Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The First Day of School

I tell everyone who starts a new charter school that the reward for the long hours and tough work they've endured is all worth on the first day of school. If their new school offers Kindergarten, that's the best class to visit on the first day. Those eager faces are priceless!

However, my memories of dropping my kids off for their first day of Kindergarten was the mothers wore sunglasses and didn't talk with each other after the kids went in. They were too choked up from that first day's goodbye!

The Kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Academy (the first charter school I worked on) is still there 16 yrs later. Her name is Bentley Ryberg and she taught my daughter who is now in college. Bentley is the absolute best! She's smart and she loves kids of that age. Kindergarten teachers are unique. Not everyone can deal well with students so young. But it's amazing to watch the transformation of these 5 and 6 year-olds over the school year. I recall learning the Open Court alphabet sounds right along with my daughter. And my daughter and I still talk about the field trip to the zoo where she and her classmates spelled "hippopotamus" to the sheer astonishment of a couple standing nearby.

The first day of Kindergarten is the very best. Most importantly, it's the best for the charter school's founders in order to completely understand why they went through so much work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CDE News Release on Charter School Grant Award

Colorado Awarded Three-Year, $40.8 Million Federal Grant To Expand Charters And Public School Options

Denise Mund, director of the Schools of Choice Office at the Colorado Department of Education announced today that Colorado will receive a $40.8 million charter school grant to increase public school options in Colorado. The state will be awarded $13.6 million each year for three years.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday the award of 12 charter school grants, totaling $136 million per year to state education agencies in Arkansas ($3.4 million), California ($51.8 million), Colorado, the District of Columbia ($1.3 million), Georgia ($13.1 million), Indiana ($10.9 million), Michigan ($16.7 million), Missouri ($2.2 million), New Hampshire ($1.3 million), Rhode Island ($2.4 million), South Carolina ($5.7 million) and Texas ($13.8 million).

The purpose of the Charter Schools Program is to increase financial support for the startup and expansion of these public schools, to build greater national understanding of the public charter school model and to increase the number of high-quality charter schools across the nation.

"Ninety-five percent of these funds will go directly to new charter schools in their first three years of operation," said Mund. "The grant will fund curriculum, professional development, administrative costs, desks and classroom supplies, office equipment, furniture and technology."

The remaining 5 percent of the grant funds the Schools of Choice Office and provides development opportunities for charter school leaders. Numerous trainings are offered throughout the year, including a finance seminar, business manager network meetings, mentoring opportunities, online board training modules and a variety of other online resources.

CDE's Schools of Choice Office is recognized for its support of developing charter schools and received a very good monitoring report from the federal government in 2009. Last year Mund provided technical assistance to 14 states and was a featured presenter at a national conference and webinar. Colorado, which has seen an overall increase in charter school funding since 1998, received $7.4 million in grant funding last year.

Through the Colorado Charter School Startup and Implementation grant, CDE's Schools of Choice provides technical assistance to charter schools and authorizers, processes waiver requests for the Colorado State Board of Education, collects data on charter schools, produces special topical studies, performs the state evaluation of charter schools, and responds to questions from the general public. For more information, visit www.cde.state.co.us/cdechart/index.htm

More information about the Charter Schools Program is available from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement at www.ed.gov/programs/charter/index.html

New Charter Schools in Colorado Get Grant Award

The Colo. Department of Education announced today the Schools of Choice Unit has received a $40.8 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Education under the Charter School Grant Program. The state will continue administering a federal startup and implementation grant program designed to assist new charter schools in up to their first three years of operation.

The state will have $13.6 million for each of the next three years to fund the unique startup expenses of a charter school. Many of the schools receive these funds in the spring prior to their opening, which allows them the opportunity to hire an administrator early. New charter schools don't get operating funds until July 1.

The schools rely on this startup grant to purchase desks furniture, technology, lockers, curriculum, and train their new staff members. Further, the money is often used to inform the community about a new charter school through advertising.

The grant is competitive and as many as 40% have been denied funds. For further information on the grant program, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Turkish-Americans Lead 100 Charter Schools in the U.S.

About 100 charter schools in 25 states have been questioned for their link to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish peace advocate. The schools emphasize math and science and generally outperform their counterparts.

Some of the schools have been criticized for influencing students to accept Islam ideals and philosophies as a result of the school being "Gulen-inspired." Gulen claims no connection with any of the schools.

Fethullah Gulen promotes peace and communication between Turkey and Western cultures. Since 1999 Gulen has lived in the United States. Earlier this summer, Gulen critized Turkish involvement in the flotilla that attempted to deliver aid to Israel's Gaza Strip. Gulen said the Turkish aid group should have sought permission from Israeli leaders before attempting to deliver aid.

The Lotus School for Excellence in Aurora was founded by a group of individuals with connections to Turkey. The school originally opened as a secondary school and is adding an elementary school for this school year. Their grand opening celebration will be later this week where they have expanded their campus by taking over more of the church facility they occupy.

Last year Lotus leaders submitted new charter school applications in the St. Vrain Valley School District and Jefferson County School District. They later withdrew their application from St. Vrain, but appealed the charter denial out of Jeffco to the State Board of Education. Lotus lost that appeal.

A significant portion of the appeal hearing centered on the school's academic achievement data, which was mixed with some small gains. According to this year's Growth Model data, Lotus made Adequate Growth in reading, but not in math or writing.

Lotus plans to submit at least one more charter school application this fall.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vanguard HS Nails the Writing CSAP!

Vanguard High School scored a perfect 100% on the writing CSAP for their ninth and tenth grades. Not even one student, of the 55 who tested, scored below proficient!

Vanguard HS is an extension to the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. The secondary school is authorized by the state Charter School Institute while the elementary is authorized by the Cheyenne Mountain School District. The Cheyenne Mountain district wouldn't let the school's leaders use the words "Cheyenne Mountain" in the name for the new high school when it was initially approved. The secondary school's charter subsequently moved to CSI.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Advisory Committee for Charter School Institute Charter Schools Meets

Yesterday was the first meeting of the advisory committee established by SB10-111, sponsored by Sen. Keith King. King is an administrator at Colorado Springs Early College, a CSI school. It was the second day of school for King so he joined the group via the telephone for a portion of the meeting.

Patricia Hayes chaired the meeting. Hayes is a board member of the Charter School Institute, former CU Regent and former State Board of Education member. About a dozen people attended the meeting, reflecting the representative required by SB 111.

The purpose of the committee is to make recommendation to the next legislative session's Education committee members about CSI schools becoming their own LEA. In addition to this potentially impacting Special Education, there is also a potential impact on federal entitlement funds, the Carl Perkins Act and gifted and talented programs. The committee discussed what would be studied by the committee and what would not.

The questions raised centered on what problem was the committee attempting to solve? Since the delivery of Special Education services is distinctly different for CSI schools and district charter schools, the "problem" to solve was quite different. CSI schools must conduct their own Special Ed services and do not have liability coverage through CSI. District charter schools deliver Sped services via a contract with their district (using a variety of different models) and their district has ultimate liability.

Sen. King noted that his interest for the work of the committee was not so much about Special Education, but rather what other programs might be different if administered by the charter school, instead of CSI. He noted a few federal programs, but then also recognized that with increased responsibility comes increased accountability, which may include paperwork and bureaucracy. King carried another bill this session that allows charter schools to form cooperatives with CSI. His other bill allows even district charter schools to seek federal grants through CSI.

