Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why Charter Schools Close in Colorado

Eddie wants to know more about charter school closures in Colorado after writing about a report from the Center for Education Reform (CER) about charter school closures. According to the report, about 15% of public charter schools have closed for a variety of reasons.

The CER report says that most charter school closures are within the first five years of existence. This brings up a number of issues:

1. Should the charter school application have been approved in the first place? Was there a solid plan in place that was led by competent individuals?

2. Was the educational model based on success in other schools or was it an experiment in process?

3. Did the school's financial situation cause failure?

Sometimes charter school authorizers approve a new charter school application for all the wrong reasons. It could be political pressure or simply wanting to give the applicant a chance. Whatever the motivation, there are two key issues to consider and that is 1) is the plan a good plan? and 2) are the founders capable of carrying off the plan?

This is why the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) recommends interviewing the founders to ensure they have the capacity to start a new charter school. This includes both the passion to put in the daunting hours and the expertise to either know, or be willing to learn, what's required. Many capable parents have started charter schools in Colorado, but that doesn't mean anyone can do it. It takes a very high level of commitment and often the rewards are minimal.

The second key consideration in why charter schools fail is their educational program design. One of the most common mistakes is designing an educational program that doesn't match the needs of the students the school ultimately serves. Many founders have over-estimated what their students will be able to do upon entry and were overwhelmed with the amount of remediation that was required in order to accomplish the curriculum. Almost every new charter school teacher has been faced with the dilemma of what level to teach to and how to deal with the myriad of ability levels within a grade level classroom. Charter school authorizers need to ensure the applicant's plan is solid and covers all ability levels. Especially in the early years, the wide variety of needs is the most taxing on a charter school staff.

Third, the "death spiral" can hit a charter school at any time. This comes when enrollment slips about 10-20 students causing cut-backs in the budget and probably less programming and fewer teachers. The following year it's a little worse and at some point, either the authorizer or the charter school leaders say it's time to close the school. This is often attributed to being a financial cause for school closure, but it's more than just financial reasons. Finances and enrollment are very closely tied together since schools are funded on a per student amount.

In Colorado, 27 charter schools have closed to date. Of those, 16 have closed for financial/enrollment reasons. A handful (including Clayton, Ute Creek, and Sojourner) closed voluntarily. In other words, their governing board made the decision to close. Most are forced closures. Colorado Visionary Academy and Colorado Distance and Electronic Learning Academy are two examples of charter schools that closed after unsuccessful appeals to the State Board of Education.

Closing a school is never easy. Over the years, I've personally wrestled with when a charter school should close because I agree with the philosophy that a public school (regardless if it's a charter school or district-operated school) should close if it isn't serving students well. I've seen schools like Life Skills Center of Denver change dramatically with a little assistance. And I've watched Northeast Academy in Denver undergo major changes since it was identified in Turnaround Status.

From years of wrestling with these issues of what factors indicate a charter school should close, I've taken away two essential questions: 1) who carries the heart of the school? and 2) do they have the capacity to make the needed changes? Detailing that is a blog post in itself!

Getting back to charter school closures in Colorado, charter school contracts must be at least five years in order to see if the data supports a new charter school's closure. Many charter schools struggle in the formative years as they remediate students and coalesce around a new staff. There should be at least three consecutive years of data examined before a decision to close is made. Further, there must be a fair and transparent process. Authorizers need to have frank and honest discussions and document the process and discussions in order to ensure that everyone is effectively communicating. Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) are an "annual report" and an ideal place to document lack of academic progress.

Charter school closures need to happen in order for the charter school philosophy that "a charter school should only remain open if it's serving students well and able to operate in a fiscally sound manner" can play out.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Management Companies and the State Board of Education

You'll notice that I've always been objective in writing about charter school appeal hearings before the State Board of Education when I was an employee of CDE. Now that I'm no longer an employee, I feel compelled to write about the appeal hearing heard by the State Board earlier this month.

Disclosure: I have organized a company, Charter School Solutions, LLC, with Brad Miller, the Falcon School District attorney and Dave Martin, the former Board President of the Falcon 49 School Board. I did not participate in the appeal case, however; Brad has his own law practice.

I was at both appeal hearings. The first appeal hearing was largely about management company issues, specifically:
  • has the charter school governing board done due diligence in selecting a management company based on their merits;
  • does the charter school board have their own legal counsel, separate from the management company's legal counsel;
  • are there any "poisonous pills" in the management agreement, for example a provision that the board is left with a "charter in name only" if the two parties separated; and
  • does the charter board have say in the selection, evaluation or termination of the principal.
The second appeal wasn't heard within the statutory timeline as both parties agreed to waive the deadlines. The Falcon board didn't ever hold a public hearing and vote on the State Board's remand order because they contended there was never a party to negotiate with, meaning the charter school board wasn't credible since they didn't have their own legal counsel and were still operating under the auspices of Imagine, Inc.

I thought Ed News' Todd Engdahl, who was also at the hearing, had a shallow understanding of the dynamics of what transpired during the appeal hearing. In his article, he wondered why the Falcon school board was taking issue with Imagine, Inc. when they already had one Imagine charter school in the district and had previously approved Pioneer Imagine. What changed within that time period?

Everything! Colorado now has a Standard Application, Checklist for Completeness and Review Rubric and Sample Contract Language, both documents shed a wealth of information on management company issues that weren't available even two years ago. In particular, the sample contract language publication has an "ESP Guidelines" (Education Service Provider, the generic term for all management companies) that details what should, and should not, be in management company contracts with the charter school board. Both of these documents were created through a collaboration of the state Charter School Institute, Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Colorado Department of Education.

The world of charter schools is ever-evolving. Another important factor in the case was that the charter school board wanted to also govern the new school, Pioneer Imagine. Since they're also the governing board for Imagine Classical at Indigo Ranch (the other Imagine charter school in Falcon) the plan was to govern both simultaneously.

A number of charter school governing boards in the state have multiple charters: Denver School of Science and Technology, West Denver Prep, SOAR, KIPP, James Irwin Charter Schools, Jefferson Academy Charter Schools, and Compass Montessori, just to name a few. But during the Pioneer Imagine appeal hearing, State Board member Elaine Berman said she'd never heard of a charter school board overseeing more than one charter. Interesting question, given that Denver (her district) has numerous situations where a single governing board oversees multiple charters. Moreover, having multiple charters has become increasingly common because school district authorizers can approve a "known commodity" when they know the educational program and the charter school's leaders.

Colorado is truly in a different place in regard to charter schools. Two years ago the state was dealing with the Cesar Chavez Academy fiasco and the charter school community responded with improving its own systems. Now charter school authorizers routinely ask for information about management companies in charter school applications. Because this application component was absent in the statute, many districts had to go back and ask for information or simply do without, in making a decision on the charter school application. Now authorizers are encouraged to fully research the company's financial standing, operations and academic accomplishments before a charter school application is approved. Further, the Sample Contract Language and ESP Guidelines stipulate that the authorizer needs to approve of the management company's performance agreement before the charter contract is executed and that the provisions must be in alignment with the state-recommended ESP provisions.

