Teachers say morale suffering in wake of district argument | AspenTimes.com

Teachers say morale suffering in wake of district argument

Jennifer Davoren
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Teachers say the fight between a small group of parents and Aspen School District officials has spread from administrative offices into the schools, harming teacher morale and disrupting district operations.

Andy Popinchalk is president of the Aspen Education Association, a representative teacher organization. He said Tuesday that the argument has produced a “collateral effect” that is taking its toll on school operations.

“My concern is how this is going to affect teachers,” he said. “It saps your energy, and it lessens your enthusiasm. It just makes us all weary, especially at this time of year.”

The dispute began in early February, when a group of parents attended an Aspen School Board meeting to question certain programs they feel aren’t working for the district. In the months since that meeting, Popinchalk said, there hasn’t been much talk about the programs the district executes well.

“This whole statement about this situation, that they perceive things that are keeping us from being the best school district we can be – we really are a damn good school district, and, once in a while, it would be nice to say, `You know, we did really well in the CSAPs, we’ve got kids going to the best schools in the country.’ We have kids coming back all the time saying how well-prepared they are [for college].”

Popinchalk said the school board even proved its support of district teachers’ style of instruction recently by approving raises for district employees.

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“The board committed a lot of money to us, so they’ve got to be pleased on some level,” he said.

The fight has taken a turn in the last week, with one parent requesting district information on subjects ranging from budget reports to notes on disciplinary actions. The parent, Aspen resident Carrie Morgridge, said Monday that she hopes to glean details of district policies from the information requested. Popinchalk said Morgridge has yet to establish a clear reason as to why she needs the information.

“I’m sure that, in their hearts, these folks have something in mind. They definitely have a plan, but it would be nice to know what it is,” Popinchalk said.

Morgridge could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

While Popinchalk said that it is Morgridge’s right to request the information under the Colorado Open Records Act, he questioned why parents feel free to criticize district policies by personally investigating them.

“I understand the need to respect these people’s rights to question, but they also have the responsibility to acknowledge what is true versus what is implied,” Popinchalk said. “That’s just as important as acknowledging their right to be critical.

“It’s one thing to spend some time figuring out a comment to make, but it’s another thing to really speak in ignorance,” he continued. “I think what it does to teachers is it makes us second guess ourselves.”

Aspen High School teacher Linda Lafferty agreed, describing the atmosphere the dispute has created for district teachers.

“To leave this hanging over us, it makes us feel overwhelmed,” she said. “Isn’t there any time where we can can feel good about what we do?”

Lafferty, the wife of Aspen Times Editor Andy Stone, said the argument has become detrimental to parents who hope to make changes in the district without attacking specific administrators.

“Any change in a school district has to be done in a civilized way, and this is not civilized,” she said.

Popinchalk said any community members hoping to effect change in the Aspen School District should feel free to do so. But the 20-year veteran of the district said parents should also investigate what the school has accomplished, as well.

“I’m not saying we don’t need scrutiny or self-reflection, but I also want to say look hard at what we do and be honest with us that we do some things pretty well,” he said.

The best resolution for the ongoing debate, Popinchalk said, would be for a community dialogue and for “all the stakeholders” in the district to come together to discuss problems publicly.

However, Popinchalk said a review of district records, including the information Morgridge requested last week, will prove the district’s track record.

“I have nothing to hide,” he said. “Bring it on if you think I have something to hide.”

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