It was generally agreed that if there was a better way for delivering Special Education services to CSI schools or there was a more efficient way to operate, the committee's report should uncover those options. The committee will conduct research on what other state's have done and consult nationally recognized groups such as the National Assn of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The committee will meet monthly throughout the fall. For more information, contact the Charter School Institute.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Prospect Ridge Ordered Open by State Board

Today in another unanimous vote, the State Board of Education told the Adams 12 Five Star School District to open Prospect Ridge Academy. This was a second appeal from Prospect Ridge, a proposed K-12 math science focused Core Knowledge charter school in the Erie area. The State Board voted unanimously at the conclusion of the first appeal hearing to remand the application back for further consideration. The State Board, whose membership is split 4-3 along party lines, rarely votes unanimously on charter school appeals.

Today's appeal hearing centered on six issues: two contained in the approval resolution dealing with enrollment and four contractual issues. The four contractual issues were 1) the district requirement that they approve any financial auditor the charter school wanted to use, 2) the requirement of additional audits and/or reports, 3) the district's insistence that they could rescind waiver of district policy from the charter school at any time, and 4) the district's stipulation that they be able to approve any staff hired by the charter school.

The district claimed the four contractual issues were not relevant to the appeal hearing and should have been dismissed because they weren't "ripe" yet because negotiations broke down after the first meeting and no contract was ever signed. The charter school stated there had been a "gross imposition of conditions," a reference to the statute that pertains to a charter school having to comply with unreasonable contract provisions.

Barry Arrington, counsel for the charter school, said contract negotiations broke down when the district refused to negotiate. Charter school founder Dr. Ken Rooks said that the district had simply said they'd "negotiate to impasse" if the charter school leaders didn't agree to the contract terms set forth by the district, which is another way to acknowledge that the district holds all the cards in a charter school contract negotiation and doesn't need to open a new charter school.

In it's deliberation comments and in the resolution to support the charter school's claims, the State Board specifically addressed five of the issues and said the sixth seemed to be close to resolution by the parties and didn't need to be included. The charter school's founders said they planned to use only Highly Qualified or appropriately licensed staff and so if they were able to have complete autonomy over hiring, they would agree to more clear language addressing the district's concerns that staff be appropriately identified as Highly Qualified.

The two enrollment provisions in the hearing were the district's requirement that the charter school must have 80% of each grade's enrollment by March 1st in order to keep its charter and that 70% had to be from the Adams 12 School District. The charter school said they'd agree to 80% aggregate enrollment by March 1st since that was a reasonable expectation. As to the other provision, they cited state law that says a charter school must have a majority of its students from the district or a contiguous district and said they were willing to give priority to in-district students.

More than one State Board member noted the angst between the two parties that was evident during the hearing and expressed hopes that the two parties would be able to resolve their differences.

Monday, August 9, 2010

DPS in the Money

Denver Public Schools is one of 49 grant applicants selected to receive an Investing in Innovation (i3) federal grant provided they can come up with matching funds from the private sector. I3 grants are a new grant program, funded by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, designed to encourage improving academic achievement in high needs areas to close the achievement gap.

DPS plans to use the money, up to 25 million, to improve literacy skills in middle school students through a partnership with the Bueno Center at CU Boulder and Padres and Jovenes Unidos.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guam Approves It's First Charter School

Guam will have its first charter school a year from now. Guam will receive federal startup and implementation grant funds to support the formation of new charter schools.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have charter school laws.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Which Book is Better?

By Elle Mund, Guest Blogger & Student at the University of Northern Colorado

A quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of lists saying what the best books are. Comparing these lists reveals that no one agrees; even if there are some books that appear more frequently than others. Everyone from popular magazines to bloggers are eager to decide what the best books are. I even have a professor who gives every student a copy of his “Highly Selective 100 Book List”. While each creator thinks his/her book list is the best, they seem to all utilize different criteria. These lists raise a very important question. What books should we be teaching students? There are many questions that this leads to:

· Is what a book says more important than how a book says it? A book can be very interesting to read, but make no strong statements. Also, a book can make a very powerful statement, but if the students can’t enjoy reading it, the book will have little to no effect on them.

· What influences are more important than others? Is a book with political influence more important than a book with social influence? What about educational influence or literary influences. Each of these can greatly affect which books make it into the classroom and which don’t.

· Should all races be equally represented in the classroom? Or, what about an equal representation of both male and female authors? What about trying to judge the quality of a book regardless of the gender or ethnicity of the author?

· Should we teach more than one book by the same author? Or, should authors be limited to one book in the classroom to make room for the students to be exposed to more authors?

This list of questions could continue on for awhile. With so many questions to answer it is no wonder that we can’t decide which books are more important than others. The most teachers have time for is to give the students a tiny window to view the vast ocean of literature. What a teacher can do is decide what those students see outside that window. So, what books do you think are most important for students to view through that window?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Paul Peterson Says It Wasn't Al Shanker's Idea

Paul Peterson says that it was not Al Shanker who first advocated the charter school concept more than 20 years ago. Roy Budde came up with the original concept and Al Shanker spoke about it, but his view was very limited. Joe Nathan and Ted Kolderie championed greater autonomy and for others outside of education to have the opportunity to start new charter schools. Most significantly, the Nathan/Kolderie model of charter schools proposed teachers operating outside of collective bargaining agreements established in school districts.

Al Shanker, leader of the New York City's United Federation of Teachers, couldn't tolerate the idea that charter schools would operate with anything other than union teachers at the helm. And thus it remains today, proponents of teacher's unions oppose charter schools.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Support DonorsChoose!

What's the best reason to support DonorsChoose right now? It's because after the organization invited teachers to "Waiting for Superman," a film that supports charter schools, some people have decided to boycott DonorsChoose.org

I've supported DonorsChoose in the past and have personally donated to them numerous times. Via the website, teachers can explain a project they'd like to have funding for and donors can donate to all or part of the project.

Support your favorite charter school by supporting DonorsChoose!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

If You Don't Like Your Boss, Just Fire 'Em!

If you don't like your boss, just fire 'em! Too good to be true? Not in Ohio where state law allows an education management company to fire a charter school's board of directors.

Typically a charter school board enters into a performance contract with a management company. The charter governing board should have the authority to terminate a contract if the management company doesn't perform adequately. Well, unless the charter school is in Ohio.

Greg Richmond, from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), wrote an article for EdWeek explaining that charter school boards need to hold their management companies responsible for performance and authorizers need to ensure charter school board members are independent of the company and operate with the best interests of the charter school in mind.

Many of Richmond's recommendations were incorporated into the Colorado sample contract language created last year in collaboration with the state Charter School Institute, Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Colorado Department of Education. The sample contract language has an attachment with "Education Service Provider" provisions to enhance the chances of a good relationship with the management company. Fortunately, with the shared expertise of Richmond and others, Colorado was able to benefit from the lessons learned in other states.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Black Eye for Core Knowledge in Colorado

There's a dirty little secret in the Colorado Core Knowledge community that people are trying to ignore. Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) in Denver was granted official Core Knowledge status in 2008 just a year before Denver Public Schools said the charter school was performing in the bottom 5% of the school district and demanded they either turnaround or close.

Parents who were thrilled that the school received this prestigious recognition were shocked to realize they had been led along a primrose path. The former principal kept bragging about their official status and saying things weren't really as bad as DPS portrayed them to be.

Almost half of the state's charter schools use the Core Knowledge sequence and most are high performing schools. The Core Knowledge Foundation has two levels of recognition: official status and designation as a visitation school.

In order to receive official CK status, the school is visited by two consultants. The consultants' job is to verify if the school is teaching at least 80% of the CK curriculum with fidelity. So the obvious question is, how could a school become an official CK school and within a year DPS was citing the school for being in the bottom 5% of the school district based on academic achievement data? What exactly does "official CK status" mean anyway?

Today Gerald Terrell, from the CK Foundation, said that having the official CK status "label" doesn't justify poor performance.