Yes, Colorado is in a different place now that we have state-level model documents that establish a standard for what is acceptable in charter school applications and contracts. Since these documents were created through a variety of expertise and representing a variety of interests, it's time the State Board translates these new standards to their appeal hearing decision-making.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Charter School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts

Mathematica Policy Research and the Center on Reinventing Public Education recently published a study on Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), or nonprofit management companies. The report, titled Charter School Management Organizations: Diverse Strategies and Diverse Student Impacts was written to shed more light on these companies that are replicating in record numbers. Below are some highlights from the report:

  • Attracting substantial philanthropic support, CMO schools have grown rapidly from encompassing about 6 percent of all charter schools in 2000 to about 17 percent of a much larger number of charter schools by 2009 (Miron 2010).
  • CMOs represent approximately 20 percent of the approximately 5,000 charter schools operating nationally, up from 12 percent in 1999.
  • About 80 percent of all CMO-run schools operate in Texas, California, Arizona, and Ohio.
  • About 74 percent of all CMO schools eligible for our study are located in cities.
  • Compared to their host districts, the middle school student population served by the average CMO in our study includes a greater percentage of minority and low-income students.
  • CMO charter school principals report that their teachers receive more coaching and are more likely to be paid based on performance.
  • Like public charter schools as a whole, the report finds that student achievement results are mixed with findings going both positive and negative. Keep in mind that the types of schools and educational programs also vary significantly.
The initial positive impacts of CMO-operated schools probably is more indicative of the type of program they operate rather than that they are CMO-operated. Schools with schoolwide behavioral expectations and more teacher coaching show more positive results. These findings could be generalized to all new, mission-driven schools, not just those operated with a common governing board, educational design model or back office services.

As the trend continues to be on replicating systems that have already demonstrated success, research such as this study will provide helpful information to charter school authorizers that are considering whether or not to approve new charter schools.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What Works in Replication

A new report, mapping the replication landscape in Colorado, has just been released. Dr. Dick Carpenter and Krista Kafer published, Charter School Replication in Colorado, for the CO Dept of Education.

While all sets of multiple schools under a single governing board or charter can be called replication schools, the structure for how these schools operate and share services can vary significantly. Education Service Providers (ESPs) is the term for both for-profit education management organizations (EMOs) and nonprofit charter management organizations (CMOs). CMOs tend to be local, either within the same geographic region or within a single school district. Many EMOs operate in multiple states.

Colorado has both EMOs and CMOs. The recent trend has been for more CMOs, however. Particularly, this is happening in Denver where West Denver Prep, KIPP and Denver School of Science and Technology are operating multiple campuses with many more planned. These schools operate under the umbrella of a single governing board. Most have their own charter contract, but it's nearly identical to those of their other schools. Quite often, students flow between the associated schools.

But are students in these types of related structures doing any better than grassroots startup charter schools? Not yet says the Center of Reinventing Public Education and Mathematica Public Policy Research report on CMOs. Future blogs will dig into this report further.

Why would policy makers and charter school authorizers favor existing charter schools that want to add additional campuses? They're a known commodity. Decision makers know what the new charter school will look like and how they perform, it's not simply someone's "vision," like a new charter school application.

Since U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is encouraging more charter school replications to address the lack of quality options for students in urban areas, we'll probably be seeing many more replications in Colorado. The question will be in how these existing charter schools can bring their schools to scale and if quality remains the same in the additional schools.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Ross Montessori in Carbondale

This week I visited Ross Montessori School in Carbondale. The school opened in 2005 after being one of the first two charter school applications approved by the then-new Charter School Institute.

Ross Montessori's Head of School is Sonya Hemmen who is new to the school this year, but has extensive experience in public education. The school offers preschool through 8th grade to about 240 students.

Ross Montessori applied for, and was awarded the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant for capital needs. The school asked for a waiver from the $5 million matching amount that was not granted, essentially making the award unusable. Currently the school is in a series of modular building on a rented piece of land on the edge of Carbondale.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What is Quality Authorizing?

The State Board of Education has been considering what makes a quality charter school authorizer in their consideration of principles and standards for authorizers in state board rule. It's probably safe to say that everyone agrees that charter schools can be better if they're in an environment that allows them to flourish rather than a contentious environment where the charter school is continually fighting for autonomy.

It's also probably safe to assume that everyone agrees it's appropriate to set a high bar for charter school performance and expect student academic achievement to be the top priority for evaluating charter school performance.

But when does that high bar go too far? And is having those high expectations realistic if it impacts students who are being served better than if they were in district-operated schools? It's not fair to look at what is quality authorizing without also looking at what is NOT quality. Too much of a "good" thing isn't always a good thing!

And now that the State Board of Education is considering the adoption of rules regarding charter school authorizing, who decides if an authorizer is being fair or not? It's easy to know there are going to be differing opinions about what is "quality."

The state rules under consideration don't come with a regulator. There isn't going to be anyone going around and evaluating authorizers. It's up to each authorizer to rate themselves on the new standards and principles and make their own case.

What can charter schools do to improve their situation in light of these authorizer standards? First, engage in discussion with the authorizer. Using the standards, discuss each one and talk about what is the evidence that the authorizer is, or is not, demonstrating quality. Talk about what "quality" means in these discussions. Second, use this platform to improve practices. If, through discussion, both the authorizer and the charter school leader decide transparency is a key to quality, then the charter school leader should show a good faith effort by being more transparent and engaging in more communication. Sometimes that can be accomplished simply by copying the authorizer on an email.

What should charter school authorizers do with these new standards? Take an honest look at how practices -- and people -- in the district send a message to the district's charter schools. Sometimes the entire environment can change simply by a focus on professionalism (rather than contention) and the demeanor of the staff member that communicates with the schools. Most contentious environments could be alleviated with a few simple changes. That's not to say that everyone will agree on how situations should be handled, but there isn't any need to be deceptive, retaliatory or just plain mean -- ever!

Throughout the state, these new charter school authorizer standards should drive meaningful discussions about the role of authorizers in the charter school environment. Historically, several school districts in Colorado haven't really understood what proper oversight and monitoring included. These standards will drive discussions that are likely to change things dramatically. But everyone involved should keep in mind that decisions should be made based on the needs of students, not adults!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Student Beliefs About Their Capacity to Learn

Children develop a "self-belief" about their ability to learn that impacts their motivation to learn when it becomes difficult. According to Dweck, students develop one of two theories about themselves: 1) entity theory: there's a finite amount of brain capacity and there are some things people cannot learn; or 2) incremental theory: as one learns, the capacity to learn more increases.

Children believe they either can, or cannot, learn based on their belief early in life and it rarely changes over time. Some children develop the belief system in regard to specific subject area, such as math. They may believe that they can persevere and improve their ability in literacy, but believe they just cannot learn math, no matter what they do.

Imagine the impact elementary school teachers would have on their students if they instilled in them a belief that if they persevere, they can learn anything and become anything they want to be! This belief is influenced by what teachers say to students, but also what parents instill in their children. In the classroom, breaking a difficult objective down in to do-able pieces allows students to gradually overcome the challenge. Students learn strategies for overcoming challenging problems. In turn, they develop a confidence that they can figure out anything, if they try hard enough.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Don't Believe It!

