Building better education
It’s old news that Aspen School District assistant superintendent Bev Tarpley has resigned from her $101,000-per-year position (Dawg!) and is leaving, unable to find adequate housing near town. This is not a story. The affordable housing shortage in Aspen began around the same time Americans discovered that snow is slippery.The real story is about what Tarpley said as the door was about to hit her in the … sorry, I’m getting carried away. Let’s just say there were two slices of inedible baloney left on the buffet after her going-away party.In an Aspen Times article, Tarpley maintained that Aspen will lose its competitive edge in education if the community isn’t able to solve its affordable housing situation and suggested that local resources could be better used than on projects such as the Canary Initiative, which addresses Aspen’s contribution to world climate change. She told the newspaper, “I’d rather sit a little while longer in traffic at the roundabout, and see it get a little warmer, if we could do something about the housing problem.”Nice! And to think I actually believed that education was the key to solving some of the world’s larger problems. Perhaps it’s not a bad thing that Tarpley is moving back to Colorado Springs, where ignoring the potentially catastrophic consequences of an overheated planet, for all housing, is apparently more, ehm, warmly received.The second leftover scrap I must clean up is her assertion that education in Aspen schools is going to take a dive if the housing crisis is not solved. You wonder what some people can’t learn in two years on the job. Is there a person in this town who believes that good teachers are necessary for good education? Ha!… Well, there is one. Dick Butera rewards excellence in teaching by granting sizable monetary awards to local teachers each year. But, he also believes that the Hotel Jerome is worth preserving. Ha! Ha!Anyway, all one has to do is drive out to our beautiful public school campus to see what I’m getting at. The very first thing that you can’t miss is the construction of our brand-new, state-of-the-art, $50 million middle school. It’s fabulous! To say that you can’t get an excellent education there is to imply that this architectural marvel is a waste of money.If that doesn’t beat all, a kid graduates from there and moves up to the shiny $40 million, almost new, high-tech high school. Puh-leeeze! And don’t forget that our students begin their formal education in a wondrous 20-some-odd-million-dollar edifice of an elementary school right next door. What more could anyone ask from a local educational system?Well I’ll tell you. Don’t you dare ignore the facilities at the very perimeter of the school campus that provide our children with the all-important extracurricular activities so vital to well-rounded education.The $3.8 million Aspen Ski Club is adjacent to the south, replete with a private ski lift to training runs at nearby Highlands. We built a $19 million recreation center to the west, baited with television sets, video games and junk food. There are ballfields galore interspersed in between. We have groomed cross-country ski trails, rubber running tracks, and paved bike paths. For crying out loud, we have the greenest Astroturf on the planet covering our all-purpose athletic field, with artificial lights suspended above!But wait, there’s more! We have computers and electronic “chalkboards.” We have world-class theaters, gymnasiums and cafeterias. We have bats, balls, helmets, skis, poles, skates and more galore!Now, I know, even with all of this advantage, local skeptics still wonder if our children will be accepted to prestigious colleges. After all, I have been reminded many times that it is impossible for students to distinguish themselves in the college application process simply based on where they attended high school, no matter what that school does to set itself apart.Don’t worry. For that, we have plenty of money to keep the International Baccalaureate program going. It’s basically a standardized, if not trendy, approach to education so it doesn’t matter who teaches it! Have your kids sign up, study like hell to pass the tests, highlight the type-A experience in bold font on their applications. Shazam! They’re into the college of their parents’ choice like that! As long as kids get in, regardless of whether they learn anything along the way is really beside the point, isn’t it?The bottom line is that there is no need to treat teachers differently than any other employees in this town. We will never have a difficult time attracting new, young educators to replace the ones that can’t solve the Aspen housing challenge. There will always be plenty of teachers fresh out of college who will gladly come here to take advantage of our legendary nightlife and teach our children by day for a couple of years, regardless of what we pay them. And, if we run out of young Americans on postgraduation break, we can always tap the foreign markets and add international flair to our classrooms. “Chew them up, spit them out, next please!” is not just the lunchroom motto anymore.We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on all the stuff our children need to get an awesome education. Who has the temerity to suggest that this community self-indulgently doled out gobs and gobs of cash on ancillary didactic amenities while completely forgetting about teachers’ housing needs? Certainly not me! To do so would be tantamount to saying we have made a mistake in prioritizing what is important in education. Not us, not here, no way. The proof is in the numbers. The total of teachers’ salaries and benefits is a spit in the bucket compared to what we spend on everything else educational. So, you tell me, how important can teachers be?Roger Marolt would like to publicly thank all of the incredible buildings, classrooms and playing surfaces, artificial and natural, that have profoundly impacted his life. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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