Certainly having a particular label from the Core Knowledge Foundation is distinctly different than what's actually happening in the school classroom. Many of the CK charter schools in the state are doing well and many of those, without any recognition from the CK Foundation.

Nationally, Colorado is known for having a high percentage of Core Knowledge charter schools. In fact, the state is involved in a federal Institute of Education Sciences study on the impact of CK charter schools on literacy.

Leaders from the CK charter schools that are doing well are struggling with the Core Knowledge Foundation's decision to give official CK status to Northeast Academy Charter School. They don't understand it. And rightly so.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Northeast Academy Charter School Hires New Principal

Last year Denver Public Schools put Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) on their turnaround list. It was one of three charter schools in Denver designated in the bottom 5% of the district. However, NACS was the only charter school on the list to undergo a significant turnaround under the direction of a management company instead of facing closure.

NACS is a K-8 charter school in the Montbello area of Denver (far northeast). The school uses the Core Knowledge curriculum.

The NACS board contracted with Ridgeview Classical Institute (a nonprofit in association with Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins) to take over the school in January. RCI made formal recommendations for changes in early February and April. These changes included school leadership, instructional practices, staffing, operations, board governance and curriculum.

The school's families had been led to believe that everything was going well for the school. Thus, the school community was shocked to learn of its poor CSAP scores and many were in denial. Several tumultuous meetings took place last spring as the families and staff struggled to comprehend the drastic changes that needed to occur at their school. The principal was terminated in mid-February and the majority of staff members were notified they wouldn't be asked to return the following school year.

Now the school is on the verge of a new start with a new princpal, assistant principal and the vast majority of the staff. There's also been turnover on the board as original school founders came back on the board to reignite the school's original vision.

The NACS board recently hired Troy Wathen to lead their school. Troy comes from Houston where he started and led a private school for the past ten years. Before that he taught and was an administrator in southern California.

Several of the new teachers at NACS come from the Teach for America program. Further, at least one teacher is returning after having left the school a couple of years ago. About eight teachers are returning from last year's staff. Many of the former and new staff spent two weeks in an academy in Fort Collins at Ridgeview Classical Schools in early June.

The classroom instructional approach to the Core Knowledge curriculum will be infused with the Classical approach, which embodies the Socratic method and discussion to drive deeper understanding. Mr. Wathen's previous school was a Classical school and as a teacher, he understands how to monitor student progress with this approach to ensure student academic achievement.

There's an enthusiasm building at Northeast Academy for the new opportunity for students to learn more and to become a quality school. The change hasn't been easy, however.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lee Barratt Retires from the Charter School Institute

The retirement of Lee Barratt, Deputy Director of the Charter School Institute was recently announced. Lee plans to retire at the end of this month.

Lee was one of the first people hired after the formation of the Charter School Institute in 2005. At that point, he'd already created and was the director for the Colorado School Resource Center, a nonprofit that provided technical assistance to new and developing charter schools. Lee has been associated with the development of several charter schools, primarily in Jefferson County where his daughter attended a charter school.

Lee has a Masters in Economics, which he used to provide consultation to schools in regard to their finances. He also established business operations for the CSI. Lee served as the Interim Director of CSI between the resignation of Randy DeHoff and the hire of Mark Hyatt as Executive Director.

It's unclear at this time what Lee plans to do in the future. Knowing Lee, however, and his passion for charter schools it's highly likely he'll be volunteering his services for new charter schools.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Letter to Sec of Education Arne Duncan

A group of us were having lunch yesterday and the discussion turned to Arne Duncan's comments at the National Charter School Conference in Chicago last week. Dr. Jody Ernst, from the Colorado League of Charter Schools, was at the conference and standing in line to ask the Secretary a question, when time ran out. Jody posed her question to the Secretary in the letter below.

Dear Education Secretary Duncan,

I am writing to point out a contradiction you posed to the nation's charter school movement in your address to us at the National Charter Schools Conference on July 1st, 2010. You began your address by issuing a clarion call to the charter movement to increase the number of schools that target a) low income and minority students, b) special education students, and c) students that have dropped out of the traditional education system. While I strongly believe that the movement is already doing this, I think they are also up for this challenge.

But here is the rub.

You followed up this set of statements by berating the leaders of the charter movement for not being bold enough to close the lowest performing schools. While I whole heartedly agree that chronically poor performing charter schools do need to be closed, I think you fail to see a contradiction between these two statements.

I pose you this question to help clarify my point; of the 200 charter schools on the bottom 5% of each states list, how many of those ARE the schools with missions to recover prior dropouts and serve predominantly special education students?

Unfortunately, I cannot answer for the nation but I do know that in Colorado there are 48 such campuses (including, charters, district run, and state schools). Of these 48 campuses, approximately 95% of them are either on Tier 1 or Tier 2 improvement status.

This, I believe, is not due to the effectiveness of the schools but is an artifact of the accountability systems that are in place. According to the 2008 data, Colorado's alternative education campuses (AECs)-including both charter and non-charter schools-averaged 13 percent proficiency in writing, 26 percent proficiency in reading, and 4 percent proficiency in mathematics (compared to the state averages of 53, 68, and 53 in writing, reading, and math, respectively). While this makes me sad to report, I am not terribly surprised given that the average student attending one of our AECs comes to the school between 2 and 6 years behind grade level.. Even if a school is successful at growing their students the equivalent of 2 academic years in one year's time, a great majority will not be able to pass a grade level standardized test.

Colorado appears to understand this, and has recently adopted an alternative accountability framework. This framework focuses a bulk of the accountability for these alternative schools on academic growth and on students' preparedness for postsecondary options, including workforce entry, military enlistment, and enrollment in a certificate program or postsecondary institution. The new framework also gives AECs the ability to report on measures that suit their students, allowing them to provide evidence based on formative assessments that can be given multiple times per year. This is extremely valuable as these high-risk students tend also to be highly mobile.

Until the federal government is prepared to acknowledge the needs of these students, as well as the efforts put forth by the schools whose missions are to serve them, there will not likely be an increase in the number of schools serving drop outs and special education students, charter or otherwise.

Authorizers grow leery of opening new alternative campuses because, under current accountability models, they so often fail. Districts, too, limit the number of alternative programs or schools they open for the same reason.

I encourage you to explore this further, perhaps calling for a survey of the alternative education landscape to help identify quality alternative school models and relevant accountability metrics, and not be so quick to point fingers and issue catch 22s to the charter movement. As a researcher who has dedicated much of the past four years on this topic, I would be delighted to share my findings with you.


Jody L. Ernst, Ph.D.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Was Duncan Right to Scold Charter School Leaders?

After taking a few days to mull over U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's remarks at last week's National Charter School Conference, I have a few comments to make. First, Duncan's tone made people in the audience feel like they were being scolded. People I spoke with said if Duncan would have made his chastising remarks only once, it would have appeared appropriate. As it was, after about the fifth time, it was viewed as Duncan's excuse for failing to come out as a strong charter school advocate and instead bowing to pressure from the teacher's unions.

To be clear, Colorado's charter school movement is vastly different than charter schools in most other states. Our charter schools tend to do better and we tend to have more grassroots startup schools rather than charter schools run by management companies. Further, as a state, we've always focused on quality rather than quantity unlike states like California and Arizona.

The climate around accountability and performance in charter schools has changed over the years. Having been involved in charter schools since 1993, I've seen a shift from an excitement over a new way to do things to a more sophisticated look at how to make sure charter schools are doing well.

