School district exploring options to garner input, goodwill on 2021-22 calendar

Community can share thoughts using online link starting next week

An Aspen School District bus parked in front of Aspen Middle School on August 26, 2020.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh is “exploring a number of meeting options” to gather community input on proposed changes to the 2021-22 academic calendar after the Board of Education tabled a vote on the calendar at Tuesday’s meeting, Baugh wrote in an email late last week.

There will be a link posted on the home page of the school district website in the next week where the community can share feedback, he wrote. An existing 2021-22 calendar was already approved by the school board last June; work began in earnest on the new calendar in January and has been a weekly endeavor since then, according to Baugh.

The proposed calendar does not change the already-planned start and stop dates for classes. But several shifts in the weekly and daily lineup would impact students’ and teachers’ day-to-day schedule, according to information presented at Tuesday’s board meeting and a followup email Thursday from Baugh.

School day start and end times for all students in kindergarten through 12th-grade would be the same under the new calendar: classes would begin at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. every day.

Under the version of the 2021-22 calendar that the board approached last June, all grades would begin at 8:05 a.m., but Aspen Elementary School students would be released at 3:15 and grades 5-12 would get out at 3:20 p.m. The Aspen Cottage preschool will continue to operate from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on either version of the calendar.

The proposed calendar also discontinues a Wednesday early-release day program that released students at 1:55 p.m. to provide teachers with a couple hours to use for planning, meetings and collaboration. That program began around a decade and a half ago, in part as a way to bring big names in education into the schools to work with teachers.

Instead, the new schedule would implement 45 minutes of daily planning and collaboration time from 7:45 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Students who arrive at school early cannot enter the classrooms until 8:30 a.m., according to Eliza Robison, executive assistant in the superintendent’s office.

The calendar also includes 11 full professional development days for teachers, 10 more than the otherwise-scheduled single day.

Among other changes, the elimination of Wednesday early release days and implementation of a universal start and end time for K-12 students could increase instructional time to the tune of 72 hours over the course of the academic year, Assistant Superintendent Tharyn Mulberry estimated at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Board of Education decided not to vote on the calendar at Tuesday’s meeting due to what some members felt was a lack of consensus on proposed changes.

A survey sent to parents and teachers earlier this year on the elimination of the early-release program received 360 responses, 53.9% in favor of eliminating the program and 46.1% opposed (a difference of 28 votes). Plus, feedback on the calendar from the Aspen Education Association, which represents teachers, arrived so close to the meeting that board members did not have time to thoroughly consider it before convening.

Board Secretary Dwayne Romero and Assistant Secretary/Treasurer Susan Marolt pressed for more outreach before bringing the calendar to a vote. That could include collecting more feedback and communicating changes to community partners that may be impacted by the changes, like those that provide after-school care for students, they suggested. The effort could also garner more goodwill from teachers, families and other stakeholders, Romero and Marolt expressed.

President Suzy Zimet and Treasurer Katy Frisch both indicated during the meeting they were prepared to vote on the matter Tuesday, citing trust in the process and in Baugh’s judgment to consider the calendar as presented. Vice President Jonathan Nickell was absent.

The calendar is slated to come to a vote at the next Board of Education meeting April 20.

If, for whatever reason, the Board of Education reaches a stalemate or the majority opposes the proposed calendar when it returns to the table then, the district would maintain the existing 2021-22 calendar that the board approved last June, Baugh wrote in an email.

The board could also vote on additional changes to the calendar in the months to come; according to Board of Education operational restrictions, non-emergency challenges to the calendar require at least 30 days of advance notice.