aspen middle school bus

Aspen Middle School students load the bus after school on Tuesday afternoon.

The Aspen School District Board of Education punted during its Tuesday meeting on voting to adopt a proposed new school-year calendar that would do away with the early dismissal schedule on Wednesdays and student assessment days, for instance.

That doesn’t mean the board members didn’t support Superintendent David Baugh’s proposal — but they did feel that an additional two weeks, until the next regularly scheduled meeting, would provide time to garner more buy-in from stakeholders.

That was a disappointment for Baugh, who presented the results of a survey polling 360 respondents in bolstering the reasoning for the changes. For instance, that survey didn’t find an overwhelming opinion either supporting or opposing discontinuing the early release Wednesdays, with 53.9% of respondents supporting ceasing that program and 46.1% in favor of keeping the existing schedule. 

The early release on Wednesdays for students created weekly professional development opportunities in the afternoon for staff — in the proposed new calendar, teacher workdays and those afternoon sessions would fold into 11 dedicated days for professional development.

“And some of the professional development days are kind of a blend still, of partly teacher work day and teacher professional development day,” Baugh said. “The important thing to remember is this is not carving something into stone; it’s a one-year [option]. We have some heavy lifting to do.”

Furthermore, the new schedule would build in an approximate 72 hours of additional instruction time for students — something Board President Suzy Zimet and Treasurer Katy Frisch in particular voiced their ardent support, noting the lost classroom hours due to COVID-19 restrictions.

But while Baugh highlighted potential difficulties the early release may have imposed on families — such as working parents having to find afternoon day care options once a week — Frisch did relay some trepidation that the elite-level competitive athletes who use the early-release schedule for practice or training may express if the new schedule was implemented.

“Obviously some concerns will come up from different community members about using the time Wednesday afternoon that a lot of kids use for competitive athletics and those types of things. I know it’s early, but can you speak to the theoretical plan for serious competitive athletes?” she posed.

To that, Baugh had good news: a $60,000 grant from Colorado Mountain College that the district was putting toward building out “high-flex classrooms.”

“One of the things we’ve learned is school doesn’t have to look the way it’s looked for the last 100 years. One of the things we’re working on is being more flexible while maintaining high levels of rigor,” he said.

For instance, a high school student may spend morning period in the brick-and-mortar school but then take advantage of asynchronous learning — such as recorded classes from the afternoon — later in the evening, after extracurricular activities, be they athletic or in the performing arts or even time spent in an internship, he explained.

“We are working on that; we are working on that aggressively. And so that would also dovetail nicely with the new calendar,” he said. “It’s consistent chunks of time over our school year, and it’s not as choppy ... as the early dismissal day on Wednesday.” 

As for the dedicated 11 professional development days, Baugh and assistant superintendent Tharyn Mulberry underscored during their presentations to the board that teachers and administrators alike face otherwise daunting curriculum challenges, between the goal of implementing kindergarten-through-12th-grade International Baccalaureate, or IB, tracks as well as more fully integrated literacy and mathematics programs.

But when it came time to vote, board members Dwayne Romero and Susan Marolt both expressed their desire to have the additional time before taking any official action. 

That’s not a bad thing, they both stressed.

“There’s always enough time to do the next best step. There’s always enough time for that. Every year, we have — not controversy, but we have discourse — on the assembly and the formation and the publishing of the calendar. This is good debate; this is discourse. This is what we’re supposed to do,” Romero said, adding that he felt the extra time will create the opportunity to take the proposal from “good to great.”

Marolt echoed that sentiment.

“The calendar has traditionally been a pretty big project to try to gather input from all our different stakeholders, so I know that’s a huge undertaking. And I also know you will not make everyone happy; that is absolutely a fact with the calendar. That is not what my expectation is,” she said. “I appreciate all that you’ve done so far.”

By the end of the evening, Baugh — acknowledging his big-picture desire to see the proposal pass — agreed to table the topic for two weeks but said the district would work on communicating the proposal outline to partner entities and parents to give ample time for any necessary adjustments.

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