Guest commentary: Aspen Schools conversation needs to be constructive, non-adversarial
What is the real story with the Aspen schools? We guess it depends on who you ask.
It is good to see people who care deeply about our Aspen schools get engaged and involved in dialogue about effective education. That is a good thing. However, this attention needs to be constructive. Last week, a group of angry parents (Aspen Parents Action Committee) presented their demands to the Aspen School District board claiming that our schools are failing, quality education is going downhill, there is a “toxic” climate among teachers, and they want changes. This group has vowed to “take back our schools.” From whom, we would ask, and to what end? It was a confusing confrontation at best, and very negative.
Apparently, the sole agenda for this “angry action” group is to see the school superintendent fired. Period. We think this group is wrong to lead with such anger and the assertions that our school environment is so negative that the superintendent must go. He is an educational professional who has directed our schools well, developing a strong staff and a cadre of talented teachers and support people.
Aspen parents proclaim that we have terrific schools, great teachers and effective principals. Forever, Aspen parents have shown up in support of school events, initiatives, great teachers, leaders and effective principals. Parents have helped raise money for our school programs, and they tell us they like what our Aspen schools are doing. Does this sound like a school district that needs to get rid of its overall CEO? We think not.
It is interesting that at the meeting where several angry parents talked, and some yelled, there were teachers who countered the claims of a “toxic environment” by saying they just don’t see it. And, the representative of the Aspen Education Assocation (teachers’ representative group) reported that “morale in the schools is good.” Where is all the negative narrative from this action group coming from? If people have stories to tell, let those stories and concerns be heard and considered. Tell them, do not let others speak for you.
Their narrative is not a long-lens picture of our schools’ story and our history. It seems that these people who have a short-lived and narrow view have taken the microphone and hijacked our story. They are speaking and complaining for others, and they have not afforded the hearing of the other side of the story in claiming dissatisfaction with leadership. The actions of this group are counter-productive to the efforts of so many to make Aspen School District a collection of incredible, effective and inviting educational people and places.
Our schools are not going downhill. They are not failing. In fact, with the quality of teachers and administrative staff we have in our Aspen schools, many, parents recognize the quality of our schools and are constantly involved. Why is there such support for the Aspen Education Foundation? Because Aspen families like what is happening in our schools — from our teachers, sports teams, special-education programs, open-access IB and from our innovative extracurriculars. Parents turn out as volunteers, classroom helpers, field trip aides, and Ex Ed leaders. They are welcome and valued in the schools. We can be proud of our schools and all who contribute to make them what they are — students, teachers, parents and staff. The message from these angry-action parents seems to be very different.
At the same meeting Assistant Superintendent Tom Heald reported that most recent evaluations by the Colorado Department of Education graded all our Aspen schools at the highest performance rating and our district as a District of Distinction, the highest CDE ratings. At the high school, the IB program is flourishing, involving more students than ever before. The AHS graduation rates are excellent, and we know that nearly all AHS graduates prepare to go on to further education including college or technical schools. These are recognitions and metrics of successful schools, not failing schools.
We believe that if this angry action group is unhappy with aspects of our schools, these specific issues should be addressed in a more constructive way. We would urge discussions with our school board members, not yelling and demands for staff removal. We all want our schools to be places of nurturing, learning and growing, and we want our schools to be healthy places to work for our education professionals. If there are legitimate problems, let them be discussed and properly addressed.
Are our schools good? Absolutely, yes they are! If there are problems, let’s address them in an honest, non-adversarial and solutions-oriented way. Together, we can make our schools even better than ever.
Kathy and Warren Klug are longtime Aspen residents who recently retired. Kathy was with the school district for 24 years, and Warren was the general manager for the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel for 24 years.