Dan Blumberg

Days after the Aspen Education Association presented administrators and school board members with a petition boasting more than 160 signatures from teachers, staff and stakeholders, the organization representing educators sent a release Friday applauding the official response.

“The members of the Aspen Education Association are so glad that the Aspen School District has listened to the voices of our membership in our quest to safely return to in-person instruction,” the release touted. “We are excited by the announcement from Dr. Baugh on Thursday evening that the district has agreed to the demands listed in our petition. The outcome of several conversations were as follows:

“Science based guidelines, developed jointly with the Pitkin County Public Health, to help solidify the decision on when the school district should conduct in person, hybrid, and digital instruction

“A commitment to requiring social distancing for the health and safety of staff and students.

“Clear cleaning protocols

“Weekly meeting with AEA leadership to evaluate the model and make adjustments as necessary.”

It’s the latest in the saga that has become hammering out a plan for returning students to in-person learning in the district. While all parties have expressed a desire and willingness to communicate with one another in the months since the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated students and teachers shifting to virtual classrooms, the process hasn’t gone as smoothly as anyone, on any side, has hoped.

AEA and the administration leaders met Wednesday afternoon after a contentious school board meeting Monday evening that lasted more than four hours.

But, as of Nov. 2, at least one concern — in addition to the agreements laid out by AEA Friday afternoon — is definitely going to be addressed.

“We DO NOT have an HR director, and it is not acceptable for other [administration] to be spreading, acknowledging and supporting factually incorrect information with regard to medical accommodations. These are very serious HR issues,” wrote one teacher in their reasoning for signing the petition presented Monday.

Dan Blumberg is optimistic about his new role but not naive about the challenges ahead, he said Friday.

“I don’t want to downplay the severity of that,” he said of the dynamic between school staff and administrators. “I think if there’s an impasse between the two, that requires a lot of attention — but certainly not something I’m coming into blind.”

That said, he’s not making any presumptions, either.

“I think it's probably a bit premature for me to comment — I want to spend more time once I hear from people directly about what the climate is like and what people’s perceptions are,” Blumberg continued.

While he emphasized a need to listen first, Blumberg is no stranger to the field and is up for the specific challenges facing the Aspen School District as it continues to navigate reopening amid a pandemic. Most recently, he served as assistant vice chancellor, human resources operations, at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina. As ECU’s deputy chief human resources officer, Blumberg identified and implemented new business strategies and processes that supported a culture of collaboration and diversity. He previously served as ECU’s director, human resources information systems, where he oversaw enterprise-wide human resources projects and designed and deployed technology-based systems and analytic tools.

“When COVID hit, we spent a lot of time figuring out how we were going to manage that situation,” he said. “There were some real concerns that if we stayed remote for too long, a lot of the revenue we counted on would really leave us in a worse spot. But at the end of the day, we spent a good bit of time trying to figure out the best balance — folks were not necessarily forced to come into the workplace, but understanding that there were certain courses, certain activities that folks were needed on the campus. We did a lot of surveys figuring out who was comfortable, who wasn't.”

And while the reopening plan — while monitoring COVID-19 caseloads locally and continuing to partner with the public health department — continues to dominate immediate plans, Blumberg has allowed himself to envision a post-COVID world, too.

“My background is very much in business process and business administration,” he said of his “back-to-basics” approach to human resources. “There’s a lot of talk in the HR profession these days of being a strategic partner, and there’s all these buzzwords going around; however, I think the pitfall that a lot of organizations run into is folks put the cart before the horse, and they don’t really nail down those things they need to do consistently well before they can do that strategic work.”

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.