Letter: Focus on teacher retention | AspenTimes.com

Letter: Focus on teacher retention

Three cheers to Basalt Middle School and Basalt High School band instructor Nick Lenio for producing an outstanding end-of-the-year concert at the middle school on Thursday. Our community witnessed more than 200 students in grades five to 12 performing a variety of musical pieces, including crowd favorites “Happy,” by Pharrell Williams, and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen.

In one of the more entertaining moments of the evening, Lenio shared recordings of the first time fifth-graders played their instruments back in September. There were plenty of laughs as we heard ear-splitting squeaks and squeals coming from his iPhone. It was a far cry from the beautiful music we heard the fifth-graders perform live that night. I find it amazing to hear the progress kids make in just one school year, not to mention the accomplished playing from students who stick with the Basalt band program through high school.

The popularity and excellence of the Basalt band program are due in large part to Lenio, who has taken the helm for the past three years. He received the 2015 Jazz Aspen Snowmass Music Instructor Award, and it’s no wonder: He is passionate about music and music education, he motivates his students every single day, and he can relate to tweens and teens in a fun way while still ensuring that quality instruction takes place in the classroom.

It’s also no wonder that Basalt Band Booster President Katie Custodio, in thanking Lenio for his hard work and enthusiasm, said to him in front of the audience, “You can never leave.” Indeed, I feel like often with our highly dedicated teachers in Basalt, there is always a fear that the standard of living in our valley will ultimately make them succumb to moving to a less expensive place.

I implore the incoming principals at Basalt High School and Basalt Middle School to make retaining excellent teachers a huge priority in the coming years. Same goes to the Roaring Fork School District. According to the district’s Strategic Plan Overview, one of the strategic pillars is “Talent Development.” While I’ve seen some progress made on the professional-development front (particularly with teachers gathering for shared learning during early-release Wednesdays), I’m not convinced that strategies to “provide competitive compensation and benefits” and “create an exceptional work environment” have been fully addressed yet.

I believe providing affordable housing for outstanding teachers, paying them a salary they deserve and making sure they feel truly valued in clean and well-kept school buildings will go a long way in retaining the quality talent (like Lenio) we parents so clearly want and appreciate for our children.

Kara Williams