This new report on charter school market share done by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools says that Colorado's Adams County School District 50 has the highest percentage of charter schools in the state. I don't believe it.

Adams 50, in Westminster, has one charter school: Crown Pointe Academy. Ricardo Flores Magon Academy, authorized by the state Charter School Institute (CSI), sits within the Adams 50 School District boundaries, but their students would be counted with CSI and not Adams 50. There's no way 2,770 students (22%) are in charter schools in Adams 50!

What does make sense is that the Brighton 27J school district is at 19%. The Brighton district has five charter schools and has creatively used charter schools to address community needs. Rather than going to the electorate for bond resources, the district has put charter schools in new communities in need of a school.

Closely following Brighton, at 18%, is the Falcon School District that serves the east side of Colorado Springs. Falcon has Banning Lewis Ranch (operated by Mosaica Education, Inc.), The Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch (operated by Imagine, Inc.), Rocky Mountain Classical Academy and Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning. In addition, the Falcon School District has become an Innovation district, another indication that they seek creative solutions to address needs within the district.

You may wonder where the large school districts in Colorado fall in this report. Denver Public Schools (DPS) made the list with 11%, but the other large districts didn't even make the list. The two largest districts in the state are Jefferson County R-1 (~88,000) and DPS (~83,000). DPS has 34 charter schools, whereas Jeffco only has 13.

It's important to note that the NAPCS report is meant to highlight the districts that have used charter schools for the majority of their students. These include New Orleans, the District of Columbia, Detroit, and Kansas City, MO. A full 70% of students in New Orleans are in public charter schools.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What's Wrong With Not Knowing What You Don't Know?

The majority of charter school governing board members in Colorado are well-meaning parents who get involved in their child's education by serving on the charter school's governing board. The rest are community members who are giving of their time for altruistic reasons or simply to build their resume. Either group of people, while attempting to do their very best, often don't even know to look out for things they don't know about.

Take for example, a mother who serves as a Board President and the board decides to terminate a Principal. Soon her children are being cussed at on the playground and her children's classmates are saying mean things about her to her kids. On the surface it would be easy to try and defend the Board President's position with a strong rationale for why immediate removal of the Principal is the best thing for the entire school. But the legal liability of talking about personnel issues leaves the Board President without anything to say--to her children or her (former) friends who side with the Principal.

While drastic experiences like this can be a great learning opportunity, it's best to be able to reason through similar scenarios before they happen. This is what the Board President's Council is about. The next meeting is this Friday, Oct. 21st, 9 to 11:30 a.m. at the Colorado School District Self-Insurance Pool.

For any type of personnel issues the best response is no response. It's impossible for board members to explain their reasoning, which is exactly what upset parents push for. It's even more difficult when the upset parents are friends of the volunteer charter school board member. In fact, the board member's family often suffers from the thankless job of being a volunteer board member.

This potential conflict for parents is why many states have predominantly "professional boards" without any parental involvement or else only one or two parents on the board. But board members who aren't prepared for a personnel termination can easily get the charter school into trouble by talking about the issues for a termination.

There's a Board President's Handbook that every charter school Board President should keep handy for easy reference. It's a compilation of years of questions that have been posed by Board President's and ideas for how to address various scenarios.

Wondering how to cut off a disgruntled parent who takes up all of the Public Comment period at every meeting? Is the meeting getting heated and you don't know how to get the board to return to the issue at hand? Do you think your school is doing just fine, but then find out the school's School Performance Framework (SPF) is in the Priority Improvement category? These and many more practical resources are in the Board President's Handbook.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Whose Standards are they Anyway?

This week a group of charter school authorizers met for their regular quarterly meeting. These authorizers are the school district or Charter School Institute (CSI) staff who work with charter schools.

The authorizers group discussed the authorizer standards currently being considered by the State Board of Education as a result of a mandate in HB 10-1412, which created an advisory committee to make recommendation on these standards. In discussing the standards, the group identified what evidence would demonstrate that standard and then what was quality and what was not quality. Evidence oftentimes includes financial statements, charter contracts, accreditation documents, board policies and past actions. The philosophy for quality charter school authorizing will vary in each district. Further, there is quite a range among the 62 school districts with charter schools: Denver has 34, Jeffco 13, and CSI 19.

The discussion about charter school authorizer standards became very interesting when what was quality was compared to what was not quality. Many times there is a very fine line between being a good authorizer and allowing a charter school to operate autonomously versus micromanaging or simply being too "hands off." This dilemma is inherent in authorizers' daily discussions. It's easy to move the line when a charter school is experiencing difficulties and asks for additional assistance. However, the charter school philosophy is to let charter schools operate on their own and if they fall flat on their face, so be it. But the traditional public education mentality is that once a school is open, almost nothing should cause it to close.

Moreover, many authorizers are unsure their charter schools can actually operate successfully (in compliance and financially sound) without providing regular assurances to the authorizer. For example, some districts have a philosophy for regular monitoring that could be construed as being a mother hen and actually trying to control the charter school. Where is the healthy balance in that relationship? Especially when every authorizer-charter school relationship is unique?

That's why it's important to flesh out these authorizer standards to the point of what is quality and what is not quality. Regarding governance, should an authorizer require that they approve any changes made to the charter school board's bylaws? Would there ever be a situation where the school district board would prohibit a specific individual from serving on a charter school board? Should the authorizer approve charter school board policies before they are finally adopted? Each of these questions are in the "shades of gray" category between what is and isn't indicative of a quality charter school authorizer.

It's easy for authorizer to take the standards to a wholly different level -- too far! If a district takes a good thing too far, is it still a good thing? Or a bad thing? Is it even possible, in regard to the standards, to identify when a district crosses the line and has taken it too far?

Sometimes it is possible to distinguish that line. Authorizers should not be determining, or rejecting, who should be on a charter school governing board. But it's happened in Colorado several times. Charter school board bylaws should be in the charter school application and approved by the authorizer board and then it should be delineated in the charter school contract if making a change to those approved bylaws would be considered a material change and therefore requiring district approval. This can be handled either way, and is across the state's authorizers. Many districts require their charter school boards to submit new or revised board policies to the authorizer. Primarily this is done so that the district is cognizant of what the charter board is doing and can help ensure the charter board isn't doing something that's not aligned with federal or state laws or regulations.

Eventually, through enough discussion, a draft of these authorizer standards will be distributed. It's certain these standards will be modified over time and as more experience and lessons learned are gained to provide additional insight. In the meantime, the discussion among authorizers is, in itself, invaluable!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Glade Park Charter School Visit

Last Thursday I visited Glade Park Charter School for the first time. The school opened just two years ago, as a district-operated school, but then faced closure due to budget cuts. Community members and parents quickly wrote a charter school application and received approval from the Mesa County 51 Board of Education to operate as a charter school beginning this school year.

