by passing bond measures to improve the campus and its facilities, providing affordable housing for teachers and voting for property tax increases at a time when the state has been slashing funding for education.
Did the public need to know every nitty-gritty detail behind Abelmann’s exit? Not necessarily. But to hide behind the “personal reasons” excuse, when there is clearly more to the story, is inexcusable.