Strained relations between Aspen school board, DAC (Part 3 in a series)
October 10, 2017
Editor's note: The election for three open seats on the Board of Education for the Aspen School District is Nov. 7, with a candidates forum scheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. today in the Seminar Room at Aspen High School.
The Aspen Times this week is publishing a five-part questionnaire with answers from the five candidates — incumbents Margeaux Johansson, Susan Marolt and Dwayne Romero, and challengers Jonathan Nickell and Susan Zimet.
As a board member, what would you do to improve relations with the District Accountability Committee (DAC), some of whose members contend that the board does not act on its advice or findings?
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The District Accountability Committee is mandated at the state level to advise the Board of Education. Its primary function is to make recommendations to the board concerning budget priorities, and to make recommendations concerning the preparation of the district's performance plan.
Over the past year, the board has met with the DAC in frequent work sessions, has had board members attend DAC meetings and has made many hours of staff time available to DAC members. Most recently, over the course of seven hours, my fellow board members and I attended two facilitated meetings with the DAC in order to improve our working relationship. I believe that the time and effort spent by the board in order to better engage the DAC will prove beneficial as we move forward.
I feel that the characterization of the board as not willing to review and act on the advice of the DAC to be inaccurate. This past spring the DAC submitted its advisory report, and the board responded at length, in writing, to their findings. Upon review, while agreeing with the spirit of the DAC's report, the board found that the DAC did not always present or disaggregate the most current information, and in a number of instances, did not realize the board had already discussed, and begun to work on, many of the items presented in the report. I look forward to continuing to work with the DAC as we determine together, further collaborative opportunities in order to better reflect the values of our community.
The DAC has put in many hours of hard work to provide their recommendations to the board. As a board member, I appreciate the hours spent and agree with many of their recommendations. In fact, many of their recommendations are priorities of the board and are things that we are currently working on and seeing good progress with. We conveyed this to the District Accountability Committee both in writing and in person. Some of the feelings from the DAC that we are not acting on their advice may come from the fact that, as a Board of Education, we are using more recent data to monitor the current state of our district. Also, as defined by the state, the DAC makes recommendations on the results of our state-mandated standardized tests (PARCC). The Board of Education uses more than just the data from this test to monitor the progress of our district. Other measures include IB test scores, ACT and now SAT test scores as well as other end-of-year assessments. We look at all of these components to judge the progress that the district makes from year to year. I think that by reviewing the most recent assessments, survey data and current conditions, the board and the DAC can together look at where we are now, where we would like to be in the future and move forward together to do great things for our district.
I have been a member of the DAC over the past year. The DAC is a volunteer committee of parents, teachers, staff and community members, charged with making recommendations to the BOE regarding the budget and the district improvement plan of the Aspen School District. In April, we made our recommendations, including improving the organizational climate and providing more resources for teacher development to better support our great teachers. We believe that these things are important in continuing to improve our schools; however, we understand that it is the prerogative of the BOE to use the findings as they see fit.
My concern is that the BOE is dysfunctional and is unable to work collaboratively, or even have a discussion, with its own committee. When we presented our findings in April, in accordance with the BOE's policy, we requested a meeting to discuss them in detail. The meeting was initially denied and we were blocked from receiving information or talking to the administration by Susan Marolt. Instead of dialogue, the BOE chose to write a five-page letter that was both critical and aggressive toward the DAC, while failing to present information that would lead us to modify our recommendations. We recently had six hours of facilitated meetings that were proposed by the BOE, and the conclusion was that they needed to review their policy again, the same response that had been given to the DAC at a work session in November. This clearly is not an effective, organized or collaborative BOE.
The way to improve relations is simple. Have collaborative and authentic conversations with the DAC and the community so they feel that their concerns are being heard. This is an issue that goes beyond just the DAC and includes teachers and parents. Everyone understands that not all recommendations will or can be accepted, but the parents, teachers and community need to be treated with respect and have a voice in our schools. After all, our children are the ones being educated and the majority of the BOE does not have children in the school.
The relationship between the school board and the DAC needs improvement. There is little trust, confidence or goodwill, which runs counter to our shared goals of doing our best for the benefit of our children.
However, claims that the DAC's findings are not considered by the board are simply not true. The board's recent stance on progress in our math curriculum was in part informed by the DAC's advice.
My view: We may not always heed these inputs, but we must always respect the effort, intent and perspective brought by the many great community volunteers on the DAC.
All this aside, I believe the ultimate responsibility to set a better tone and tenor for our work together rests with the school board. Yet, good relationships are not unilateral; they require both parties to sincerely participate and endeavor to make things better. Without this alignment, the discontent will continue. The community should also know that the board and DAC are currently engaged in a series of work sessions to improve relations.
If elected to continue my service on the school board, I will make it a top priority to improve this relationship through better and more consistent communication, more meaningful collaboration and greater appreciation and respect for the valuable work produced through our various accountability committees.
Colorado law requires that each school district have a DAC, designed to monitor student achievement and to be the community's watchdog.
This past year, Aspen's DAC presented data to the board that showed significant deterioration in student achievement. Unfortunately, this board didn't want to hear it.
Effective boards embrace and monitor information even when it's not what they want it to be. They use both positive and negative data to drive continuous improvement.
Nobody likes hearing bad news, but the job of the DAC is to touch the nerve.
The truth is that student achievement has been lagging, and we can do a lot better. The way to improve relations between the DAC and the board is for the community to elect board members who are committed to each child making a year's growth each year.