Superintendent search for Aspen School District picks up the pace

Aspen Elementary School.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times

Plenty of buzzwords have been used to describe the qualities of what Aspen School District staff, faculty, parents, residents and students want in the next superintendent.

Transparent, trustworthy, engaging, approachable, communicative and collaborative were some used during a portion of this week’s Board of Education meeting, its first one of the new decade, concerning the next leader of the 1,200-student district.

In October, the board hired Chicago-based search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates to spearhead the effort to find a new superintendent. In early December, the firm began digging into the qualities district stakeholders want in its next leader by holding focus group meetings both in person and online, interviewing individuals and groups, and conducting an online survey that generated 88 responses.

“It’s important that the community knows that we don’t select people; your school board selects the people,” Dallas Strawn of HYA said at Monday’s meeting. “But we do a lot of screening so they have time to do their regular work.”

The board is scheduled to begin its first round of interviews the week of Feb. 3; it will determine finalists Feb. 21-22, with final interviews scheduled March 2. The board plans to announce the new superintendent hire between March 15 and April 6. The new superintendent’s first day of work is scheduled for July 1.

The application process and HYA’s recruitment efforts are scheduled to close Jan. 18. Strawn, who said he had no knowledge of any internal ASD applications for the job, said the finalist will undergo an extensive background check, which takes about a week to complete, before a job offer is extended.

“It goes through finances, past jobs, where they were really born, have they been arrested,” he said.

As of Monday, HYA had collected nine completed applications from candidates for the job, with another four or five expected to come in this week, Strawn said.

Heald, the district’s interim superintendent for the 2019-20 academic year, said he has not decided whether he will apply. He is one of four finalists for the Archuleta School District superintendent job. He is scheduled to be interviewed for that opening next week.

Part of HYA’s job was to craft a leadership profile of ASD’s next superintendent based on the information it collected last month. It presented those findings at Monday’s meeting.

“Restoring a culture of mutual trust, sincere respect and authentic compassion will require a commitment to communication and collaboration,” said HYA’s leadership profile report. “It will require an individual who is approachable, self-confident and humble. The leader must be immersed in the schools and community and come to Aspen with a love of the outdoors and mountain culture. Restoring trust is not only about being trustworthy but also about being trusting.”

While HYA is conducting a national search, some in the audience said that institutional knowledge about the district, as well as an appreciation and understanding of Aspen culture, cannot be disregarded in hiring the next superintendent.

“There isn’t any magic wand, there isn’t any one person who is going to meet all of our expectations and all of our desires as a district,” Anita Moose, a school district educator who works in technology integration, said at the meeting. “So I would like us to remain realistic and select a leader who understands our community and our values, and not somebody who is going to come in and expect our strong-willed town to adopt their values. We have our values — Aspen or any other district works that way.”

Katherine Sand, who runs Aspen Family Connections at the campus but said she was speaking in her capacity as a parent, said the ideal superintendent will be collaborative and understand that Aspen is not a homogeneous community but one with “people of vastly different cultural backgrounds, and we must be excellent on behalf of all of those people.”

“Just be bloody realistic, be realistic about what we can achieve in terms of who we are,” she said.

Board President Susan Marolt said an advisory group is being formed as part of the selection process. The advisory group will not recommend a candidate or participate in the board’s decision, but it would be involved in asking superintendent prospects questions and possibly participate in their job interviews.

“You have a very special place here and you know that,” Strawn said, “and the sky’s the limit on what you can do there. You’ve got resources, you’ve got caring parents, you’ve got highly intelligent people, you have great teachers.”

John Maloy retired from the district as superintendent June 30 following the board’s decision in October 2018 to not renew his contract. Maloy’s three-year rolling contract dated back to June 7, 2010.