Update at Board of Education meeting reveals challenges at Aspen Middle School | AspenTimes.com

Update at Board of Education meeting reveals challenges at Aspen Middle School

New Aspen Middle School Principal Amy Kendziorski poses for a photo on Friday, July 2, 2021, in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Aspen Middle School Principal Amy Kendziorski told the school board Wednesday about a number of challenges at Aspen Middle School, including issues with attendance, behavior and staff turnover.

This year, Aspen Middle School hired 15 new teachers, a new counselor and athletic director, a new librarian, three new paraprofessionals, four teachers in new roles, one new psychologist and one new speech-language pathologist. Thirteen of the new teachers have five or fewer years of experience.

“We hired amazing people, and I am very happy with how that turned out,” said Kendziorski. However, getting 26 new staff members adjusted to a new school is a challenge.

Housing, an ever-present problem, plays a large role in the ability to retain and recruit staff. Kendziorski said many of the staff are in employee housing and are happy with it, and those who are not in employee housing are eager to try and get into it.

In their interview process, Kendziorski said, they are explicit about how much autonomy and how much directed work the teachers are expected to give to avoid any confusion and find the best possible candidates for teaching positions. She added that as an International Baccalaureate school, it is important for them to get serious about recruiting now, because international schools are hiring now.

Another challenge addressed by Kendziorski was student attendance. Aspen Valley Ski Club and other athletic teams sometimes require students to miss school. There are also a number of students who go on vacations outside of designated school breaks.

“We’ve got kids that are doing lots of things, and it takes them away from school. That impact on them as a worker is a big deal, but also sometimes the impact on the whole class, the whole dynamic changes,” said Kendziorski.

Student behavioral concerns about vandalism, disrespect, depression, anxiety and the inability to focus and attend class were brought up in the meeting, as well. Vandalism has become an issue at the middle school, and in their update, the high school liaisons said vandalism has been a problem at the high school, too.

“We continue to reinforce respect for myself, respect for my classmates, respect for my school, for my place,” said Kendziorski.

Mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression can take a toll on a child’s ability to learn, Kendziorski said, and the Aspen Middle School counselors are busy people. Along with the counselors, the middle school uses outside expertise to help address mental health issues among students.

Cell phones are banned during school hours in order to promote focus and attention toward the teacher and learning materials.

“Some phones come to the office ‘cell phone jail,'” Kendziorski said. “We don’t always have happy children when that happens, but it also teaches a little bit of that responsibility.”

In the past, the school had issues with e-cigarettes and vaping, but those have subsided quite a bit, thanks to detectors installed throughout the school.

Kendziorski said she remains optimistic about the progress the school has made in the face of these challenges.

“Parents that I’ve talked to are pretty pleased with (the progress) for the most part, but with some things to still improve on,” she said.