Glade Park sits atop the Colorado National Monument. The drive up to Glade Park is spectacular, to say the least. Glade Park has a community store and the charter school. The school's building is a modular unit with two classrooms.

The charter school has two teachers and a part-time administrator. The school uses a Project Based Learning model educate their 22 students in grades K-5.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Get Involved in School Board Elections

The odd numbered years is when Colorado residents have the opportunity to vote for their school district's board members. Throughout the state many candidates are running for school board. Now is the time to talk to them about their position on school choice and charter school issues. There are more than 170 charter schools operating in Colorado, which means many of these candidates have at least one charter school in their district.

For more information on how to get involved, check out the Colorado Charter Advocacy Network.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Friday is Constitution Day

September 16th is Constitution Day. This is the day when the federal government says every public school in the nation should teach about the U.S. Constitution. Several sites are offering suggestions for how to teach the Constitution.

Friday, September 9, 2011

State Board Begins Process to Adopt Charter School Rules

Next Wednesday, Sept. 14th at 10:30 the State Board of Education will hear a report on the state evaluation of online schools and the final report from the HB 10-1412 advisory committee on charter school authorizer and charter school standards. The presentation begins the process for the State Board to act on the 1412 recommendations.

The meeting is audio streamed and available here.

In October the board will consider the first draft of rules and HB 1412 mandates they must be adopted by January 15, 2012.

There will be a meeting at the Department of Education on Monday, Sept. 26th, 9:00 a.m. for anyone with comments or questions about the proposed rules.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Union Colony Asks for Another Charter

Union Colony Preparatory School in Greeley is asking for a new charter in a neighboring school district, the Thompson School District. After years of operating a secondary school in Greeley, the school wants to expand and open a new campus.

Pat Gilliam is a founder of Union Colony, which began when several teachers formed and asked the district to form a charter school. The school operated very closely with the district for quite some time and only gained more autonomy in the last few years. Previously the district referred to them as an "internal" charter school, but that changed during the school's last renewal.

Now a developer has committee five acres to a new school in the Loveland area (within the Thompson School District boundaries). The proposed school is for K-12 grades. This second campus would operate with a cooperative agreement with the first Union Colony school so that the two schools can share business services and other functions.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

When is a Charter School a Charter School?

There's been some confusion in Colorado lately, with the creation of the Douglas County School District's Choice Scholarship School (CSS). The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and others brought a lawsuit against the district because CSS was formed to implement the district's choice scholarship (i.e., voucher) program. The judge hearing the lawsuit ruled in favor of the plaintiff and shut down the charter school. Many have asked me what I think about this being a charter school.

First, my response has nothing to do with the school's mission to implement the district's choice scholarship program. I believe the real issues are related to "what is a charter school"?

The federal Elementary and Secondary Act defines what a charter school is.

(a) in accordance with a specific state statute authorizing the granting of charters to schools, is exempt from significant state or local rules that inhibit the flexible operation and management of public schools, but not from any rules relating to the other requirements of this paragraph;

(b) is created by a developer as a public school, or is adapted by a developer from an existing public school, and is operated under public supervision and control;

(c) operates in pursuit of a specific set of educational objectives determined by the school's developer and agreed to by the authorized public chartering agency;

(d) provides a program of elementary or secondary education, or both;

(e) is nonsectarian in its programs, admissions policies, employment practices, and all other operations, and is not affiliated with a sectarian school or religious institution;

(f) does not charge tuition;

(g) complies with the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act;

(h) is a school to which parents choose to send their children, and that admits students on the basis of a lottery, if more students apply for admission than can be accommodated;

(i) agrees to comply with the same federal and state audit requirements as do other elementary and secondary schools in the state, unless such requirements are specifically waived for the purpose of this program;

(j) meets all applicable federal, state, and local health and safety requirements;

(k) operates in accordance with state law; and

(l) has a written performance contract with the authorized public chartering agency in the state that includes a description of how student performance will be measured pursuant to state assessments that are required of other schools and pursuant to any other assessments agreeable to the authorizing agency.

In addition, the Colorado Charter Schools Act explains what a charter school is. A charter school operates with financial autonomy, via a charter/contract, and with waivers from certain laws, rules or district policies. There's a line between the charter school and its authorizer, most often the local school district. This line is determined by the charter school contract.

An authorizer may have say over governance issues by reviewing bylaws in the charter application and then either approving or not approving the charter school. However, an authorizer doesn't have the authority to appoint governing board members or say that certain individuals cannot be on a charter school governing board.

Historically in the state, a handful of districts have created "charter schools" with ulterior motives to get the federal startup grant or seek some other type of incentive. Eventually these charter schools close when they don't get the grant or the incentive otherwise goes away. These could be called "ChINO's" or Charters in Name Only.

What constitutes a public charter school is defined in both federal and state law. In Colorado, because we're a "local control" state, that's left to the individual school district to determine. In other words, it's the local school board that decides IF they grant a charter to an applicant and what that school looks like. There isn't a group of individuals authorized to "police" if it's really a charter school. That determination is often played out over time or litigated based on specific characteristics.

There are numerous shades of gray between clear autonomy in charter schools and those that are more closely aligned with their school district. For example, a district requires all their charter schools to run their financials through the district whereas other charter schools get a check every month that they put into their own bank account. There are different philosophies for charter school authorizers and different perceptions of what is an acceptable relationship. Regardless of its nature, the charter contract describes if it's a ChINO or a real charter school.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Granting Opportunities to New Charter Schools

It costs a lot to open a new charter school. Congress knew this and established the Charter School Program (CSP) in the federal education code. Colorado has received a CSP grant in order to give subgrant awards to new charter schools. New schools can get a three-year grant for expenses such as curriculum development, notifying the community about a new charter school, professional development, technology, curriculum and equipment.

Today the CDE Schools of Choice Unit held a grant writers' training for all new charter schools that want to apply for funds during this fiscal year. Applicants can submit their grant application in either October or February in a two-tier process. Many of today's training haven't even gotten their charter approved yet.

School founders that demonstrate eligibility to apply for this grant get assigned a consultant who will review their application and provide comment on it before it's actually submitted. The grant program is competitive and the highest scoring application gets additional funding for each of the three years.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Glade Park Re-Opens as a Charter School

For 38 years the small community of Glade Park, which sits atop the Colorado Monument above Grand Junction, didn't have a school. Two years ago the school district opened an elementary school in Glade Park only to say they wouldn't be funding it for the 2011-12 school year. Like many of the small, rural communities in Colorado, community members didn't want their children on long bus commutes to larger schools and decided to create a charter school.

Glade Park joins small charter schools Paradox Valley Charter School, North Routt Community Charter School, Guffey Community School, Battle Rock Charter School and Crestone Charter School in providing a hub for the community and educating their young children in a charter school.

Glade Park Community School will provide Kindergarten through fifth grade classes to about 30 students. The school has a Principal and two teachers.

What a Difference a Year Makes!

Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS), in Denver, just started its second year in Turnaround status. What a difference from last year! Last year NACS had three administrators, turned over several staff positions and struggled with discipline all year. Last week I visited the school in the afternoon of its second day and the change was palpable!

