Next year, there will be a new assistant principal in town. Basalt Middle School announced this week that former Aspen Middle School Assistant Principal Molly Tiernan will take over for BMS Assistant Principal Ty Hayden. Hayden, who has held the position for 16 years, will be retiring this June.
According to BMS Principal Jennifer Ellsperman, two dozen applications were submitted for the position. Over the past month, Ellsperman and Roaring Fork School District Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt whittled the pool down to 12 candidates who were interviewed online.
Four candidates made the final round and three spent a day at BMS recently meeting with staff, parents and students, as well as participating in learning walks throughout the school.
Afterwards, Tiernan was offered the position.
Tiernan is originally from St. Louis, Mo. She received a Master of Education degree in school counseling from Montana State University in 2003. She worked as a middle and high school counselor in Fairplay, Colo., before moving to Aspen Middle School, where she served first as a school counselor for 10 years and then as assistant principal after attaining her principal license in 2014. In 2018, Tiernan and her family moved to Mexico City, where she currently serves as both assistant principal and as a fifth-grade teacher in a dual-language International Baccalaureate elementary school.
“I’m trying so hard to learn Spanish,” she says. “A primary goal of moving here was to learn Spanish. I can understand a lot, but I’m still embarrassed to speak out loud. I have a lot of empathy for second language learners.”
Tiernan is no stranger to Basalt, where she lived while she worked in Aspen, and she's excited to become a larger part of the Basalt community now that her family no longer has to commute. The only thing that separates the home she’ll return to from Basalt Middle School is Arbaney Park, and she's looking forward to getting back to it.
“This year has really opened my eyes,” she says. “It’s been a phenomenal experience living in a tiny 10th-floor apartment in a super-polluted city of 22 million people. We’re so grateful to have that beautiful valley and all the wonderful people back home. I will never take the ability to run outdoors for granted again.”
While her two young daughters will be entering Basalt Elementary School’s dual language program and her husband will be heading off to teach at Carbondale Middle School, Tiernan is thrilled to join the Basalt Middle School team.
“I’ve been watching BMS’ progression over the past five or 10 years,” she says. “The reputation of BMS is that of a really kind, caring, relationship-based group of teachers and staff that are hyper-focused on meeting the needs of a diverse student population.”
Tiernan first met Ellsperman personally several years ago at an Aspen Valley Land Trust class she taught on creating sustainable outdoor education in the valley.
“I was so impressed by Jen,” Tiernan says. “She was really a person I took note of. I still can’t believe I get to work and learn with her.”
Tiernan hopes to bring those strengths in outdoor education, restorative practices and group facilitation to BMS. She also has extensive experience creating master schedules that are responsive to student needs. At Aspen Middle School, she hand-scheduled every student with teacher input and memorized those schedules as well.
“It’s so lame to be known for scheduling,” she jokes, “but it’s a huge intervention that can meet the needs of so many kids. It can make or break what’s going on in a school. My brain is into puzzles like that.”
According to Ellsperman, Tiernan is also known for building strong relationships with students and staff, which is a key part of the position. Tiernan will officially start her new role when she returns to the valley in August. She wants families to know that she is first and foremost an advocate for kids. Two philosophies that will be guiding her work at BMS are the motto “go slow to go fast” and the question she often poses in meetings, which is, “what’s best for students?”
“I’m really honored to have been chosen for this position,” she says. “I was so impressed with the group of kids doing the interviews. I’m excited to be working with all the teachers and parents that I met as well. I’m thrilled to be a part of literally my backyard community.”