I was involved in starting new charter schools in 1994, 1996, and 1999. What's required in a charter school application today is completely different than back in the 1990's. In fact, when the Charter School Institute began in 2004, I was a primary author of their original Request for Applications and my boss and I wrestled with the question, "Are we raising the bar so high that concerned parents will no longer have the capacity to start a charter school?" You see, we both believe that average people, not necessarily professional educators, should be able to start and run a public charter school. Albeit with a lot of time, effort and a steep learning curve!

Additionally, charter school authorizers have dramatically increased their sophistication in reviewing new charter school applications, monitoring/oversight of operating charter schools and the fortitude to know when a charter school needs to be closed. The availability of information through the National Association of Charter School Authorizers has changed the landscape for authorizers. In Colorado, where in the past two years there's been a Model Charter School Application developed and sample contract language available now to improve authorizing practices, the capacity of authorizers to do their job well has increased exponentially.

I've only missed one authorizer's meeting since they began about four years ago and can honestly say that authorizers attending the meetings want to be fair and not play any tricks with their schools. But they also want to see their charter schools doing better than their average district-operated schools. It's a fair trade to assume that if a group of people want control of public funds in order to provide a quality education for students, they should do that better than others in the marketplace.

Colorado has seen 21 charter school closures. Although at first many closures were due to financial reasons, the past five years have brought at least four charter schools to close their doors. Most charter schools that close are in what's called the "death spiral": they're not doing well academically, so their attendance goes down, which means they can't meet budget.

Clearly charter schools that do not educate their students well should close. The same should be true of noncharter public schools, operated by school districts. Further, charter schools should be held to a high standard. The same standard applied to noncharter public schools. Singling out poor performing charter schools while ignoring the poor performance of district-operated schools is hypocritical.

In his remarks last week, Duncan said that the charter school movement was losing its influence on the national scene because it wasn't policing its own. His remarks seemed aimed at both academically low-performing charter schools and also the many charter school scandals in the headlines across the country in the past year (of which Colorado contributed plenty!).

Last year when Duncan spoke at the same conference, he said that he viewed charter schools as one of the four turnaround strategies he intended for the bottom 5% of public schools in the nation. That particular option is rarely used by districts in their turnaround efforts. Hmm, wonder why? Now the Secretary says charter schools themselves are to blame for not being more appealing. Really?

Or has the Secretary of Education simply run into opposition he is having trouble surmounting? Maybe when Duncan stepped into his new role as Secretary, he didn't anticipate the resistence from teacher's unions and education establishment who don't like the status quo being altered. Many educators voiced their displeasure with No Child Left Behind and with a change in national leadership were hopeful that things would go back to the way they were before. But they didn't.

Instead Pres. Obama and Secretary Duncan voiced support for charter schools by incentivizing states to be charter friendly in order to compete for Race to the Top dollars. But while taking that stand, they failed to put anything into the grant program for charter schools so instead, states are able to use RttT money without including their charter schools.

It appears as though the current administration wants to be identified as supporting reforms, such as charter schools, but is hesitant to take a strong, effective stand. Thus, charter schools are still the "little guy" and are getting kicked around by a system strongly in favor of the status quo.

So when I hear Arne Duncan's attack on charter school leaders for not policing their own, it sounds like an excuse. Something to hide behind. And I thought that last year, Duncan made bold claims about reforming the bottom 5% of the nation's public schools. I guess he found out that task is harder than he thought.

Monday, July 5, 2010

BEST Capital Construction Grants Go to Five Charter Schools

The Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant program's board is recommending 35 cash grant awards, including five charter school projects. To be eligible for the grant program, the project needs to have a local match. Lake George, N Routt and Vista are all being recommended for the lease-purchase funding portion of the BEST program.

The five charter schools recommended for funding include:
1. James Irwin Charter Middle School: $655,280 for a roof replacement
2. Marble Charter School: $177,768 for a walkway between school buildings
3. Lake George Charter School: $6,488,532 for a new P-6 school
4. North Routt Charter School: $3,186,671 for a new K-8 building
5. Vista Charter High School: $4,595,063 for a high school facility replacement

Having been at most of these facilities, it's easy to say that these schools are very deserving of this financial assistance. Small, rural schools such as Marble, N Routt and Lake George are the lifeblood of these small communities and have very few options for facilities. Marble and N Routt are at least partially in facilities that are listed as a historical building. Translated this means lots of charm and minimal functionality.
Update: Lake George article

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Boasberg Addresses National Charter School Conference

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg was on a panel moderated by Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning at the closing day of the National Charter School Conference.

Boasberg said that charter schools have brought competition to the monopoly and that DPS was trying to embrace all high quality schools. He said there should be no distinction between charter schools and non charter schools.

Boasberg spoke about the Innovative Schools Act in Colorado and noted that seven DPS schools have selected that option. He also said that when DPS “stack ranked” all their public schools, two clearly rose to the top: Denver School of Science and Technology and W Denver Prep.

US Sec of Ed, Arne Duncan, Address National Charter School Conference

Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education addressed the charter school conference today through a web link. In his opening remarks, Duncan repeatedly chastised charter school leaders for not taking a firmer stance against low-performing public charter schools. Duncan reminded attendees that at last year’s conference in Washington, D.C. he issued a challenge to charter school leaders to vocally oppose bad charter schools. He said that charter schools are vulnerable to criticisms when it is not policing itself and warned that if the charter school movement didn’t police itself, others would step in. Duncan said, “I strongly, strongly urge this movement to step in and close that void.”

Duncan also reiterated several of the common misperceptions about public charter schools and challenged the charter school community to address the criticisms that charter schools cream the best students, don’t serve the same percentage of special needs students and are seen as the problem instead of the solution.

The Secretary responded to questions posed by audience members. Duncan was pointedly asked what his administration’s response would be to the proposed cuts to charter school funds that Rep. Obey introduced yesterday. He vaguely stated that “this ball game isn’t over yet” and said they were in “an active conversation with Congress.” Duncan said there were other options without sacrificing their reform agenda.

Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ board president, Caprice Young, told Sec. Duncan that they would provide him with a list of the low-performing charter schools state charter school associations worked to close during the past year. Duncan contended that the charter school community needed to do more than just verbally agree with the principle that only good charter schools should be open. He said that the charter school community has not been policing its own. He pointed out that of the lowest performing public schools being targeted for turnaround, 200 of the 5,000 lowest schools are public charter schools.

Congress Considers $100 Million Cut to Charter Schools Program

People attending the National Charter School Conference were eager to get an update on the cuts to the Charter School Program funds in Congress. Yesterday, Rep. Obey (D-WI) amended the War Supplemental bill to provide for 10 billion for education jobs while making this funding available by cutting 200 million from the teacher incentive program, 500 million from Race to the Top and 100 million from the Charter School Program. Those hit hardest by the proposed cuts would be new charter schools that rely heavily upon federal startup and implementation funds to open their doors and successful charter schools that seek to replicate.

The proposed cuts are aimed at the Obama administration’s education reform projects. The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has incentivized states wanting Race to the Top funds by saying the state needed to be “charter friendly.” Many states have either increased their caps on the number of new charter schools or else considered legislation that was not passed.