The school is now led by Ms. Jere Pearcy, a former teacher and administrator, with a very strong background in Core Knowledge. NACS uses Core Knowledge, Singapore Math and Spalding. The staff had three and a half weeks of training before students arrived last week. Almost half of the staff at NACS is new this year.

It's quite common for Turnaround schools to need a year of transition that's very difficult. Some call it "implementation dip" while others consider drastic change impossible all at once. Either way, this proves to be a much better year for NACS.

Two years ago, before Turnaround, the former Principal and his Asst. Principal couldn't even name the math program used at the school. Several classroom teachers didn't even bother trying to act like they were teaching when visitors toured the school; they just sat in the back of the room.

All NACS students went through Reading level assessment before the first day of school. About 90% of last year's students were below grade level. Many of the older students are 2-3 years behind grade level when they come in to NACS. The 2011 CSAP results showed drops in many content areas, except for Science. Several of the drops were linked to classrooms where there was teacher turnover during the school year.

The NACS community has struggled many times during this Turnaround process. It's nice to see their efforts pay off with a great start to a new school year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Prospect Ridge Academy Breaks Ground!

This evening the families of Prospect Ridge Academy broke ground on their new facility just south of Highway 7 near Sheridan Blvd in Broomfield. Founders of PRA fought for almost three years to get their school. They battled both the school district, Adams 12 School District, and the City Council of Broomfield.

PRA begins school on Thursday in a temporary location in Thornton while their new facility is being built. They plan to move to their new campus during winter break.

The school will serve grades K-6 the first year and enroll about 520 students. There will be three classes per grade level. PRA will use the Core Knowledge curriculum.

PRA's new Principal is April Wilkins, the former Asst. Principal at Peak to Peak in Lafayette. This is April's first Principal job, but she brings a wealth of Core Knowledge and teaching experience.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Loveland Classical Schools Prepares to Open

Last week I visited the campus of Loveland Classical Schools, which is remodeling an existing church building and has added a whole wing of classrooms. They'll open with grades K-9 and about 650 students! That's quite an undertaking for the first year of a new charter school!

Founders Tamara Cramer and Trisha Coberly gave me a tour of the facility that's being built by Bouma Construction. They are a little more than half-way through the building project.

The volunteers in Loveland are amazing! Since the very first time I met with Trisha and Tamara they talked about the incredible people involved in starting their school and how everyone was so helpful with whatever needed to be done. The volunteers continue to take ownership in their new school by being involved!

The Principal for Loveland Classical Schools is David Yu. Last year, David taught at Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins. This will be his first administrative position. As you might imagine, David has been quite busy interviewing new staff members. Since the new facility isn't even ready for administrative office in-habitation, David has been doing what almost all new charter school Principals do: take up residence at the local Starbucks!

In a few weeks LCS will have a tour of the new facility and they will begin school the day after Labor Day. The first day of school will be a culmination of thousands of hours of volunteer time, primarily parents, who want a first-class education for their children!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

HB 1412 Committee Releases Final Report

The advisory committee established by HB 10-1412 to make recommendations for charter school and charter school authorizer standards released its final report. In addition to the standards, the committee recommends other policy changes related to Education Service Providers (ESPs), the definition of "online program," blended learning, charter school waivers, and charter school accountability.

The 13 member committee worked for for ten months and held public hearings on online education, Education Service Providers and non-discrimination issues. The final report was completed with consensus from the committee.

The State Board of Education will adopt rules for charter school authorizer and charter school standards by January 15, 2012. The State Board will also determine the direction for the other recommendations in the report.

At the Sept. 14th regular State Board meeting, members of the HB 1412 committee will present the report to the board. The board received a copy of the report this week and Commissioner Hammond gave a brief update to the board at today's meeting.

I'm Back!

After taking much of the last month off from blogging, I'm back to a regular schedule! Many of the schools are gearing up for the new school year and staff are returning for pre-service training. Thus, life is back to a regular routine!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Frenzy

It's that time of year when administrators are returning to their school buildings and staff members will soon begin "pre-service" training. Most school buildings have undergone a major cleaning to welcome back staff and begin the process of preparing for the first day of the new school year.

It's not too late for parents who want their child/ren to attend a charter school to contact the school to see if there are any openings. All the charter schools in Colorado are online here. Because charter schools use a variety of enrollment methods, it's best to contact the school directly.

There are several school supply drives at this time of year. Everyone who doesn't have to pay for their own child/ren's school supplies, should consider donating to one of these community drives. It's also a good time for caring adults to consider tutoring a child throughout the school year.

Personally, I like donating in a more personal way. Consider asking a school principal what he/she would really like to do for his/her students, but doesn't have the resources for. Or consider adopting a classroom of students by sponsoring their classroom parties, donating reading books or any number of other personalized ideas.

During the frenzy of back-to-school shopping and activities, remember the real reason to invest in our schools: the students! Get to know some of these students and it'll not only change your own life--it justmay change theirs, as well!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why a Job Description is Critical for a Charter School Administrator

Charter school leaders, rarely comfortable being put in a box, use a variety of titles for their number one administrator: Head of School, Principal, Executive Director, and Director are just a few. For this post, I'll use the term "Principal" to talk about the lead administrator.

Charter schools use a variety of structures to meet the school's administrative needs. Some charter school governing boards have one person report to the board (considered a best practice) and some have two or more. This means that unless there are clear job descriptions, it's difficult, and sometimes impossible, for administrators to know what is their responsibility.

This is also true when the charter school governing board has a very involved President. Having a board member do some of the functions commonly delegated to the Principal presents problems. Once the Principal's job description is established, and a Principal is hired, there shouldn't be any deviation from that outline of responsibilities. If a board member temporarily assists the Principal with a responsibility, it should be clear to all involved that the board member is doing it as a "volunteer" without board authority to lead or make decisions.

Many administrators are wary of charter school governing boards, especially when they don't have processes and policies established such as the job description, Principal evaluation form, and Principal evaluation policy. Not having these things appropriately documented shows potential Principal candidates that the board hasn't reached a level of capacity to successfully lead a charter school. Since it's hard to find a really good Principal, boards that fail to develop processes and policies are often left with less-than-ideal Principal candidates.

It's common for there to be confusion about what is the Principal's role versus the governing board's role. Here is a worksheet to discuss the various responsibilities and note who is responsible. Having roles clearly defined, and documented, is a way to mitigate potential conflicts or miscommunication.

Because charter schools are so unique and utilize a variety of organizational structures, school leaders need to take the precaution of documenting as much as possible before the first Principal is hired.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

HB 1412 Committee Wraps Up Its Work

The HB 1412 committee to recommend charter school and charter school authorizer standards wrapped up its work today by holding a public comment session and finalizing its draft report. Minor changes were made to the draft that had been widely circulated for public comment.

The final report now gets professionally formatted and then provided to the House and Senate Education committee members and the State Board of Education members by the August 1 deadline established in the legislation that created the committee.

