Aspen Board of Education election results


Harper Axelman

A campaign sign for Jonathan Nickell, one of the candidates who was elected to the board, in Aspen on a recent afternoon.

The Aspen School District Board of Education is in the midst of hiring a new superintendent and two new members were recently elected to the board. These changes, along with other shifts occurring in the district, will involve the whole community.

On November 5th the Pitkin County voters elected two new representatives, Katy Frisch and Jonathan Nickell, to the ASD Board of Education. Candidates gave their closing statements to the community on November 4 and the polls closed at 7:00 pm on November 5th. Unofficial results were released on November 6th at 5:00 pm. Nickell won the election with 1,540 votes( 26.13%), and Frisch was a close second with 1,505 votes(25.54%). Jim Pomeroy took third place with 921 votes (15.63%) and John Galambos followed with 829 votes(14.07%). Bettina Slusar, who had 697 votes (11.83%), and Patsy Kurkulis with 401 votes (6.80%), concluded the election. The community was involved in this year’s election, with 36.15% of registered voters in Pitkin County turning in ballots this year, compared to 25.6% in 2017.

“What’s really cool is that we have so many people that entered into this election, six people, which is great,” said Dwayne Romero, current president of the ASD Board of Education. “You always want your community to be engaged and I think that having six candidates for two seats says a lot about the interest level of the community.”

Sandra Peirce and Sheila Wills will be leaving the board because their term limits have expired, and Nickell and Frisch will join the board as they move forward with their priorities such as attracting and retaining quality teachers, climate and culture, housing, and academic excellence.

What will change in the classrooms and in the district
One main focus of the district will be academics, due to the fact that according to the state standardized test last year, only 41% of third graders in the district meet or exceed reading standards for their grade.

Katy Frisch, one of the candidates who was elected to the board and has served many nonprofit boards such as AVSC and has a background in STEM learning, feels that the board needs to prioritize academics. “My reaction is this is a state of emergency type of thing, forty one percent for a school district like ours that has such a small frame and population,” said Frisch at a board forum on October 17. “This is horrific, this is something we need to fix right now.”

Nickell, another candidate who was elected on the board who attended Harvard University, and served on professional boards for 15 years, feels that this statistic could have been partly caused by the Common Core Standards change in 2010.

“They basically raised the bar for everybody and the whole overall district, the whole overall state,” said Nickell at the forum. “In that point in time Aspen is kind of a percentile rank kind of thing, how we were doing against everybody else; we declined more than everybody else.”

Nickell also added that the percentile in the high school and middle school increased after the decline in 2014.

“It was nice to see a recovery after being stagnated down there,” Nickell said.

In order to solve this problem, which is mainly at AES, the curriculum inside the classrooms may change to be more suited for the common core standards.

“I think it should be an all hands on deck solution,” Frisch said.

Dwayne Romero, the president of the board who currently has two students at AHS, said the changes in curriculum will be influenced by the board, but will mostly be independent based on the opinions in the individual classrooms.

“There will be a lot of guidance and input obviously from our teacher community on those types of questions,” Romero said.

Hiring a new superintendent
Along with continuing to focus on academics and other priorities, the board has another change coming up: hiring a new superintendent to lead the district. The current interim superintendent is Tom Heald, who filled in after John Maloy retired last June. The board began the process of searching for a new superintendent last April by hiring HYA Associates, a search firm from Chicago. The next steps in the process will begin in the upcoming months and will start by forming a group to define the values that the ideal candidate would have. The group will be led by the board, but will also include members from the community and the administration. It will ensure that the district gets as much input as possible when searching for candidates. The search firm will then use the input and information provided by the group to find as many candidates as possible that fit the profiles, and it will all end in the final hiring process.

Frisch feels that completing this procedure should be the first priority of the board. “There is nothing more important than good leadership, and we need to make that progress to find our next leader of our organization, our district.” said Frisch to the  Aspen Public Radio on November 5.

For the long term strategic plan, along with hiring a new superintendent and academic excellence, the board will focus on attracting and retaining good teachers, being transparent, improving housing for staff, increasing community communication, and improving issues with the climate and culture in the district. Overall, the board hopes to improve in all areas of the district and use as much community input as possible.

“I’d like to say that at the end of that entire process, we want to feel and understand that it was a consensus led decision, and we found the best fit, either she or he or whoever that is, to lead us for the next decade and beyond,” Romero said.