Research shows what we all have experienced: great teachers have a greater impact on a student's education than any other factor. We need to support, retain, attract and develop our teachers. On average, ASD's teacher turnover is about 25% to 40% higher than districts that outperform in this area.
Aspen School District has the highest cost of living of any district in Colorado. At $91,758 it is 73% higher than the state average of $53,115 according to the Pacey Economics Survey. Several districts in the state with much lower costs of living now have starting salaries above $50,000 while ASD’s starting salary is $42,000.
Additionally, based on data developed with the Aspen Education Association, ASD has less-competitive salaries for experienced teachers as well. A teacher with 10 years of experience in the ASD could potentially make as much as $18,000 less when compared to Cherry Creek. The gap varies by district but this is also an issue that needs to be studied and addressed.
ASD currently has 50 housing units for ~220 teachers and staff. Unfortunately, only 24 of those units are occupied by classroom teachers, yet teachers make up the largest portion of the staff. There needs to be more housing and higher priority for teachers.
To ensure we have the best teachers we also need to invest in their development. The McKinsey study titled “How do the world’s most improved school systems keep getting better?” found that for schools to move from great to excellent performance they need “systems that give their teachers the time, resources, and flexibility to reflect upon and try out new ideas to better support student learning.”
ASD has the unique advantage of being a small district with the three main schools on one campus. However, we still often choose to operate as a traditional district with each school defining policies independently. To the detriment of our children, we lose the opportunity to closely align activities between buildings. One such area is curriculum with two examples below.
Math in middle school is taught in a more traditional manner with a standard curriculum. However, in high school, the methodology changes to Eureka Math, a system that challenges students to do math in a more non-traditional manner. Independently of which system is better, they should be aligned so that students are properly prepared to advance from one grade to the next.
Social and emotional elements of the curriculum are other critical areas for alignment. While it is encouraging that the elementary school and high school have both implemented programs, I would also support the middle school in implementing one as well and encourage that all of them be aligned.