Superintendent says Aspen district’s reputation unfairly attacked
For its third consecutive public meeting, the Aspen School District’s board of education Monday was peppered with criticism and praise for Superintendent Dr. John Maloy, whose contract is up for its annual review.
Addressing his critics at the conclusion of comments made publicly about the state of the school district, the superintendent attempted to discredit some of the appraisals about his performance, chiefly those from a camp of parents calling for his ouster.
“I have feelings and emotions,” Maloy said. “I have to be honest and say it’s difficult to find something constructive in the messages that are attacking me personally and attacking my character, especially when I have never actually met or had a conversation with many of the people who are making these accusations.”
The past three board meetings — held Sept. 17, Oct. 1 and Monday — have seen a robust showing of parents, many of whom have expressed dissatisfaction with the superintendent’s approach toward leading the district. Among their allegations are a retaliatory leadership style undertaken by Maloy as well as some board members, a low morale among faculty members, questionable hires and early resignations by long-standing and well-respected teachers. They also have cited steady declines by the district and elementary, middle and high schools in the state school ratings.
“I want to again to acknowledge that I’m very sorry that there are parents and teachers who feel disenfranchised or wronged in some way and who feel that our schools are toxic, poisonous …” Maloy said, referring to language used by the Aspen Parents Action Committee.
That group formed after the superintendent and board President Sheila Wills said they were standing behind human resources director Elizabeth Hodges, who was disbarred and criminally convicted in Missouri for her questionable estate planning for a deceased couple while she was an attorney.
The committee also has launched an online petition drive for the removal of Maloy, whose fate rests in the hands of the five elected members of the board of education.
The board has been meeting privately this month, as it does on an annual basis, to discuss Maloy’s job performance and possible renewal of his rolling contract, which expires June 30, 2020. Those talks are scheduled to continue beginning at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday in an executive session “for discussions regarding personnel matters related to the superintendent’s annual evaluation,” according to a posted notice on the district’s website.
Maloy said he makes “hundreds of decisions everyday,” but he is not involved in such inner-school workings as what grades or teachers a student receives.
“I also feel that regardless what anyone believes about me, some of what is being said is damaging to the reputation of our district and is an unfair characterization,” the superintendent said. “Regarding retaliation, I’m not clear who I have retaliated against or what the circumstances were surrounding the alleged retaliation. My role as superintendent in a small rural district is no different than a large urban district, in that I do not interview, recommend for hire or evaluate teachers.”
He added that in his nine years as superintendant of Aspen schools, “I’ve brought forward only two requests for dismissals (of teachers) to the Board of Education.”
Maloy had supporters at the meeting, including Warren and Dr. Kathy Klug, the district’s former head of college counseling who now works there in an advisory role. They pointed to Maloy’s accomplishments during his nine-year stint as superintendent.
Former teacher Ruth Harrison said the school district no longer has an atmosphere of trust and open dialogue, where “teachers and board members used to talk often.” Harrison also dismissed criticisms leveled at the parents group as being hostile, threatening and negative.
“This is not a small group of entitled people, or I would not be involved,” said Harrison, urging the board to buy out Maloy’s contract.
Alyssa Shenk, who has two children in the school district, said she has volunteered at the schools for years, but “it wasn’t until this year that things came to light and I was approached by employees with issues.”
Shenk added some employees won’t speak candidly to school board members or human resources because the discussions “are not held in confidentiality.”
“A lot of people feel the school board is unapproachable and some people are stuck in their ways and don’t want to listen,” said Shenk, who is a Snowmass Village town councilor but asserted she was at Monday’s meeting as a parent.
Perhaps something positive will arise out of the heated and testy public discussion about the district, Maloy suggested.
“My greatest desire is to harness the passion of those on both sides of the issues and use that energy and a common desire for the district to be outstanding in every way for the good of our students, our teachers, our parents and our community,” he said.
Board members acknowledged that issues must be addressed, while Wills said she remains focused on the district hiring an outside third-party to examine the perceived problems at the district.
Board member Sandra Peirce introduced a three-page document to her colleagues called “Linkages: Key Communicators,” which aims to establish two-way communication between members of the board and community.
It would start with board members recruiting residents who would bring on-the-ground opinions, rumors and even public misperceptions about the district to the board. Each board member, for example, would reach out to five or six residents, all of whom would meet with the board as part of a roundtable gathering.
The onus would fall on the board to make it happen, Peirce said.
“This is board work, not superintendent work, not assistant superintendent work, not secretary work,” she said. “This is board work.”
Board member Susan Marolt questioned whether their selecting community members might send the message “that we only want to listen to the people we select.”
Peirce replied that the board members’ selecting residents for feedback is simply the beginning of the process to get outsiders involved.
“We’re not good at engaging the broader community, and we need to start somewhere,” Peirce said.