The State Board is required to adopt rules for these charter school and charter school authorizer standards. For the authorizer standards, the committee adopted by reference the National Association of Charter School Authorizer (NACSA) standards. The committee recommended standards for charter schools in regard to executive compensation, nondiscrimination and conflicts of interest plus recognized processes already in place such as the Charter School Support Initiative process for school reform.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Light Blogging Ahead

I won't be posting very much in the next few weeks. I hope you are enjoying your summer!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Where the Charter School Board Should Focus

Most charter school governing boards spend the bulk of their meeting time discussing budgets, facilities, logistics and policies--the "business" side of a charter school. But the focus should be on student academic achievement. A good barometer for how well a governing board is doing with implementing its vision and mission is to consider how much meeting time it focuses on student achievement.

Oftentimes a governing board will be focused on the immediate needs of a charter school such as calming parent concerns or addressing facility limitations. But the most important reason to have a charter school is to make sure students are learning and able to move to the next grade level or graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary for a successful future.

Almost all of Colorado's charter schools have student academic achievement in their vision and mission statements. However, the amount of time boards spend on discussing or implementing this aspect of the school's purpose can vary significantly.

At each year's strategic planning session, the entire board should discuss the vision and mission statements. Each board member could talk about what word or phrase stands out to them the most and why. Each board member should explain what their personal vision is for the school and how it does or doesn't match with the school's vision statement. Another useful approach is to have the board distill the vision statement down to a slogan or phrase that best describes their school. For example, some schools use the slogan, "First Comes Learning" to communicate the school's primary purpose and to use as a filter for all decision-making.

It's wise for charter school board members to periodically reflect on what unspoken messages they're sending to school staff and stakeholders. If verbally board members say they prioritize academics as number one, but then don't reflect that in their work, it means little.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Denver Justice: A Charter School to be Proud Of

Denver Justice Charter School is led by two men who personify what a great school is about. Gary Losh is the Principal and Jimmy Monaghan is the Asst. Principal. Both will go to whatever length necessary for their students. For them, school is more than a job--it's a passion.

In the several times I've been at the school I've observed Gary taking students to court appointments, Jimmy getting students back into class and both of them going the extra mile with their students. Both men talk about their students in a way that shows they have the belief that these students can make it to be successful--if they will just try.

Denver Justice recently graduated a class of 12, many of whom had difficulties in reaching graduation day. The school is small, which allows for all students to be known as individuals.

Denver Justice is at I-70 and Shoshone St. in Denver and just completed its second year of operation. Denver Justice is modeled after Boulder Justice, which has been open since 2006. Both schools focus on serving adjudicated and high-risk students.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Boot Camp Pics

Charter School Boot Camp 2011

The CO Department of Education, in conjunction with the state Charter School Institute and the League of Charter Schools, hosted the annual Charter School Boot Camp. This is an intense, three-day workshop on how to write a charter school application. Some say it's like drinking from a fire hose. In fact, at the close of the first day, one of this year's participants said she walked in thinking she knew quite a bit about charter schools and was then feeling overwhelmed with all she didn't know.

The topics covered at Boot Camp are broad: vision/mission, curriculum, assessment, governance, employee relations, finance and budgeting, literacy, accountability, and lots of resources that are available for brand new charter applicants.

The website,, is the place to start. There are numerous links, via a flow chart, of all the different steps to starting a charter school. In addition, there are a number of best practice resources on the CDE website.

The purpose of the Boot Camp is also to give applicants an idea of who to contact with different questions. Presenters include staff from CDE, the League and the Charter School Institute (CSI). Additionally, leaders in the charter school community donate their time to help train these new charter applicants.

Boot Camp is designed to be overwhelming. But then starting a new charter school is also very overwhelming and it's only meant for the best prepared applicant. Not everyone who attends Boot Camp actually submits a charter school application. Boot Camp is designed to weed out the faint-hearted charter applicant.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Prospect Ridge Wraps Up Plans for Their New Home

Prospect Ridge Academy (PRA) is finally wrapping up a historical struggle to get a charter school facility approved. Prospect Ridge initially fought the Adams 12 School District to get a charter approved and then the battle turned in to a problem getting the district and the City of Broomfield, to agree to a site plan for their new facility. School leaders have been struggling with these obstacles for years, but it looks like their heroic efforts will finally result in a new charter school.

PRA will use a retail space formerly used by The Pinnacle Charter School in Thornton while their new facility is prepared. PRA plans to relocate their school over winter break.

April Wilkins, the former Asst. Principal at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette will be PRA's new principal. Student demand for the new charter school in the Erie area has been very heavy.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Creep (Yet Again!)

In 1994 when we were starting one of the first charter schools in Colorado, the district tried to say that we needed to use a lottery for enrollment. We vehemently objected to this. We contacted our State Senator who ran an amendment to the Charter Schools Act that says, "Enrollment decisions shall be made in a nondiscriminatory manner specified by the charter school applicant in the charter school application." Thus, the charter school used a waiting list for enrollment.

In about 1997 the U.S. Department of Education, which administers the federal Charter School Grant Program, began requiring the use of a lottery in order to get the startup and implementation grant most of the charter schools are dependent upon. The charter schools in Colorado that used a waiting list met with a representative of the U.S. department and explained why it didn't want to switch and couldn't be required to by state law. The feds were undaunted by their arguments and began requiring a lottery for all public charter schools receiving the grant. At first it was just a requirement and monitoring for enforcement was not required. It's now required for state's who provide subgrants to ensure that an equitable lottery process is in place for enrollment.

Not long ago the charter school governing board, at the school where the founders fought for the right to do a waiting list, decided to have the district do their enrollment. Parents selecting a school in the district list their options, ranked by priority. The district tells the charter schools which students they will be able to enroll the following year.

How does creep happen? By others becoming involved who don't understand the history or the philosophy of charter schools. They don't know what battles are worth fighting. And quite simply, they may have a different viewpoint. Many new charter school governing board members don't even know what the essential charter school philosophies are. Although many can identify choice or parental involvement, rarely do charter school board members understand the critical need for autonomy or complete control over finances and employees.

Creep doesn't happen by leaps and bounds. Instead it happens gradually--over time.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Creep (Again)

A couple of weeks ago I was in a meeting of charter school business managers and an attorney was speaking about charter school employment issues. It happens that this attorney has been involved in the charter school movement since the very beginning in Colorado. He made the assertion that charter schools have an obligation to put the interests of their school before that of individual employees. This ruffled some feathers in the room.

The charter school movement was started by people who believed in at-will employment, the polar opposite of general public education, which is largely influenced by the teacher's union and their interests. In fact, many district administrators don't know a world that's any different. Everything they do is influenced by the collective bargaining agreement. They can't change the school calendar without getting approval from the teacher's union. They can't ask a teacher to do detention after school without it being a teacher's union issue.

But the exact opposite is true in charter schools where all employees are at-will in nature. Principals serve "at the pleasure" of the Board and can be terminated with a simple, "your skills are no longer needed at our charter school." There are no guaranteed terms, such as a year-long contract that would require a "buy-out" if the employee is terminated early.

