The principal of Basalt High School thinks the school’s greatest strength also may be its greatest challenge: diversity.
Dave Schmid has been principal at Basalt High for three years and an educator for 44 years. He will leave his current job at the end of this school year to return to school leadership consulting and spend more time with his family, which includes two daughters and nine grandchildren.
Leaving Basalt High isn’t easy for Schmid because he believes it’s a unique and special place with an unusual mixture of students.
“The strength of the school is the diversity, which brings a richness to our school,” he said. “It’s also one of the challenges, to bring all those different students together, seeing their differences as a positive thing and then providing the rigor for all those kids to achieve what they want to achieve.”
When he spoke to Aspen Journalism, Schmid was in Denver with 50 children in grades nine through 12, all of whom are “English-language development” students and some of whom had just arrived from El Salvador.
“A lot of these kids have never been to a big city before, and I doubt they’ve ever been to a museum,” Schmid said as the kids enjoyed the swimming pool. “I know they’ve never been to a big aquarium.”
The following day, the group was scheduled to visit the Downtown Aquarium, where they would perform squid dissections, among other activities. The field trip was, of course, an exciting, outside-the-classroom experience, but Schmid believes the very act of attending Basalt High gives students a revealing glimpse of the outside world.
“We got 26 new students this year, mostly from Latin America and most of those from El Salvador,” he said.
Roughly 360 students attend Basalt High School, 60 percent of them Hispanic and 36 percent Anglo, according to the Roaring Fork School District website. Some of those kids come from households with two college-educated parents and a six-figure annual income. Other students live in crowded trailers in one of the midvalley’s various mobile-home parks and just recently escaped the violence and crime of El Salvador.
Taking this diverse group and creating a school culture isn’t easy, but Schmid feels the staff has made great strides in recent years. He’s also proud that more Basalt High School students, especially those from families without a college-going ethos, are looking beyond high school to college and/or careers.
“High school isn’t enough anymore if you really want to develop a career,” he said. “The biggest thing is making all the kids feel worthy. These first-generation kids — sometimes they don’t even think about (college), so our job is to make them feel worthy.”
Basalt High School college and career counselor Elizabeth Penzel agrees, and she gave Schmid credit for promoting that forward-looking culture at Basalt High School. She encourages students to explore all possible post-high school options, which can range from full-time work to four-year college, with a lot of other work, travel and educational options between.
“Because our population is so diverse, the big push for about half these kids is just to get them to think about college,” Penzel said. “I want the kids to know they have a choice.”
Schmid announced his departure in March, so the Roaring Fork School District has ample time to find his replacement. District officials are conducting a nationwide search and have stated that staff members, students and parents will have opportunities to interview candidates and provide feedback.
Aspen Journalism and The Aspen Times are collaborating on education coverage. This story was published in the newspaper on May 11, 2015.