February 17, 2015

Aspen Community School considers a name change

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As a new, 21st-century school building rises from the ground above Woody Creek, Aspen Community School officials are weighing the idea of a name change.

Bob Ward/Aspen Journalism

As a new, 21st-century school building rises from the ground above Woody Creek, Aspen Community School officials are weighing the idea of a name change.

As a new main building rises on the right, children at the Aspen Community School return to classes in the aging log building at left.

Bob Ward / Aspen Journalism

As a new main building rises on the right, children at the Aspen Community School return to classes in the aging log building at left.

WOODY CREEK — The A-word may be dropped from the Aspen Community School’s name.

For all of its branding power, the word “Aspen” hasn’t always served the K-8 school well. And with a new, 21st-century building under construction to replace the 40-year-old log structure in Woody Creek, school officials think it may be time for a new name.

“There’s a groundswell of renewal up here, so when it comes to the groundbreaking and the first year in the new school, it’s a great opportunity,” said Skye Skinner, executive director of Compass, the nonprofit organization that runs the public charter school.

Skinner was quick to add, however, that the discussion hasn’t left the Compass boardroom at this point. When asked for his thoughts, Principal Jim Gilchrist was aware of the idea but directed all questions to Skinner.

The idea is in its embryonic stages. Nonetheless, it points to the symbolic weight of the word “Aspen” and, in this case, its connotation of extreme wealth.

Skinner and others struggled for years to convince state officials in Denver that, despite having the word “Aspen” in its name, the Community School was not rolling in money to rebuild its aging campus. The school applied three times unsuccessfully for a grant under the Building Excellent Schools Today program in 2009, 2010 and 2011, before finally securing $4.2 million in 2012. The school had to raise $4.9 million itself to access the state money.

“Just the association with (the Aspen) name can stop a conversation in its tracks,” Skinner said.

Of course, she added, there are numerous positive connotations of the word “Aspen,” and she is not yet convinced that the name change is warranted.

“While Aspen is associated with glitz and wealth, it is also associated with rugged individualism, big thinking and the beauty of our natural surroundings,” she added. “In considering our name, the priority is less about ‘Aspen’ and more about being sure it reflects our school accurately.”

A new Aspen Community School gymnasium rises adjacent to the existing wood shop on the Woody Creek campus.

Bob Ward / Aspen Journalism

A new Aspen Community School gymnasium rises adjacent to the existing wood shop on the Woody Creek campus.

So what are the new names under discussion? Skinner mentioned “The Community School at Woody Creek,” a geographically precise name that would pair nicely with “The Community School at Carbondale” for the institution now called the Carbondale Community School (also operated by Compass).

To test the waters on the name change, Skinner recently emailed Aspen Schools Superintendent John Maloy to see if there were any objections at the district. Maloy shared the idea with the school board Feb. 9 and there were no strong feelings expressed. Board member Sheila Wills did point out that the Community School is part of the Aspen School District, and dropping “Aspen” from the name implies the school dislikes the affiliation.

Skinner said she’s sensitive to the perception of “reverse snobbery,” and Compass has yet to greenlight the idea.

“If our board decides this is something to pursue, the next step would be to form a committee,” she said.

Meanwhile, Skinner and others continue to beat the bushes for more contributions, since it will take an additional $4 million to complete the entire campus renovation. Classes in the new main building are expected to commence in fall 2015.

Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on schools coverage. The Times published this story on Feb. 17, 2015.

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