Aspen parents group meets in private to discuss issues with school district
Parents of Aspen school students met privately Tuesday in what was intended to be a discussion about unaddressed issues they believe are plaguing the school district and eroding teacher morale.
Among those in attendance were two elected members of the Aspen Board of Education, according to Anna Zane, who along with fellow parent Marla Butler organized the gathering. Zane said the meeting lasted approximately two hours; she would not identify the two school board members in attendance.
The meeting was held at Butler’s residence and was closed to the media as well as school administrators. Zane is a former member of the District Accountability Committee; Butler sits on the board of directors of the Aspen Education Foundation, which raises money for Aspen schools.
Zane said reporters were not allowed to attend the event so that participants could openly speak about the school district issues on their mind.
“The reason this meeting was organized in this fashion is because so many district employees have expressed a fear of retribution if they speak publicly,” she said. “We want to provide everyone with a safe environment to share their concerns.”
She added: “We’re hoping to provide a forum of communication for parents and teachers to freely express their feelings about the climate at the Aspen School District.”
The Butler-Zane group is called the Aspen Parent Action Committee and represents the latest incarnation of parent activists aiming for change at the school district. Waning faculty morale has been an ongoing issue at the school district, and was one of the hot-button topics in the November school board elections.
Zane said the committee received approximately 100 emails expressing interest in the meeting, which drew what she called a “diverse group” of individuals with ties to the school district and community.
One of the emerging themes was fears of the district losing teachers, Zane said.
“A lot of stories were shared and we know there are many more stories to be told,” she said.
Another meeting will be held at a private residence Friday, she said.
Questions also have been raised about the leadership of superintendent John Maloy, and Zane said some of the discussion centered on his background in Indiana.
The school board in October renewed Maloy’s contract through June 30, 2020. The contract is reviewed and subject to renewal each year, allowing the superintendent a one-year extension for each successful year on the job.
Maloy, in an email sent to The Aspen Times on Sunday regarding the parents meeting, said he would prefer open discussions about the school district.
“As always, members of the Board of Education, building and district administration, and teachers would continue to welcome the opportunity to meet with any individual or group of parents to foster an open and honest dialogue for the benefit of all students in our schools,” he said.
Hours before the meeting, the Aspen School District issued a statement regarding its improved standing with the Colorado Department of Education, two weeks after the Aspen Board of Education discussed the findings at its Aug. 28 meeting.
Both the elementary and high schools, due to a higher participation rate in the CDE’s latest round of standardized tests, fared better in the exams, the district said.
“As opposed to years past, this year the high school had more success with students sitting for the tests, and for those who did not sit for the test, the parents provided evidence of their child not participating, which could be collected as evidence for the state,” the statement said. “It worked. The state rated the high school as ‘Performance’ (the highest rating possible).
“Last year the Aspen Elementary School was placed on an improvement cycle because of low growth in English language arts. But this year the school improved by 39 percent which elevated the school from ‘Improvement’ and into the ‘Performance’ category.”
As a whole, the school district still has an “Accredited with Distinction” rating.
Assistant superintendent Tom Heald, in a prepared statement, said, “While we continue our work toward improvement for all of our student populations, we are thankful for the community’s help with the successful opting in process. The fact that the district retained the highest accreditation granted by the state is due to hard work and a commitment from our engaged community.”
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