So why were some of these business managers reacting to the attorney's statement that the needs of the charter school should take precedence over the needs of teachers? Because 18 years after the first charter school in Colorado, a vast majority of people who now work in charter schools COME from traditional public education. The union philosophy is embedded in their thought processes. And they can't see life being any different.

To be clear, the discussion was not about the value of classroom teachers, the appropriateness of their salaries nor the attribution of salary to the number of days worked.

The questions posed by the attorney were:
1. should the charter school knowingly generously, possibly over-compensate, an employee upon departure (voluntary or forced); does this meet the fiduciary responsibility required of charter school leaders?
2. have charter schools stayed true to the original charter school philosophy based on at-will employment?

For years I've talked about bureaucratic or regulation creep, meaning top-down requirements to in some ways have charter schools conform to traditional public schools. This is probably most evident in the vastly-more-sophisticated charter school application process that has developed over the years. The difference between what is required of a charter school applicant today is night and day different from 1993 when the Charter Schools Act passed.

One can wonder if this "creep" is improving the process or simply hindering it. Are charter schools going to gradually become the same as any district-operated public school system? Using the metaphor of the frog placed in a pot of water that gradually gets hotter until the frog is boiled, will charter school leaders even notice when they no longer operate with autonomy?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Innovation Out of Denver Public Schools

The DPS board, on a split vote, and the State Board of Education, on a unanimous vote, approved the three Innovation Schools requests for far northeast Denver schools. The three schools include the Denver Center for International Studies at Ford, the Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello and the Noel Community Arts School.

The far northeast area of Denver, which includes the city of Montbello, has historically had the lowest performing schools. But with the new reform effort in DPS and the district's commitment that ALL students should have access to high quality educational options, a few--mostly from the teacher's union--are complaining.

Many of the schools in the far northeast region are Title I, serving students of poverty, and the ethnic minority rate is very high in that region. We won't even mention the drop-out rate.

So the district's plan includes changing things up to make sure student's needs are being met. This may include change in administrative leadership and/or a change in the teaching staff. The focus of all change is on whether or not the change will result in increased student academic achievement. There will be greater accountability to ensure student success.

Still not getting why some people would disagree with this focus on student achievement? It's because the teacher's union doesn't want to give up any territory it's earned through the collective bargaining agreement with DPS. Henry Roman, the union's president, says they'll be suing the district over these three Innovation School plans.

The Innovation Schools Act was adopted in 2008 as a way for district's to operate unique schools by obtaining waiver from district policies, the collective bargaining agreement and state law. Innovation Schools are still under the auspices of the district. DPS already operates several Innovation Schools.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Another Acquisition for K12, Inc.

K12, Inc. has acquired Kaplan Virtual Education. In Colorado K12 contracts with Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) and several school districts operating their own virtual schools using either K12 or Aventa Curriculum. K12 purchased Aventa last year.

Several months ago Kaplan acquired Insight Schools. In that acquisition, the Insight School of Julesburg, CO became a Kaplan school. Now all Kaplan credit-bearing K-12 assets have been purchased by K12, Inc.
"We're excited to add Kaplan's K-12 education programs to K12 Inc.'s portfolio of high quality products, innovative online learning offerings, and successful school partnerships," said Ron Packard, founder and CEO of K12 Inc. "This is another step in our mission to provide high quality online education to as many students as possible. We are very pleased to be able to serve the students, parents, and teachers associated with the Kaplan and Insight schools."
K12 operates online schools in 27 states. The parent satisfaction rate of K12 students tops 90% with parents agreeing their child has benefited academically from the K12 education.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Georgia's Courts Shoot Down State Charter School Authorizer While Indiana Starts a New State Authorizer

Georgia's Supreme Court ruled the state's chartering authority is unconstitional, leaving nine previously authorized charter schools in limbo. Much like Colorado, Georgia allowed certain charter school applicants to get a state charter. Colorado's Supreme Court ruled the state Charter School Institute (CSI) was constitutional, upholding the 2005 Charter School Institute statute.

While Georgia is shutting down its state authorizer, Indiana is starting a new one. The Indiana State Superintendent just named an Executive Director for the new charter school board. This is after the Indiana General Assembly passed a law creating a statewide charter school authorizer.

State with multiple charter school authorizers are viewed as being more choice-friendly by allowing multiple options for charter school applicants to get new schools approved. In addition to local districts and state authorizers, some states permit nonprofit organizations, municipalities and institutions of higher education to charter.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Michael Horn on GOAL Academy

Last weekend Michael Horn, one of the authors of Disrupting Class, gave the commencement address at GOAL Academy's graduation in Pueblo's Event Center. Mr. Horn also wrote about it in Forbes this week.

Mr. Horn described the graduating seniors as:
To give a feel for the students that this Colorado public high school serves, of the 176 students graduating, 12 were over 21 years in age, 33 were parents, and a few were serving in the military. Ninety-five of the graduates said they planned to attend a 2-year or 4-year college, and 23 had earned college credit while at the GOAL Academy.
GOAL Academy uses Pearson's NovaNet to deliver its digital curriculum. GOAL students are located all across the state. The school offers "drop in centers" in major cities where students can drop in during office hours to meet with a teacher. GOAL is finishing its second year of operation and is authorized by the state Charter School Institute.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Kristin Kipp Honored by State Board of Ed

Kristin Kipp, Online Teacher of the Year for both Colorado and nationally, was recognized by the State Board of Education at this morning's meeting. Left to right in the photo: Commissioner Robert Hammond; Kristin Kipp; Judy Baurenschmidt, Principal of Jeffco Online and Elaine Gantz Berman, State Board of Education, District 1.

Friday, May 6, 2011

National Online Teacher of the Year From Colorado

Kristin Kipp was recognized by the State Board of Education last year for being one of two Colorado Online Teacher of the Year. Now the 21st Century Virtual Academy (Jeffco) teacher is the National Online Teacher of the Year and will be recognized by the State Board again next Wednesday at their monthly meeting.

Kristin Kipp recently spent a day at the U.S. Department of Education shadowing the Director of the office of Educational Technology. In her blog, she talks about the unique discussions she was a part of during her day at ED. For example, "teacher heavy" programs that rely more heavily upon the teacher's role over the technology-based curriculum.

Congratulations to Kristin Kipp!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Robert Hammond Named Sole Finalist for Commissioner of Education

This afternoon in a unanimous vote, the Colorado Board of Education voted to name acting-Commissioner, Robert Hammond, as the sole finalist for the Commissioner's position. Hammond has been acting as Commissioner since December 2010 when former Commissioner Dwight Jones left to be the Superintendent for the Las Vegas School District.

Hammond has been at the CO Dept of Education for three years where he served as Deputy Commissioner before being named the Acting Commissioner. According to statutes regulating the hiring of public officials, the State Board is expected to name Hammond as Commissioner when it meets next Wednesday for its regular monthly meeting.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Trial and a Debate

Charter school students participated in a mock trial and a debate at the Charter School Day at the Capitol activities on Thursday.

Students from Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins presented an abbreviated mock trial with Secretary of Scott Gessler acting as judge. A typical mock trial last about two hours while this one only last about 45 minutes. Students from Ridgeview Classical earned state honors this year with their mock trial skills.

