Monday, February 20, 2012

Why You Should Join a Charter School Board

There aren't enough good charter school board members out there! Repeatedly, I hear stories from charter schools that don't get enough candidates for open board positions and there are also endless stories about board members who have ulterior motives.

Being on a charter school governing board is difficult, especially if you're a parent of a student in the school. That means you'll have to remember to represent what's best for the school as a whole and not your own individual child. Further, you'll need to differentiate what "hat" you're wearing--and keep the roles separate--especially when you're dealing with school administration. Being upset about how your son was disciplined should never become part of how a board member evaluates the Principal.

In the past several years, there has been a trend in Colorado for more community members and business professionals to sit on charter school boards. This is very helpful, especially when they bring needed expertise such as legal or financial expertise.

A good charter school board member volunteers a lot of his/her time. It's obvious that an individual serving as President or Secretary would have additional time commitments, but all good board members should plan on attending the annual Board Visit day, assisting in writing reports or communications with the authorizer, promoting the school through networking and attendance at public events and periodically attending the authorizer's board meetings. All board members should monitor their authorizer's board meeting agendas to keep abreast of issues they are dealing with that may impact the charter school.

The types of board members that charter schools DON'T need are those who want to change something. Having change as the primary motivator will probably become very frustrating when change takes longer than intended or others within the system don't want the same type of change.

It's common for new board members to report that the first year they just feel like they're on a perpetual learning curve and they don't get comfortable with board responsibilities until the second year of their service. This is why having two to three years terms is wise. Moreover, terms should be staggered so that not all of the school's knowledge leaves the board at the same time.

Being on a charter school board can be very rewarding! It's great to watch a school system improve and to get to know individual students for whom the charter school has made a huge impact on their lives. Check out your neighborhood charter school to see if they have any openings or if they need a committee volunteer.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Monarch Montessori Wins Appeal

The founders of Monarch Montessori won their appeal before the State Board of Education on a 6 to 1 vote. Only Elaine Gantz Berman, from Denver, voted against the charter school. Monarch Montessori applied for a charter from Denver Public Schools and were denied.

Monarch Montessori is also a private preschool that's been in operation for two years. Now they want to add an elementary school as a charter school. Some of the issues of the appeal were if they would be able to operate a private preschool in conjunction with the charter school. Legal counsel assured the State Board that all the details had been worked out.

This case was argued by Denver Public Schools (DPS) by the head of the Office of School Reform and Innovation (OSRI) Alyssa Whitehead-Bust. Supt. Tom Boasberg also spent a considerable amount of time at the microphone responding to questions. Both Tom and Alyssa said the Monarch Montessori application was deficient, but weren't able to provide specific examples. State Board Chairman Bob Schaffer said that the application was required to provide a description of, for example, their governance, but not a particular type of governance model. Schaffer asserted that the district had gone outside of their statutory responsibilities in having a higher standard for charter school applications.

In addition to the two charter appeal hearings in February, another DPS charter school is bringing an appeal to the March State Board meeting. Life Skills was not renewed by the DPS board and is appealing that decision.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

State Board Hears Northeast Academy Charter School Appeal

Citing that Denver Public Schools (DPS) didn't have the authority to take away Kindergarten and sixth grade during the 2012-13 school year, Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) appealed to the State Board of Education yesterday. The board backed the charter school on a 4-3 vote.

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg took the unusual position of arguing the district's case before the State Board. He spent a good deal of time touting the accolades of the 83,000 student district, about 10,000 of which are in public charter schools.

DPS entered into a three-year contract with NACS in 2010 and the charter school asserted that imposing the condition that the two grade levels be eliminated was tantamount to unilaterally changing the contract. DPS cited that the charter school has never performed well since it opened in 2004. The NACS attorney, Barry Arrington, stated that the 2010 turnaround contract with the charter school, in essence, wiped the prior slate clean because the district acknowledged the school needed to improve and agreed to a three-year period to improve.

Chairman Bob Schaffer said he didn't understand the district's logic in eliminating only two specific grade levels. He stated that the district, if it were true to that argument, would need to close the school. Supt. Boasberg did call the plan a "phased closure."

George Sanker, who led the turnaround effort from January 2010 to May 2011 testified at the hearing that DPS wasn't clear on if the school were in transformation or turnaround and therefore made the improvement process extremely difficult for the charter school's leaders. Further, while other district schools in similar situations were given significant funding for improvement, NACS did not receive a comparable level of funds.

In the end, the State Board backed the charter school along a party line vote. Board members stated they believed the charter school had made their case that the three-year contracted needed to be honored. Before walking out of the hearing room before it was adjourned, Supt. Boasberg gave the NACS Principal a veiled threat about the school's future, implying that he would see that the school closed.

DPS now has 30 days to make a decision on the State Board's remand order. If the charter school disagrees with that decision, they can appeal to the State Board for a second time. At a second hearing, the State Board's directive is mandatory.