Superintendent Farrell resigns |

Superintendent Farrell resigns

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Tom Farrell, superintendent of the Aspen School District for nearly 15 years, resigned his post this week in preparation for a move back to his native Maine.

Farrell made his resignation official Monday night during a meeting with the Aspen School Board. He will remain as head of the Aspen district until midsummer, when he plans to begin his new job as superintendent of schools in Kennebunk, Maine.

“The last three or four years, we’ve had talks about going back to Maine, and something – usually, it’s the needs of one of our children – has gotten in the way,” he said.

Last year, Farrell was granted a brief sabbatical in order to pursue a doctorate in education administration. The Farrell family moved back to Maine for a few months, allowing him to “test the waters” as he sought an administrative position on the East Coast.

But when Farrell’s youngest son declined to leave Aspen High School, the family decided to remain in Colorado.

“But with him graduating in June, we decided it was time to start looking again,” Farrell said.

The position in Kennebunk opened just after Christmas, Farrell said. Competition for the superintendent’s job was stiff – Kennebunk is a bustling resort community on Maine’s southern coastline – but Farrell was finally offered the job just last week.

“It’s a dream job, in a wonderful school system,” Farrell said. “It will be a good move for the family.”

Farrell isn’t sure how much last year’s smear campaign, led by Aspen residents Laurie Michaels and Carrie Morgridge, might have contributed to his wish to switch jobs. Though Michaels and Morgridge questioned Farrell’s performance record – often through full-page advertisements in local newspapers – the outgoing superintendent believes he’d have made the move to Maine anyway.

“It’s hard to tell, because we really had talked about [moving] long before last year happened,” Farrell said. “I honestly can’t say. Would we have gone if nothing had happened? I think the answer is probably yes, we would have gone anyway. But it’s hard to tell if that’s exactly the case.”

After all, Farrell’s stint in Aspen actually started as an experiment, he said.

“We thought we were going to come out here for a two-year experience, but the reality was that I fell in love with the kids, and I work with a great staff – it’s going to be hard to duplicate this staff that the Aspen School District has – and the community has been really good to me, especially last year. Every time we talked about leaving, we’d say, ‘Well, look what we’re leaving behind. This is also the dream job for a superintendent of schools.'”

Farrell’s decision wasn’t a total surprise to the Aspen School Board, vice president Jill Uris said, but it was a disappointment.

“We just offered Tom a two-year contract and had not totally expected this, but I had certainly known that he loves Maine and maybe wanted to go back there,” she said. “But I’m really glad Tom’s found a dream job and that’s what he wants to do, and we’re trying to figure out where to go now.

“It’s a sad time,” Uris continued. “It’s been a wonderful, long period, with Tom at the helm, and he’s done so many good things. I, for one, think we’re in a great position right now, we’ve had some wonderful successes recently.”

Uris ticked off a list of programs flourishing under Farrell’s supervision, including honors education and extracurricular activities. Farrell noted that he will remain in Aspen long enough to see the 15th anniversary of Project Graduation, his annual drug- and alcohol-free party for outgoing seniors.

But the district has seen its share of challenges recently – for example, the October suspensions of two students caught with cocaine at Aspen High. Though a new superintendent will have to address these concerns, Farrell still sees the district as vastly improved.

“I’m very happy with where the school district is today. I feel good about where we are,” he said. “I’d like to think it’s in a lot better place than it was when I arrived.”

The Aspen School Board will meet in the coming weeks to discuss how to best replace Farrell, Uris said. First, the board will meet with other district administrators to determine the best course of action.

The next year will surely be one of transition for the Aspen School District. Administrators must not only replace Farrell, but retiring elementary school principal Barb Pitchford and district business manager Joe Tarbet, as well.

And these major replacements come just one year after a new middle school principal, Phyllis Taylor, and assistant superintendent, Joanne Ihrig, were brought on board.

But Farrell notes that a novice superintendent would prefer this sort of situation.

“There is fear, but at the same time, I think that a superintendent coming in would perceive this as being very exciting, starting off with everyone else, so they can bring in their own new ideas and make the changes,” he said. “They can take it to another level.”

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