Following the mock trial, middle school students from Jefferson Academy and Woodrow Wilson Academy debated the funding of K-12 public education. Attorney General John Suthers judged the debate, which went to Jefferson Academy. The two teams were in the finals of the charter school debate league which ended a couple of months ago.

Charter School Day at the Capitol 2011

These pictures are from the rally on the west steps of the Capitol. The rally was hosted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Numerous legislators spoke to the crowd of students, parents, teachers, administrators and guests.

The choir from Belle Creek Charter School in Henderson performed several numbers. Students from Global Village Academy in Aurora danced to a Chinese song. Various charter school administrators and board members also addressed the crowd.

Students visiting the Capitol on Thursday took tours, visited meeting rooms, were guests in the House chamber and were surprised with an opportunity to meet and speak with Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Northeast Academy Students Up to the Challenge

The 7th and 8th grade students at Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) in Denver had a challenging day. It was Challenge Day. Challenge Day is a program designed to break down cliques, prevent bullying and build positive relationships between students. Today's event was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Denver in Montbello.

Numerous activities had students and adults interacting with people they didn't know by talking and doing activities together. The picture is of students playing a game similar to volleyball. The adults around the perimeter had to keep the ball inside the circle and cheer on the students.

Students are taught to Notice, Change, Act. Later in the day students broke up into small groups to discuss ways they can make a difference in their school and community. The entire day was designed to take people outside their comfort zone. For the couple hours I participated, I was definitely outside of my comfort zone!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Parents Deserve to Know

The State Board of Education has adopted new rules that will require school districts to notify parents when an employee is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor sex crime. The board has been considering this change for quite some time. Chairman Bob Schaffer, Fort Collins, noted the Poudre School District failed to inform parents when two former employees were arrested for crimes involving children. The new rules also cover any adult who transports students when arrested for a DUI.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Administrator's Get Legislative Update from League of Charter Schools

Today at the Administrator's Mentoring Cohort (AMC) meeting, Vinny Badolato, from the League of Charter Schools, gave the following legislative update.

1. Win: HB 1089: Collaboratives. Allows charter schools to seek competitive grants within ESEA.

2. SB 188: Moral obligation program. Charter schools go through the State Treasurer’s office to get better bond financing ratings. The bill would have increased the $400 million cap, but that was removed. The bill removes application fees to enter the program. The manager will be the Treasurer’s office. In case of a default, the Treasurer will consult with a team of impacted entities to determine how to handle the potential default.

3. Loss: HB 1055: Improve charter school access to facilities. Passed the House, assigned to Senate State Affairs where it died. Will be reconsidered for next year.

4. HB 1277: Massey’s omnibus bill. Removes unnecessary reporting requirements including

a. Access to data. Designed to eliminate district’s not providing data to their charter schools in a timely manner.

b. Additional criteria for high risk student definition. Adds “over age and under credit” to the definition. This definition is used to define Alternative Education Campuses (AECs)

c. Grant collaborative. The State Board would be able to promulgate rules to allow collaboratives to be designated as the LEA.

d. School Food Authority. Adds charter schools to the entities permitted to be School Food Authorities. Currently charter schools must access the program through one lead school and that school carries all the liability. There are 18 charter schools under one SFA this year.

e. Online reporting requirements. Eliminates annual report to CDE, which has been replaced by requirements in the Financial Transparency Act and the Education Accountability Act.

5. Budget cuts. Cut proposed now is $22.5 million less. Plus a planned mid-year distribution if the June forecast is better. There will definitely be a cut in K-12 funding again next year.

6. New bill by Senator Keith King to be introduced next week. Proposes mill levy matching funds at a quarter of a percent (CVote). Requires districts to include charter schools if they run a mill levy ballot question.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More on SchoolView

The state's SchoolView website has new information again. Now there's a Data Lab feature that allows the user to choose various filters in order to do unique comparisons and reports.

Using the Colorado Growth Model (CGM), it's possible to determine the range a student would need to score in order to be in the "Catch Up, Keep Up and Move Up" categories. These are three categories for students' proposed achievement trajectories. The Catch Up category is for students scoring Unsatisfactory or Partially Proficient on the CSAP. Their proposed trajectory would take them into the Proficient range of scores. Likewise, students in the Keep Up category would be Proficient or Advanced and need to at least keep making a year's progress in order to move forward rather than backward. Move Up is for students in the Proficient category that move into the Advanced.

The Data Center allows for all kinds of exploration and comparisons. There's information on the number of students enrolled, the type of Accreditation ranking districts received, the percentage of Highly Qualified staff, and profiles on individual schools. New information is being added all the time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Denver is Choice Friendly

Fifty-three percent of Denver Public Schools students don't attend the school they would normally attend based on where they live. In 2004 this number was 34%. What's changed? DPS has instituted "choice friendly" policies designed to increase the number of students who attend a school based on the type of educational program it offers instead of its locality. These policies cover a broad array of issues, including:

  • Offering Innovation schools that operate with waivers from things such as the district's collective bargaining agreement and offer a mission-focused, unique type of school.

  • Marketing to inform parents about quality choice options available to them.

  • Conducting parent and community meetings designed to explain the school district's vision for reform and better equip parents to make decisions for their child's education.

  • Closing schools that are not performing academically.

  • Signing the "Denver Compact," an agreement between the charter schools and the district designed to improve communications and reinforce commitments to each other.

  • Ensuring each of the zones in the district (geographical regions) have a complete array of choice offerings and that certain zones don't have the vast majority of choice options.

  • Opening an Office of School Reform and Innovation (OSRI) with a mission to increase choice options and ensure these options are all top-quality.

  • Commiting to offer all DPS students a quality education.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Paradox Valley Charter School

There's an incredible charter school in the state that's also probably the most unique. Paradox Valley School (PVS) is at the end of a 25 mile long canyon. The school is chartered by the West End School District. PVS sits right at the edge of the Utah border. The town sits below a series of switch-backs that take you up the side of a mountain and into Utah. Moab, Utah isn't far from Paradox.

The community school had been closed by the district for a couple of years when the town began to lose it's vital link with each other, which often happens through the school in small towns. Renee Owen was a mother who didn't want to have her children ride the school bus to Naturita, about a half-hour drive away. She did her research and wrote a charter school application. The charter school opened in the original school building, but soon afterwards they added a number of classrooms. The old part of the facility was the lunch room and gymnasium. Renee also worked it out for the school to house a local branch of the Montrose Public Library system.

Now PVS has applied for a BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant and plan to add new space and also renovate their current space. The new build includes a multi-purpose area, library/office and kitchen. In order to qualify for the grant, PVS needs to raise $305,000 by mid-June. If approved for the BEST grant, they'll get $9 for every dollar raised.

I visited the school years ago and was very impressed with the support from the community; especially community members who had no children at the school. The school publishes a newsletter, Paradox Paragraphs, that I read from front to back every time. It's often got a corner for thank you's to people who have donated to the school. I smile as I read about someone donating garden produce for student lunches.