Charter school lobbyists are eager to apply pressure on Congress today, before they break for the July 4th holiday. One U.S. Representative said charter school folks had generated more than 10 million email messages to Congress and asked the Alliance for Public Charter Schools to “call off the dogs.” Rep. Obey took action in the Rules Committee yesterday and further action could happen as early as today.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

National Charter School Conference

At the opening of the National Charter School Conference today in Chicago, Nelson Smith had the following to say:

  • · It’s because of charter schools that districts are now trying to create “faux charter schools.”
    · We’re showing that you can now run a system of charter schools without a central office breathing down your neck.
    · We now serve 1.65 million kids; 40 chartering states plus DC (Mississippi signed on this year).
    · Average charter school is now open 6.7 years.
    · 26% operated by CMO or EMO; 65% are free standing (grassroots)
    · Less than 3% of total national student population.
    · In 14 cities more than 20% of the student population are in charters.
    · RttT: 15 states lifted caps since RttT was announced
    · Serious discussion about charter school law in Alabama, W Virginia, Kentucky, etc.
    · Critics say charter schools are causing re-segregation; many are opened in inner cities where parents are desperate for a better education for their children. He's proud of the fact that children of color are flocking to charter schools.
    · Authorizers are getting more aggressive in chartering only schools that are of of quality academically.
    · We should support authorizers when they have to hold a standard for supporting quality.
    · Increased funding for startups this year through replicating funds. President Obama plans to double charter school funding by the end of his term.
    · The Ball State report said that the funding gap, between charters and noncharters, has increased in the past 5 yrs. The Alliance will attack the facility funding disparity.
    * There have been t oo many negative headlines this year. Every person needs to support the highest standards of ethical behavior and draw a bright line between unethical behavior and that high standard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Board President Issues

Today I had lunch with two charter school governing board presidents. One was experienced and the other was a new board member last August and has been president for one month. Both are from well-established, successful schools that have been in operation more than ten years. What did they talk about?

Here are a few of things that were discussed:

1. How to set the agenda--keeping the meeting efficient, using reports in writing in the board packet, public comment protocol.

2. A handy tool for making the monthly agenda. It's a spreadsheet with a monthly tab for each agenda. At the bottom there is a list of all the statutory reasons and citations for going into executive session in case that needs to be put on the agenda. Each month's agenda is already prepopulated with the agenda items that are routinely addressed during that month. There's also a reference at the bottom for any of the policies that require something to be done during that month, such as approving the school budget in April.

3. Principal evaluation: when to do it so that the board can make a timely decision for the next year and know the impact to the school's budget. Quite often boards neglect to do an annual evaluation of their lead administrator until problems arise.

4. Board training. Both boards are already using the online training modules for charter school boards in Colorado, but now that a study guide is in development the presidents both had plans to incorporate three modules into each board agenda. They plan to have a short workshop, using the study guide's guiding questions, for each set of three modules.

5. Transparency and accessibility for the school's stakeholders. One of the boards puts their entire board packet (unless something is confidential) online. Past board packets are archived.

In the fall, there will be a new program for board presidents and board members wanting more detailed training. This will be the "second level" of training for board members who have already completed the 30 online board training modules. Each semester there will be a President's Council meeting and a webinar. Information will be available through the CDE Schools of Choice Events page and listserv.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peak to Peak Moves Up on Newsweek List

Peak to Peak moved up to #35 on Newsweek's list of the top public schools in the nation. Last year Peak to Peak was #61. Congrats to Peak to Peak on this accomplishment!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Charter School Boot Camp Pictures

Top photo: (L to R) Jen Dauzvardis, Nora Flood, Karen DeSchryver and John Griego doing a role play of a charter school application hearing.
Middle photo: Vincent Badolato, Vice President of Public Affairs for the Colorado League of Charter Schools
Bottom photo: Tony Fontana, Executive Principal, Peak to Peak Charter School

Friday, June 11, 2010

Charter School Boot Camp 2010

People brand new to the charter school community have been attending a boot camp this week to prepare for writing a charter school application. The training is a collaboration with CDE, the League of Charter Schools and the state Charter School Institute.

Attending boot camp and hearing all the presentations, which include a wide variety of topics including the application components, has been likened to drinking from a fire hose. Most founders begin with learning the lingo we use in education. Almost every component of the application requires a great deal of background knowledge and discussion. The components interplay with each other to comprehensively communicate the school's vision and philosophies. Even the budget should reflect the school's vision.

There are a host of resources available for charter school applicants. Many are on the charter page of the CDE website. Resources include other charter school applications, the model application, primary documents such as bylaws and articles of incorporation, and financial models. The sample contract language that's now available was reviewed; in particular, the pre-opening checklist and ESP provisions attachments.

This boot camp is for three days each June and the fee is nominal (to cover food). The primary purpose of the training is exposure to people the applicants will need to contact for help as they go through the application process and explain the detail of what should be included in a charter school applicaction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Liberty Common School Leases New Building

Liberty Common School is expanding as they grow out their program through twelth grade. The secondary school will be located in the old Pioneer School of Expeditionary Learning building near Drake and Lemay in Fort Collins.

Bob Schaffer, Director of Secondary Instruction for Liberty Common School and also the Chair of the State Board of Education, is excited about the proximity of the new building to the existing LCS campus and the fact that minimal renovation needed to be done in order to use it for a secondary school.

The LCS K-8 program will also expand to build up enough of a student base to support the high school. There are two charter schools in the Poudre School District: Liberty Common School and Ridgeview Classical Schools. Additionally, a Charter School Institute-sponsored K-8 operates in Fort Collins, Northern Colorado Academy of Art & Knowledge.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Charter School Autonomy, Part Two

This is a continuation of my comment on the Fordham report, "Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise."

6. Law/Policy Waivers: Generally, Colorado's Charter Schools Act is favorable to charter schools. It typically earns a B from the Center for Education Reform. The State Board of Education allows for the automatic waiver of 13 state laws and more, upon request. The new sample contract language suggests districts provide a list of district policies that either do not apply to charter schools or could be waived to make the process easier.

7. Budget: The law specifically allows a charter school board to establish their own budget and have control over their finances. Charter schools cannot waive finance laws that pertain to all public schools.

8. Discipline Policies: Many charter schools have sought, and received, waiver from Suspension and Expulsion laws and even Truancy laws. These waivers allow the charter school board the authority that otherwise would rest with the local board of education. CSI requires all of its schools to do their own discipline.

9. Management Contracting: The new sample contract language has an appendix called, "ESP Provisions", which are a list of provisions that should be in the management contract. The authorizer isn't party to that contract, but does often express an interest in what the contract states. Many authorizers require both the charter school governing board and the management company to have separate legal counsels.

10. Staff Dismissals: All charter schools in Colorado employ at-will. This means that the employee relationship can be severed with or without cause at any time. Charter school administrators are careful to not enter into a performance plan with an under-performing employee that would alter the at-will nature of employment.

11. Program/Curriculum: The state law is very clear that a charter school has control over their educational program. The charter school application details how the school will be operated and what the curricula will be. Some charter schools use a packaged curriculum and others create their own from a variety of sources.

12. Procurement: Almost all charter schools in the state have their money in a bank not associated with their authorizer. At least one school district requires their charter schools to keep all their funds in district accounts. Charter schools get their funding monthly or quarterly, according to their contract. Charter schools must adhere to procurement laws, although they don't have to do it through their district (unless their district requires it). Many charter schools consider the League of Charter Schools' group purchasing arrangements in their research.

13. School Scheduling: Again, this is an area that totally up to the charter school operators. It's often reinforced in the charter contract and/or through a delegation waiver of the school calendar law.

14. Work Rules: While Colorado's charter schools use at-will employees, many other states do not. In some states the charter school must participate in the district's collective bargaining agreement. This is an area where Colorado's law has always been solid.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Charter School Autonomy, Part One

I just got done reading "Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise," from the Fordham Foundation. (Yes, it sat in my "to read" stack for quite some time!) Colorado was included in the 26 states whose charter school laws were examined by the authors. This included four individual charter schools: Provost Academy and Thomas MacLaren, both authorized by the Charter School Institute (CSI) and W Denver Prep and Envision Charter School, both authorized by Denver Public Schools (DPS).

