Archived Ants
« ISSUE #138: ANT ALERT - A Housing Boondoggle 10/23/2017 | Main | ISSUE #136: Summer AmusemANT?! 7/28/17 »

ISSUE #137: ANT ALERT - School Board Election  10/18/17

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." -- Winston Churchill


Another Aspen election is upon us.  If you live within the boundaries of the Aspen School District, you will be receiving a mail-in ballot in coming days for the upcoming school board election on November 7.  This election is mail-ballot ONLY.  If you have questions, please contact the Pitkin County Clerk at (970) 920-5180 x5.
The Red Ant rarely wades into such murky waters as the school board elections, but this year's contest is different.  The race features 5 candidates for 3 seats on the 5-member board.  The three incumbents (Susan Marolt, Margeaux Johansson and Dwayne Romero) are running, as are two officers of the District Accountability Committee (DAC), Jonathan Nickell and Susan Zimet.  
The Aspen schools are the best of the best, right?  That's the word on the street.  Plus, they earn national recognition.  And based on this recognition, you, the voters and taxpayers, regularly approve their tin-cup rattling for funds, be it City sales tax extensions or new Snowmass Village property taxes.  And that's not to mention that the schools are the largest line item on your local property taxes.  But, as I have come to learn, all is not what it seems.
In 2010, notably, Aspen School District (ASD) was awarded its first "Accredited with Distinction" recognition by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), specifically because the average test scores in language arts, math and science were above the 90th percentile, and all grade levels (elementary, middle and high school) were rated as "exceeds" expectations in academic achievement.  Then, in 2012, Aspen High School was ranked #1 in Colorado by U.S. News and World Report.  
It was a great time indeed for the Aspen schools.  But now it's 2017 and the situation has changed. Dramatically. In short, things at the Aspen schools are not what they would outwardly appear.  And certainly not what you'd think.  And absolutely not what you're being told.  In fact, you won't see these disturbing metrics coming from the ASD.  The numbers presented recently in the public realm are quite different, and these "discrepancies," recently brought to the attention of the CDE, have caused serious (and ongoing) concern at the state level. 

As a result of this current controversy, the disturbing trend lines and their source data have become hot election topics, as well they should.  (Maybe it's the color, but The Red Ant prefers to compare apples to apples when looking at data, thus my sole focus is on data from the CDE where ALL Colorado schools - public, private and charter - report. Source documents are linked where noted.)
Notably, in 2017 (vs 2010):
  • The ASD overall average percentile rank in language arts, math and science, has dropped to just below the 76th percentile, a 14.5% decline.  (Source doc A)
  • The elementary, middle and high schools are now rated as only "meets" (vs. "exeeds") expectations in academic achievement.  (Source doc B)
  • During the 2010-2017 time period, the Aspen Community School, a charter school (elementary and middle school only), has made great improvements (56th percentile to 79th in elementary language and math rankings, and 87th to 93rd percentile in middle school language and math) that have earned it an "exceeds" rating from the CDE. (Source doc C)
  • In Aspen, a dramatic and alarming decline in performance has been at the elementary school level, dropping from 88th percentile to 65th on average, placing it in the bottom 32% of 896 elementary schools in the state.  As a result of these poor marks, AES is now required by the CDE to submit an "Improvement Plan."
  • Aspen High School is not ranked among the top 49 high schools in Colorado by U.S. News and World Report.
  • give grades between B and down to C- for all Aspen School District schools, except Aspen Community School which gets an A+ for middle school.  
  • School Digger ranks Aspen as the 50th school district in Colorado, down 22 spots since 2016.  
  • In 2017, Aspen School District DID receive enough points to again qualify for "Accredited with Distinction" recognition, however, a closer look reveals that compared to 2010, this year's rating is based less on outstanding academic results and instead on things like graduation rates, drop-out rates and college matriculation -- based on the CDE's accreditation point system. 
  • And note: The Aspen Community School is a semi-independent part of the Aspen School District, yet, as a charter school, it operates under different leadership and from a different playbook.  As such, its numbers are baked in to the evaluation of the district, clearly improving the public school's elementary and middle school ratings.
Another alarming trend is teacher turnover.  The numbers below speak for themselves and do nothing but illustrate that amidst increased spending, the culture (and salaries) for teachers in the Aspen School District is such that they're simply not sticking around.
Here are the teacher turnover numbers, again, from the CDE:
2010-2011    8.9%
2011-2012    10.2%
2012-2013    15%
2013-2014    20.9%
2014-2015    11.4%
2015-2016    15.3%
2016-2017    17.5% (the state average was 16.9%)

And, FYI, some interesting comparative salary info HERE.
This is likely the first you've heard of these disturbing trends.  It's no surprise.  The Aspen Schools are a pillar of our community.  They are not going to broadcast their shortcomings.  But NOW is the time for accountability. No more burying the facts and accepting poor results!  We MUST make significant and dramatic changes to the school board that will bring IMMEDIATE leadership, accountability and improvements to reverse the aforementioned declines and create a culture that embraces and prioritizes student-focused learning and teacher support.
Who better to do this than two officers of the District Accountability Committee?!  Did you even know we had such an oversight committee?  It turns out that this 10-member body has studied the data and trends, and made specific recommendations in April to the existing school board in its annual report on a Unified Improvement Plan, yet the board was resistant to the cold hard facts and the report was rebuffed.  We can no longer afford to simply rest on our 2010 and 2012 laurels!!  It's obviously not working.  Nor can we accept reports of an alternative reality from current leadership. Going along to get along, the acceptance of mediocrity and rubber-stamping the status quo is clearly and measurably detrimental to our students.
With all due respect to those who generously serve on the school board, given the very real challenges facing our schools, The Red Ant recommends that you vote for the two non-incumbents, Jonathan Nickell and Susan Zimet, to bring the knowledge and acumen honed from their roles on the DAC to the school board to immediately address these critical problems.
It begins with acknowledging that there are problems. Nickell and Zimet have proposed several actionable recommendations to address the specific issues:
    • Raise salaries (spending has increased but not salaries)
    • Improve the culture of discontent (Source: CDE TELL survey)
    • Prioritize and address housing needs
    • Provide more professional development and training
    • Adjust the curriculum (it's not aligned with tests anymore)
    • Confront the real metrics
    • Zero tolerance for or acceptance of mediocrity (we've taken our eyes off the ball)
    • Prioritize learning 
    • Create an academic subcommittee on the school board to better monitor student achievement
    • Raise goals (get back to at least 2010 levels)
    • Define metrics
    • Create a culture of accountability 
X     Jonathan Nickell
                      X     Susan Zimet
For additional information:

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend