School board could add teacher retention, equity to 2021-22 priorities

Board slated to review, possibly approve goals at Tuesday meeting

From left, Aspen School District equity committee members Stephanie Nixon, Tameira Wilson and Tharyn Mulberry meet on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, on the ASD campus ahead of the 2021-22 school year. Equity is on the proposed list of school board priorities for this year, according to a draft that the Board of Education will review and possibly approve on Tuesday.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Come Tuesday afternoon, the Aspen School District Board of Education has some goals to set. Members will review their draft of priorities for the 2021-22 school year and, if all goes according to the agenda, they’ll approve them, too.

This year’s goals aren’t all that different from the ones the board set for the 2020-21 school year, according to the finalized document from last year and the 2021-22 draft included in this week’s board meeting packet.

First things first: The pandemic isn’t in the rearview mirror yet, and the board’s goals reflect that.

The board named a safe reopening as the No. 1 goal for the 2020-21 school year and recognized that the concentrated effort to return to in-person learning “may impact progress on the other priorities.”

Now, the focus is on ensuring that in-person learning sticks around by keeping up the collaborative streak among school administrators, health officials and other stakeholders.

The goal was and still is to ensure all students can learn — and learn safely — in the classroom, but the 2021-22 draft does not include last year’s caveat that a focus on in-person operations might impact other goals and priorities.

Speaking of which, most of the other goals and priorities listed in this year’s draft either mirror or build on the ones identified last year.

Take academic improvement, for instance: both the 2020-21 and 2021-22 documents state that the board wants to “create a culture of high expectations” and “implement a plan to identify, investigate systems, and seek evidence for academic improvement for each and every student in our district.”

Last year, work toward that goal involved a curriculum evaluation with administration and the development of an action plan for the 2020-21 school year. The curriculum audit process continues this year as the board tracks the progress of the recommendations that came out of last year’s evaluation, including the implementation of an International Baccalaureate (IB) framework across all grades.

The board also wants to make sure the curriculum aligns with all state guidelines; on the policy side of academic improvement, the focus is on ensuring transparency and best practices.

Strategic planning and governance also are recurring priorities. The former will inform the latter, with goals to develop an overall plan for the district and align governance with that to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

The wheels are already turning in that department, with a 20-minute strategic plan discussion on the docket for Tuesday’s meeting, according to the agenda.

Additions to this year’s governance goals include a more robust superintendent review process and a community input policy that includes both mechanisms to receive feedback and procedures to take action based on it.

The bond is back on board goals this year as well, though the board will now turn its attention from passing the measure (mission accomplished last November) to planning and prioritizing how the district will spend $114 million in proceeds earmarked for facilities updates, maintenance and staff housing.

Housing will play into the attraction, development and retention of teachers and staff, which has long been a topic of discussion in board meetings and is listed as an official priority in the 2021-22 draft.

But it’s not the only component of the equation to keep folks in the district. Other attract-and-retain initiatives could include work with the administration to “evaluate and propose changes to the current salary schedule” and review how staff development functions in the district.

Addressing the district’s climate and culture — which was its own priority in the 2020-21 school year — also has been baked into the staff retention category for 2021-22. Whereas last year’s focus was on transparency and rebuilding trust, now the board is looking at developing a climate and culture improvement plan and policy to address the issue.

A proposed “pulse check” survey by consultant Liz Wilson is already in the works to find out how things have been going since the last climate and culture survey in 2019; Wilson is part of the same Wilson Foxen consulting firm that administered the 2019 survey. An update on that proposal is also on this week’s agenda.

There’s also another new addition to this year’s goals that wasn’t present in the 2020-21 document: equity. Board members aim to finalize an equity resolution — one is currently in the works, according to updates at an Oct. 12 board meeting — and support other district equity programs.