In comparing the report's findings on a national scale to Colorado, there are numerous reasons why Colorado's law is stronger than most. Below I will go through each of the report's criteria for autonomy and point out the relevance for Colorado.

1. Teacher Certification: The State Board of Education automatically waives teacher licensure laws and doesn't require a charter school to meet the federal "highly qualified" definition by licensure. Instead charter schools with the licensure waiver, can demonstrate in other ways that their staff is "highly qualified."

2. Contract Revisions: The state law says that charter schools can "negotiate" their contracts with their authorizer. The degree to which they actually can varies across authorizers (districts and CSI). Most districts that have more than one charter school already, tend to standardize their contracts so that they aren't, for example, paying for Special Education services in two different ways. The development of last year's "sample contract language" provides for the charter school to define their own characteristics. It also more clearly explains what is considered a "material change" to the contract whereas in the past this was often ambiguous and led to differing legal interpretations. Colorado's law also allows for a charter school, for the purpose of gaining a better financing package, to have a long-term contract. Many schools in the state have 30 year contracts, or even "ever-greening" contracts that automatically renew each year. It should be noted that these long contracts do not change the accountability provisions for academics nor does it prevent the annual renewal of financial terms.

3. Staff Compensation: This is another one of the statutes that are automatically waived for charter schools, upon request. In fact, many charter schools do not even use a salary schedule. Instead many use performance pay systems and negotiated salaries. All charter schools use at-will employees. The charter contracts explicitly state that the charter school employee is not a district employee.

4. Board Composition: Although this is somewhat vague in the law, authorizers have, for the most part, steered away from dictating who can and cannot be on a charter school board. There have been a handful of situations where the authorizer either closed a charter school due to their governance issues or mandated a clean sweep of the current board. The authorizer's legal ability to do this remains in question, however. The new sample contract language contains an appendix that is a Board Certification Form. The form is meant to provide disclosure for potential conflicts of interest. Almost all charter school contracts require board's to have, and adhere to, conflicts of interest policies. Further, some authorizers in the state frown on charter school staff (i.e., teachers) from being on a charter school board. This is the exact opposite of some other states.

5. Special Education: The entity that has the legal authority to deliver Special Education services, and ensure compliance, is the "LEA" or Local Education Agency. In our state this is the local school district. Some of the smaller districts have formed a cooperative, a Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), for the purposes of delivering Special Education services. Charter schools must remain under their LEA and don't have the authority to join a BOCES unless their district participates in a BOCES. Charter schools have little autonomy in the area of Special Education in our state. For many charter schools their main source of contention with the requirement they adhere to whatever their district wants, is when district employees do not support the charter school's educational program or when the cost is very high for limited services.

To be Continued

Friday, June 4, 2010

K12's Ron Packard Addresses COVA Teachers Today

Ron Packard, the founder and CEO of K12, spoke to a group of COVA (Colorado Virtual Academy) staff members assembled for a professional development day in Northglenn. Before Packard began speaking, COVA student Bryce Meyers presented him with a gift from the Student Council.

Packard spoke about the beginning of COVA ten years ago. He said the school opened in only two weeks. COVA was originally attached to The Academy of Charter Schools and then after several years, separated with its own charter from the Adams 12 School District. Colorado and Pennsylvania were the first two states to open virtual academies. Today K12 employs 2200 teachers and educates more than 70,000 students. In addition, there are 800 K12 central office staff.

Packard told the teachers that their relationship with their students and families was the biggest factor in K12's success. He said he thought he was starting an education curriculum company, but soon realized he'd started a company of teachers. K12 lists student retention and academic achievement as their two highest goals.

Packard said he wants to be in all 50 states within four years and is in 26 states right now. K12 is already in 51 countries and will be in China and Dubai soon. In addition, K12 is openings its first brick and mortar school this fall in San Francisco. In Chicago, the company operates a school for dropouts that is 15 hrs a week of being in the building and the rest are online classes.

One point that Packard kept emphasizing was that the top 50 largest school districts have a high school dropout rate of 50%, which he deemed unacceptable.

[Disclaimer: I am on the board of COVA.]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Last winter the Jefferson County charter schools got together to discuss something that came up and affected each of them. More than 20 people attended the meeting, representing the 13 operating charter schools and two that were approved to open. From that meeting, the board presidents began meeting every other month to discuss relevant issues.

Tonight the "President's Council" met and discussed topics such as bonding requirements, foundations, the Transparency Act, budgeting issues and principal evaluation instruments. The group values being able to discuss issues that they are currently addressing and getting feedback from others. One charter school leader is with a school that hasn't even opened yet and another's school was 15 years old.

This type of networking has led to state-level meetings for board presidents. The state President's Council will meet quarterly next school year with two of the meetings being webinars. There will also be a President's Handbook written to address the questions board president's have, such as, "If the board is going to discuss an individual employee in executive session do I have to invite that employee in to executive session?" The handbook could also be viewed as a second level of board training, above the online board training modules available here.

Monday, May 31, 2010

And Then There Was One

Denver Venture School and Envision Leadership Prep decided to merge after both schools suffered from a lack of enrollment. The Denver Public Schools board voted unanimously to allow the two charter schools to merge beginning in August. Currently each school serves about 100 students and leases DPS facility space. The schools are anticipating an exponential increase in students with the merged school, which will be called Venture Prep.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Money to Replicate

Today the U.S. Department of Education's Charter School Program released a new competitive grant program notice. This one is for charter schools that want to replicate and serve turnaround schools.

This grant program, in Title V of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (f.k.a. No Child Left Behind), is a new program in support of high quality charter schools with demonstrated records of success. Priority will be given to charter schools assisting turnaround schools in poverty areas.

Each applicant for this grant needs to demonstrate that they have strong academic results and there are no significant issues in the areas of student safety, financial management, or statutory or regulatory compliance in order to be competitive against the other applicants.

The anticipated average award will be $7 million for a five-year period. An estimated 5-8 awards will be given this fall.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For Principals

I just got done reading Michael Fullan's, "What's Worth Fighting for in the Principalship." I highly recommend it for any new administrator or for someone contemplating a profession in administration. In fact, we'll probably use it in next year's administrator's meetings.

The book is in a format that would be easy to use for staff development because there are priority lists of what to focus on and what makes the greatest impact. The entire book appears to be "the bottom line" of what's essential rather than long, drawn-out explanations. It's concise and to the point.

Fullan talks about specific issues that may arise for principals and suggests solutions. He says that when a school needs drastic reform measures, the focus should be on early wins and improvement in the areas that need it the most. But he doesn't suggest being a principal is ever easy. In fact, quite the opposite. At the conclusion of the book I was glad I wasn't a principal because there are so many different responsibilities to juggle. This is especially true for a charter school principal who also acts like a district superintendent in many ways.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Business Manager's Network Meeting Update

Last week the Colorado Business Manager's Network meeting revealed a LOT of new information for charter schools! Here's a synopsis:

· SB 10-001, Eliminate PERA’s Unfunded Liabilities, increases the employer’s contribution from 13.85% this year to 14.75% next year. The bill moves COLA benefit increase from March to July. It also puts a 12-month waiting period on contributors being eligible to get the benefit. In 2010 the COLA is calculated by 20% of the CPI for wage earners (-.6%). This resulted in about 90 million extra money for PERA to invest for the next year. PERA pensions are compounded annually. Highest average salary calculation remained over 3 years (5 yrs was originally proposed in the legislation). Minimum age for retirement will increase to 60 yrs of age, but is age 58 for schools if the wage earner has worked in schools for at least 10 yrs (affects people hired after Jan. 1, 2011).

· Legislative Update, Vincent Badolato, CLCS: 6.3% cut for FY 10-11. Statutory 5 million for charter school capital construction remained intact. The capital construction will now be paid monthly, instead of in one lump sum.

· HB 1036: Financial Transparency Act. Annual budgets, quarterly financials and general financial information must be posted online this coming school year. Next year additional information will be required. May be in a PDF format.

· HB 1345, Emergency Powers over Charter Schools: Commissioner has authority to intervene in an emergency situation. State board rule will define what can be an emergency. This impacts CMOs that have schools in a variety of districts.

· HB 1412, Charter School & Authorizer Standards Review Cmte. A 13-member advisory committee to make recommendation to the state board for quality standards. Authorizer standards would probably be modeled after the NACSA Principles & Standards. Appointments to the committee will be made by October 2010.

· SB 111, CSI Clean-up. Establishes a study group to consider letting charter schools develop a cooperative to become an LEA. Creates a school food authority account in the CSI fund to receive any moneys received operating as a SFA.

· SB 161, Charter School Collaboratives. Allows charter schools to apply for competitive federal and state grants without needing the consent of a charter school’s current authorizer. CSI may function as the LEA and fiscal agent for collaborative that choose to apply for grants.

· FMLA is applied to schools with more than 50 employees within a radius of 75 miles. Schools with less than that may not be covered by FMLA, but they should act as if they are covered since they wouldn’t want to be a test case. Employees who have physically worked 1250 hours are covered. Employees must be given 12 wks of leave (may be unpaid or take vacation time). Upon return must be able to resume job or comparable job. Intermittent use of the 12 wks is permitted. Notified 30 days in advance is required if the employee knows about the illness. A doctor’s note can be required if the employee is out more than 3 days. If the employee has benefits before FMLA the employer must pay the employer portion of benefits, but the employee must pay their portion.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Connect Students Go the Distance

Connect Charter School in Pueblo will be sending 22 students to the National Science Olympiad in Champagne, Illinois later this month. The students will be competing in earth science, biology, physics, technology and chemistry.

Connect was the first charter school in the state to get approved back in 1993. They're authorized by Pueblo 70 School District. The school's students have consistently scored in the top middle schools in the state.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roman New COO of Cesar Chavez School Network

The board of the Cesar Chavez School Network announced they've hired Dr. Henry Roman as their new COO. The position has been vacant since last October when Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, the school's founder, was terminated. Dr. Roman was formerly the Superintendent of Pueblo 60 City Schools, the charter school's authorizer.

Yesterday the CCSN board also met with Cary Kennedy, the state Treasurer, regarding their bond payments. The high school bond is held by the elementary school and there is question as to whether or not the school will be able to make bond payments in the future.

The Cesar Chavez Academy-Denver school operates autonomously with their own governing board and currently only purchases business services from the Network. As noted by the CCA-Denver principal, Ryan Lucas, the fairness of this year's charges and services is being questioned by the CCA-Denver charter school governing board.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rocky Mountain Classical Academy

The Falcon 49 Board of Education gave the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy a one-year probationary contract last week. The troubled charter school has been in a financial bind since it failed to set aside its TABOR reserve. Charter school board members now say they've trimmed non-teaching staff positions by six and have gaine expert financial advice that is more encouraging for next year.

Rocky Mounain Classical Academy is a K-12 school ending its fourth year of operation and is located along the east side of Colorado Springs, just north of the airport. Last spring the charter school released its executive director and school founder after information about the financial situation were uncovered.

Battle Rock Charter School

One of the neatest charter schools in the state is in the four corners area of southwestern Colorado. Battle Rock Charter School is a on-room school in the McElmo Canyon west of Cortez.

In 2002, William Celis wrote a book about the charter school called, "Battle Rock." The book provides extensive information about the school's founder, Stephen Hanson and his wife, Susan. I visited the school many years ago and was actually a guest at Stephen and Susan's home. Stephen poured himself into getting that school open and established.

Recently some renovations were made to the building and the school's leaders sent a thank you to the local paper recognizing those who helped them. This is small town Colorado-goodness at its best!

Monday, May 10, 2010

More Senior Pranks

It's that time of year where I write about some of the more entertaining senior pranks that I've learned about. A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with three high school principals and took the opportunity to hear some of their best stories.

At one high school the seniors scaled the school building and entered via the roof access where they proceeded to remove all the light bulbs in the entire facility. They neatly packaged the light bulbs and labeled them as to where they were taken from and stored them all in a very "safe" place. Then they wrote a scavenger hunt for administrators to use to find out where the light bulbs were located. Doing the scavenger hunt took almost an hour.

A group of senior girls gained access to the principal's office and covered everything--literally everything--with tinfoil. This included every single pencil.

This year at a high school where the principal wants to know about pranks that are planned so he can give approval or help the seniors think of a prank that while still funny, won't harm anything or anyone. Well, this year the seniors called him to let him know--that they were in the midst of hanging old tires all over campus.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Incriminating Evidence Against Cesar Chavez School Network

Today CDE released a statement about the findings of the MGT financial audit of the troubled Cesar Chavez School Network (CCSN). At one time the CCSN had six schools under their network, but that is now down to three: Cesar Chavez Academy-Pueblo, Dolores Huerta Prep HS and Cesar Chavez Academy-Denver. The two charter schools in Colorado Springs merged and became Scholars to Leaders while the online school, GOAL Academy, operates out of the Pueblo mall.

Last summer it came out that the CEO, Lawrence Hernandez, made $250,000 a year. Today's financial audit revealed the amount was actually $340,000 for a one-year period. Similar salary increases were found for the CFO, Jason Guerrero, and Lawrence's wife, Annette. The study revealed Guerrero made $321,000 and Anette Hernandez made $200,000. Additionally, the Hernandez's daughter's cell phone and hair salon expenses were charged to school accounts. Twenty-six credit cards were used by CCSN staff for a total of more than $400,000 in one year, most without proper records.

The 193 page MGT report also details that the Hernandez's had 20 relatives working for them before changes were made last fall and the Hernandez's were terminated. Numerous conflicts of interest issues were also identified. Including a corporation Dr. Hernandez established and paid himself to operate an alternative teacher licensing program.

I'll be posting more on this report in the following days.
Update: Another Pueblo Chieftain piece.

Scholars to Leaders Academy

I spent the morning at Scholars to Leaders Academy in Colorado Springs. STL is authorized by the Charter School Institute and sits in the Colorado Springs 11 School District. The school is ending its second year of operation, but just last October separated from the Cesar Chavez School Network.

STL serves 225 students in grades K-8 in a building that had previously been used by a private Catholic school. The school's principal is Dr. Carolyn Gery. Success for All, used for reading and Everyday Math supplement the Core Knowledge curriculum. There is an extended day and school year. Students are 74% Free and Reduced-Price Lunch and 76% minority.

Last fall STL merged with a second Cesar Chavez School Network school that also operated in Colorado Springs and was authorized by the state Charter School Institute. There wasn't enough enrollment to support both schools.

When STL separated from the Network last fall they established a new board of directors, incorporated and signed a new contract with CSI. After consulting stakeholders, the board has adopted a mission statement. The school has rebounded from the turmoil of the first semester and is focused on improving academic achievement.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thomas MacLaren Charter School in the News

The Thomas MacLaren Charter School in Colorado Springs got some much-deserved recognition by their local newspaper yesterday. The new charter school, authorized by the state Charter School Institute, is just finishing up its first year of operation.

Thomas MacLaren was a well-known architect in Colorado Springs when the city was getting established. The charter school has several architectural renderings of his work on display.

