By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Back to School: What’s new in Basalt this year
Enrichment goes far beyond the classroom
Outdoor education
BMS will be piloting a new outdoor education experience in Marble, along with other enrichment opportunities. Teachers previewed the location on their first day back to work. Courtesy photo

Basalt Elementary School

Basalt Elementary School teachers will head back into the classroom this year with some new tools in their basket. As part of a district initiative, BES teachers spent their first two days back at work this week in an in-depth restorative practices professional development training provided by the organization ReSolutionaries. According to the company’s website, their 5R framework trains teachers to solve problems at their roots, build strong relationships, enhance empathy, make equity possible, and transform culture.”

“It’s a great foundational piece for all the work we’re doing in Crew, Second Step, character skills development, and behavior and social emotional learning,” said Principal Suzanne Wheeler-Del Piccolo. “This training will pull all those pieces together to give us a lens in which to work from and a kind and meaningful structure to prepare young children to be good people.”

BES also welcomes seven new staff members, many of whom have worked at BES previously in different capacities. A new dual language coordinator will help support the growing dual language program as well. Through a district grant, Courtney Rangel will work part time at BES and part time at Riverview, where she previously taught dual language kindergarten.

“It’s nice to have someone with deep experience in dual language programming to partner with us to help with professional development, teacher coaching, and program implementation,” said Wheeler-Del Piccolo.

Rangel will help evaluate if the BES program is meeting bilingual, biliteracy, and social-cultural goals with the high academic achievement benchmarks that the school has set for itself in that area.

BES also will offer a new orientation opportunity for families. While families have been asked to stop by the school and pick up their paperwork this week, the school also will be giving tours for any new or interested students and families on Friday, Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. If that time doesn’t work, families are welcome to call the front office and schedule a different time. Back to School Night will take place on Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m.


Basalt Middle School

The buzz word at BMS this year is enrichment — and not just in the classroom. In addition to receiving a new full-time mental health professional courtesy of Eagle County and the Aspen Hope Center, BMS also received grants over the summer.

The Snowmass Rotary provided $2,500 toward additional STEAM programming for all students, while the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Environment Foundation awarded additional funds to help low income students on outdoor education overnight trips. This year the school is exploring more affordable outdoor ed options closer to home. Eighth grade Crew classes will be piloting an overnight program to the Aspen Valley Land Trust’s Marble Base Camp. While current all-grade overnight trips tend to focus on team building, the Marble experience aims to be more personal and individual.

“We’re trying to build more of an appreciation for where we live along with fostering personal growth,” said Principal Jennifer Ellsperman. “The goal is not telling students they need to be someone who loves the outdoors but more to build a level of comfort with something unfamiliar, whether that’s turning off technology, cooking a meal, or being alone with oneself in the woods.”

Students will hike to and from the remote location at 9,000 feet, help prepare and clean up after all meals, sleep in platform tents, and have time for journaling, a campfire, a short solo experience, and Crew reflections on the experience.

“It’s intentionally not academic,” said Ellsperman. “Students – and families – are spending more time in electronics and less down time without it. It’s important to offer that experience to students and help them reflect and understand the importance of that time without technology.”

New Assistant Principal Molly Tiernan, who has extensive previous outdoor education experience, will help shape and build out the nascent offering.

Back on the BMS campus, enrichment classes will have some new offerings in areas like STEAM, environmental education, and music technology.

And speaking of music, BMS and BHS welcome new band director Andrew Zakerski. Former director Nick Lenio will continue to work part time with fifth, sixth and some high school students while also running Colorado’s Lead Guitar program at BMS and other schools around the state.

Zakerski comes to Basalt from Michigan State University, where he graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in music education. While at MSU he performed with a variety of ensembles including the MSU Drumline, Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, and a group called Salsa Verde. He has taught percussion and drum lines at the high school level and completed his student teaching at Fowlerville Middle and High School, teaching band and choir across the grade levels.

“I am really excited to be able to work with exciting music teachers and build on this already awesome program,” he said. “I hope to bring my own flair to the Basalt music experience that’s already so strong.”

Some of Zakerski’s flair involves his knowledge of music technology, which he’ll also be sharing with students.

“We’re excited to see how he finds ways to implement technology into the music classroom,” said Principal Ellsperman. “Combining his experience and enthusiasm and training with Nick’s is going to be an amazing partnering that can only help our students.”

BMS hosts several opportunities for students to familiarize themselves with the school, including a fifth grade family orientation on Aug. 15 at 5:30 p.m., a student-only fifth grade and new student orientation on Aug. 16 at 9 a.m., and Back to School Night on Sept. 10 at 6 p.m.


Basalt High School

Andrew Zakerski joins BMS and BHS as the new music director this year. Courtesy photo
Basalt’s High School’s focus for the new year is two-fold: improving instruction and improving attendance and school safety. Behind the scenes and with district guidance, Principal Peter Mueller and Assistant Principal Megan Baiardo have worked on tightening student schedules for higher levels of engagement and honing the teacher evaluation process. Nine teachers also attended AP training this summer. The school now offers 12 AP classes with a record number of students taking advantage of these college-readiness class options.

“We’ve exponentially grown our AP program over the last few years, and we’re making it more accessible to all our students,” said Assistant Principal Baiardo. “That’s really exciting because it’s preparing more students for college or a career after they graduate.”

On the climate and culture front, students can expect to see a couple big changes this year. The school completed its district bond initiative from 2016 by replacing all school furniture this summer, and Baiardo says, “everything is beautiful and new.”

Perhaps less beautiful to a teen’s ear but equally important to their education, the school will be introducing bells to mark class periods this year. The purpose is to improve attendance and tardiness issues and will be introduced in conjunction with more community communication about the impact of school attendance on student success.

Outside the school, while students will be met with a newly paved parking lot, parking also will come with a new permit system this year. The purpose of the parking permit system, according to Baiardo, is simply to extend the school’s Safe & Secure procedures to the parking lot. Permits costing $10 will be required for students to park, while seniors have the extra option to reserve a spot they can decorate for $50.

Additional offerings in the Experiential Ed program this year are geared toward ensuring accessible options for all 500 students. Approximately 20 options are now available and range from overnight experiences to local day experiences like learning to fly fish or working with local businesses. The expanded options help ensure all students can find a way to participate, especially now that the program is tied to the Crew grading system.

Along with a host of new teachers, Jason Santo joins the BHS team as the new athletic director, and families will be able to keep track of sports more this year through new Twitter and Instagram accounts. Freshman orientation kicked off this week with grade-wide hut trips, and all families are encouraged to attend BHS’s Back to School Night on Aug. 29 at 6 p.m.