Letter: Apology from Sheila Wills
November 18, 2015
When I attended the meeting last week to discuss issues around the Aspen School District calendar and scheduling conflicts with the Jewish high holidays, I was impressed with the level of commitment from both the district and representatives of the Aspen Jewish community.
The superintendent, assistant superintendent, director of curriculum, high school principal, middle school principal, elementary school principal, Aspen Community School principal, two Aspen school board members, including myself, and at least 30 concerned community members were in attendance. The meeting opened with Katy Frisch giving an overview of the Jewish faith and the importance of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Passover. Alyssa Shenk then gave examples of the hardships experienced by Jewish students who celebrate those holidays. The scheduling of experiential and outdoor education, field trips, band concerts, field day, club day, picture day, tests, quizzes and homework were all discussed. Each of us in the room seemed to be open to working toward developing some type of solution. I was particularly impressed with the level of commitment expressed by the individual principals and by the superintendent who agreed to work with a small community group going forward. Near the end of the meeting, I became concerned that the community members in the room were developing an expectation that the district would be able to adjust the calendar to mitigate 100 percent of the impacts that we had discussed. At that time I made my first statement of the meeting. I started off by saying that I was happy that the superintendent and the principals were open to seeking solutions to the problem but that we shouldn't expect the solution to be perfect, as the community of children we were discussing make up a percentage of our total school population and it is our duty to consider the best solution for all the district's children. I did not reference the percentage of students to marginalize any group but to underscore the variety of family interests that the district serves.
I then made the terrible, terrible mistake of using the word "sacrifice" in my suggestion that children sometimes learn from the choices we make as families. As soon as I said it, I knew I had made a horrible mistake. The reaction in the room was automatic and violent. I felt awful. I repeatedly apologized and attempted to explain myself until a community member suggested that I quit talking. After the meeting was over, I approached several community members individually to apologize personally.
I feel terrible about the incident. I feel like I unthinkingly created a controversy around an issue that was well on its way to being resolved. I am not ignorant or intolerant. I am guilty, however, of being unthinking and insensitive in my statement that day, and for that I humbly and sincerely apologize.
Scheduling and the calendar are complex issues. Aside from the actual instructional minutes the district is required to provide each year, there are teacher work and professional development days, the endings of quarters and semesters, International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement exam days, sports schedules, outdoor and experiential education days, assessment days, parent-teacher conference days, state-mandated testing days and myriad other competing concerns that drive the development of the school calendar. Its creation is a balancing act.
The district is committed to continuing its work with community members to address their concerns regarding the Jewish high holidays, and I am confident we will develop a satisfactory resolution. Why am I confident? Because that is what we all work so hard to do in the Aspen School District; we find balanced solutions that support all of our kids.
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