The school uses the classical approach to education with an emphasis on the fine arts. Classical education centers on discussion as the primary methodology. The theory is based on the motion that through the discussion of primary texts, the student delves into deeper meaning and asks a higher level of question.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

House Ed Acts on 3 Charter School Bills

It was the afternoon to hear charter school bills in the House Education committee. The first bill heard is sponsored by Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll (D-Denver). The Speaker's bill, HB 1345-Emergency Powers, addressed the issue that came up with Brighton Collegiate HS last winter when the district took over the troubled charter school. When the charter school governing board went to district court, the judge stated it wasn't his court's jurisdiction, but didn't elaborate on which entity was the appropriate venue, either.

This emergency powers bill clarifies the process should an authorizer want to step in and address address that don't necessarily fall under the "health and safety issues" for closure commonly covered in charter contracts. The bill clarifies that a district court is the appropriate venue to determine if the district takeover is appropriate. HB 1345 was unanimously approved to go to the floor of the House for second reading.

The next bill, also by Speaker Carroll, was HB 1412-Charter School and Charter School Authorizer Standards Review Committee. The bill would establish a 13-member advisory committee that will make a recommendation to the State Board of Education for rules to detail standards for both of these groups. Rep. Merrifield's amendment to change the deadline for the committee was adopted. The bill was approved 11-1 and will be on the Special Orders calendar on the floor of the House tomorrow.

The final bill, by Rep. Middleton (D-Aurora), HB 1419 was postponed indefinitely at the request of the sponsor. The bill wasn't "ready for prime time," according to the sponsor and needed additional discussion.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Vote Early--Vote Often--For DSST

The Denver School of Science & Technology (DSST) is competing with five other schools in the country for the right to have President Obama speak at their graduation ceremonies. You can vote for DSST by going here. One vote for each computer IP address.

You can also follow DSST on Facebook at: DSST Public Schools

Monday, April 26, 2010

More on Imagine Schools

The NY Times ran an lengthy and well-researched article on Imagine Schools. Imagine is the largest management company for charter schools in the nation with 71 schools operating. In Colorado, there are two charter schools--in Firestone and the eastern part of Colorado Springs.

Imagine is criticized for extracting so much money from the schools it operates that the school operates on an extremely lean budget. This results in fewer resources and smaller salaries. Imagine is applying for nonprofit status (since 2005), but it also operates a facilities financing company that is for profit.

Pieces of this information has been reported in the past. However, this is the first article that collectively outlines all of the issues that have surfaced.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Charter School Essay Contest Winners

Winners of the charter school student essay contest were announced yesterday by Chairman of the State Board of Education, Bob Schaffer. First, Mr. Schaffer talked about the importance of choice in education and recalled his days in the Colorado Senate when the 1993 Charter School bill was introduced. Later he supported charter school legislation as a member of Congress, representing the 4th Congressional District. Now Bob Schaffer is the project director at Liberty Common School as they expand through high school in the fall.

Essay contest winners included:

* Mackenzie Whitehead-Bust, 4th grade, Highline Academy in Denver. Mackenzie mother, Alyssa, was the founding principal at Highline. Mackenzie's parents and younger sisters were at the rally to cheer her on.

* Mara Strother, 6th grade, Woodrow Wilson Academy in Westminster. The top picture includes Mara, her teacher, her principal Tim Matlick and several classmates. I must admit that I'm a board member at Woodrow Wilson and we're all very, very proud of Mara for her great essay!

* Clarence Thompson, 10th grade, Ridge View Academy in Watkins. Ridge View Academy is a youth detention facility. In his essay, Clarence told about his troubled past and how his life changed once he got to Ridge View.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Charter School Day at the Capitol

Today a couple of hundred charter school students, parents, administrators, teachers and elected officials gathered on the west steps of the state Capitol to celebrate Colorado Charter Schools week. Colorado League of Charter Schools (CLCS) Senior Vice President, Nora Flood, opened the rally with some information about charter schools. There are more than 160 charter schools operating in Colorado serving more than 66,000 students. About a dozen schools were represented at today's rally.

CIVA Charter Schools, Colorado Springs, brought their jazz band and provided music for the rally. Another big musical hit was the Rocky Mountain Deaf School's drum line. The students did a series of rhythmic exercises that demonstrated a very unique way for deaf students to learn music.

Numeorus people addressed the crowd including a teacher from Bromley East Charter School, CIVA Principal Randy Zimmerman, DSST Exec. Director Bill Kurtz, and students.

State Board of Education Chair, Bob Schaffer, introduced the students who won the essay contest for Charter Schools Week. I'll post on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

This is How it All Begins

This is how many charter schools get started: two Moms can't get their children into a charter school so they start their own beginning in the fall of 2012.

Two mothers from Loveland didn't get their children in to New Vision Charter School so they're proposing a new charter school open. Never underestimate the resourcefulness of mothers who want what's best for their child(ren)!

I've heard this same story more times than I can recall. Teri Oates called me back in 1999 because she couldn't get her children into Jefferson Academy. Woodrow Wilson Academy opened a year later. Deb Coufal moved to Elizabeth after having been at Jefferson Academy and since there wasn't a school, started Elbert County Charter School, which later changed its name to Legacy Academy. When the sibling pool filled the Peak to Peak Charter School kindergarten class, parents whose children didn't make a class list worked together to form Flagstaff Academy in Longmont. The stories are endless.

Predominantly in Colorado, charter schools are created by a grassroots group of parents, educators, and professionals who want greater educational opportunities for their own families. Contrary to the rest of the nation, our state has few charter schools operated by management companies. In other states, their charter school law encourages management company charter schools. Colorado's law has greater flexibility.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sen. King's Charter School Bill Goes to the Full Senate

SB 161, Sen. Keith King's bill to allow charter schools to enter into "collaborative" agreements passed out of the Senate Education committee last week on a 6-2 vote. Senators Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) and Evie Hudak (D-Arvada) voted against the bill.

Current law doesn't allow a charter school to join a Board of Cooperative Education Services other than through their authorizing school district. SB 161 would allow charter schools to join directly. It would also permit charter schools to form "collaboratives" without obtaining approval from their authorizer.

The bill, if approved, would allow charter schools to seek federal grants by authorizing it the authority, under limited circumstances, to serve as an LEA (Local Education Agency). This wouldn't apply to Special Education funding.

If the bill receives a majority approval by the full Senate it then goes to the House where it will first be heard by the House Education committee.

New Resource for Charter Schools and Their Authorizers

There's a new resource for anything charter related and it's called the National Charter School Resource Center. The site provides information for state agencies and charter school authorizers in addition to information about facilities and school turnaround.

The site is fairly new and funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Charter School Program. Watch for the site to grow as additional resources are vetted and added.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CSI Prevails in Appeal from CDELA

The Colorado Education and Distance Education Learning Academy (CDELA) lost their appeal to the State Board of Education this afternoon. CDELA is managed by White Hat Management out of Ohio.

Board member, Randy DeHoff, recused himself from the hearing because he was Executive Director of CSI at the time the CSI board voted to nonrenew the CDELA contract.

CDELA attorney said the three primary issues of the appeal were finances, records and academics. The state board honed in on the lack of academic achievement from CDELA students. In addition, it came out that the CDELA student performance data was only based on 53 students who took CSAP for two consecutive years while with the charter school. CSI's attorney, Tony Dyl, pointed out that a very high percentage of students failed to return a second year therefore making a very small sample size to critique student achievement.

State board chair, Bob Schaffer, before he voted noted that he was a strong supporter of charter schools but he was an even stronger supporter of offering students a quality education and he didn't see that with CDELA. Several other board members also voiced concern about the lack of student academic achievement during the hearing, even redirecting the attorneys when they were presenting their cases.

The board voted unanimously to affirm CSI's decision to not renew the CDELA charter contract. The school is slated to close at the end of this school year.