John Colson: Let the school district’s third-party group do its work
November 19, 2018
The ongoing tumult at the Aspen School District over reigning Superintendent John Maloy and the mounting discontent his management has fostered in the district's faculty and staff is no good for anyone in its current state.
The controversy does not benefit the students at the schools, the teachers and other staffers who maintain they have been frightened by Maloy's management style into submission and silence, not the school board charged with the difficult task of keeping the schools open, flourishing and effective in the job of educating the young and, of course, not for Maloy himself.
You see, this is not his first rodeo of this kind, as I can attest from doing research into a superintendent position he held in Monroe County, Indiana, before being hired by the Aspen district more than a decade ago.
Back then, in Indiana, Maloy was forced to resign from his job after being charged by numerous school officials, parents and others with fostering an atmosphere of intimidation and fear among any who criticized his job performance.
The current controversy in Aspen has featured charges against Maloy and his administration in language that eerily echoes those lodged against him back in Monroe County.
Interestingly, the current spate of accusations is reminiscent of allegations made by some teachers and support staff about three years ago, during a round of retirements, resignations and dismissals.
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In those situations, most people were afraid to talk with a reporter "on the record" out of fear of reprisals from the administration either against them or against their children attending the Aspen schools.
More than one Maloy critic said or indicated in other ways that this was what kept them silent, despite mounting concerns over how the district was being run.
I suppose I should point out that I have never had any kids in the Aspen schools, never had any personal dealings with school officials and have only examined the schools as a long-time reporter, mostly for The Aspen Times.
As such, my understanding of the inner workings of the district and the schools has always been from the outside looking in, so to speak, though my interviews with personnel at different levels of the district's hierarchy, with students and with parents gave me as much of an insider's view as I could manage.
And during the two previous times that Maloy's qualifications and style were an issue — before he was hired in 2007 as an assistant superintendent, and when he was elevated to the top job in 2010 — I have noticed and reported that problems with staff morale seemed to be something the district needed to give some attention to.
And when staff morale is low, students invariably pick up on it and the mood of an entire building can shift with the changing attitudes of teachers and administrators.
That this proved true could be seen by the facts that Aspen High School has had five principals or vice principals in five years (2010 to 2015), and that despite fears about retaliation some teachers have been willing to speak out against Maloy's regime.
In any case, something clearly has been going wrong in the district, just as it had in the Monroe County schools when Maloy was in charge there, and it is hard to point to any other cause than his presence in both places.
I believe the district acted correctly when it announced it would not be renewing Maloy's contract, which is set to expire in June 2021.
I also feel the school board acted appropriately in seeking to hire a third-party group to look into the questions of morale, atmosphere and trust among teachers, administrators and the superintendent's office.
I noted with some internal dismay that a small group of school personnel and parents have attacked the school board for its decision to let Maloy's contract lapse, going so far as to urge the board to not simply listen to "the loudest voices" in the debate. The irony here would be that among this small group, some of Maloy's defenders themselves could be accused of resting their hopes on their own "loudest voices," and as such I hope the board is not intimidated into walking back on its decision.
The commission should be carefully chosen, armed with the scholastic equivalent of subpoena power in chasing the truth and should be listened to whenever it issues its findings.
Maloy's has been a troubled tenure here, as it was in Indiana, but it should be pointed out that school superintendents always are among the juiciest targets for citizen ire when people get upset about schools.
Maloy may well be the cause of unrest among the staffs, teachers and support personnel in the Aspen district. He positioned himself as a business-oriented leader when he got here, and that kind of philosophy may not fit well in a scholastic setting, regardless of where it is located.
But, to be truthful, he also may be simply the easiest target in the field when it comes to parents questioning the quality and consistency of their kids' education.
In either case, the third-party group's process should be allowed to proceed unimpeded by further debate, for now.
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