Sunday, March 28, 2010

Brighton Collegiate Put out to Bid

Three organizing groups are getting the chance to write a charter school proposal to take over the Brighton Collegiate HS that has been plagued by inappropriate contact between students and staff.

The Brighton 27-J School District took over the charter school in December 2009 after an incident that prompted the board of education to impose greater sanctions. The district released a Request for Qualifications for which they received four applications. Three of those four were invited to write a full-blown proposal. Whoever wins the charter will take over the building currently being used by Brighton Collegiate--and it's bond obligation. The building is only a few years old.

The three groups submitting charter school applications by April 6th are:
1. Arrow Academy: an innovative high school program that maximizes efficiencies of learning through the use of an online learning program that is guided by a master teacher and school approved resources and texts.
2. Ridgeview Classical Schools Institute: uses the Socratic method of inquiry to deliver a classical approach to education. The program builds on the Core Knowledge used in the district's K-8 charter schools.
3. Hughes Consulting: continues and improves upon the current college preparatory program.

The district will hold a parent information meeting at BCHS on April 14th at 6 p.m.

Using the parlance of the US Dept of Education's turnaround project, this is defined as a "restart." A public school is closed and opened as a brand new school with all new administration, staff, and students.

The Brighton situation was the impetus for HB 1345, Powers for Charter School Emergencies, sponsored by Rep. Terrance Carroll.

Gary, Indiana Charter School Teachers Make a Video

From the Gary Lighthouse Charter School, here's a video encouraging students to do well on the Indiana state assessment.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ridgeview Classical Schools

I spent the day at Ridgeview Classical Schools where a handful of us learned about how the charter school teaches reading and writing. First, Mr. Florian Hild, the principal, explained the school's classical philosophy, which is based on the trivium of learning: grammar, logic and rhetoric. The grammar stage is elementary school where students are taught lots of facts and information. Logic is where the students begin to apply this knowledge while under the guidance of their teacher. The full use of what a student has learned is the rhetoric stage. At the rhetoric stage students should be able to cogently explain what they believe and be able to ask probing questions because they have a foundation of knowledge upon which they can build.

Ridgeview Classical uses Riggs to teach students how to read beginning in Kindergarten. The program is heavily phonics based and is a complement to the classical educational approach used at RCS. Throughout the K-12 charter school the Socratic method of inquiry is used to guide discussion on primary and classical works.

RCS consistently scores in the top five high schools in the state. They do this without ANY preparation for CSAP. In fact, they aren't even aware of the state's model content standards that CSAP assesses. Instead, RCS focuses on teaching a solid sequence of learning based on what the school believes is important for students to know. The discussion, or Socratic method, is the methodology used to deliver the curricula.

Like almost all charter schools in the state, RCS has a waiver from using licensed teachers. They still must employ Highly Qualified teachers, but they don't have to meet that requirement with appropriately licensed teachers. The majority of RCS teachers have advanced degrees. The administrator's approach to hiring is an emphasis on hiring people with deep content knowledge. Most elementary school teachers did not receive a general, elementary education degree. Instead, many have a content area degree.

While RCS has developed a successful model over its ten-year history, how replicable the model is, particularly at the high school level, remains to be seen. Part of the school's success is being able to train students in the trivium prior to high school, allowing a higher level of achievement prior to high school graduation. Students that come in during the high school years require intense remediation and a desire to adapt to the model of high expectations. These elements that define Ridgeview Classical Schools are difficult to achieve in a new school and take time to develop to the level RCS currently enjoys.

The RCS vision has been guided since the school's inception by founders Kim Miller, Peggy Schunk, the first principal, Dr. Terrence Moore and the current principal, Mr. Florian Hild. Mr. Hild has been at RCS since its opening where he began as the German teacher. The clarity of vision for what the school is, and is not, has allowed them to develop a sophisticated, unique educational program that is effective with a number of students. The charter school's lottery pool is 1400 students.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Trend in Charter Schools: Clusters

Charter schools in New Orleans are banding together to share back office support and governing boards. It makes sense to "cluster" charter schools that overlap in vision. While these New Orleans schools are clustering after-the-fact, many charter schools "replicate" under one board and sharing back office support.

Denver Public Schools has authorized several clusters: Denver School of Science and Technology, W Denver Prep, KIPP and Denver Venture. These clusters all have multiple charters and/or multiple campuses either now or in the near future. High-functioning charter school boards are often appealing to charter authorizers who want new schools to serve high-needs areas. The four clusters mentioned all have well-connected board members with a great deal of expertise. Another characteristic common in these clusters is that they've been authorized to operate multiple Denver schools. These clusters don't have other charter schools in other districts.

There are other clusters in the state that have multiple charter schools in multiple school districts. For example, the New America Schools have campuses in Lakewood, Eagle and Thornton. All three charter schools have different authorizers. In fact, the Thornton campus is on its fourth authorizer. As it moves physical locations, it seeks authorization from the local board.

The Colorado Charter Schools Act doesn't define who can be party to the charter contract. Charter contracts can authorizer multiple sites and types of programs (i.e., The Classical Academy at three locations plus an online academy) or it can be three charters under one board (i.e., James Irwin Charter Schools and Jefferson Academy Charter Schools) and all on one campus.

There are pros and cons to having multiple schools under one charter and one governing board. When a particular educational and business model is working, replicating it only makes sense. Having one board, that understands the vision, makes it easier to establish the new school and school culture. Further, combining business operations is more efficient and cost effective.

The issue of how many schools under one board is optimal is where the predominant "con" to the scenario enters the discussion. Charter schools are independently operated. When does the cookie cutter model limit quality? Nationally this issue has plagued replicators wanting to "scale up" their schools. KIPP and others have created leadership academies to train up new school leaders only to find that these leaders need more support, even after they take on a new charter school.

According to Education Sector's November 2009 report, "Growing Pains: Scaling Up the Nation's Best Charter Schools," charter management organizations (their term for "clusters") are finding that their long-term strategies needs to include support for even the most talented new school leaders.

As with most charter school issues, the inherent philosophy of charter schools is again applicable--charter schools don't fit into a box. Actually, I'm of the opinion that when a box is defined for a charter school someone will find a way to get out of it. Each cluster situation is unique. Which is actually the reason for charter schools in the first place. Charter schools allow for the flexibility and unique approaches that best suits student's academic needs.

Monday, March 22, 2010

School Finance Bill Passes House Education Committee

HB 1369, the School Finance bill, passed the House unanimously last week and now is waiting for a second reading by the entire House. The bill uses the negative .6% inflation rate to calculate the per student funding amount. This piece of legislation is sponsored by Rep. Scanlon and Rep. Pommer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Consultant Position Open in CDE

The Colorado Department of Education's Schools of Choice Unit has a half-time consultant position open. The position is a job share working with the Charter School Program startup and implementation grant.

Merlin Holmes Named New SkyView Academy Director

The SkyView Academy (f.k.a. Northstar Academy-West) board has just announced that their Executive Director is Merlin Holmes. Merlin has been well-known in the charter school community. I met him when he was the high school principal at The Classical Academy. We've had numerous, long conversations about high schools and he has great ideas.

Merlin also worked in the Schools of Choice Unit at CDE, served as principal at Legacy Academy, started Landmark Academy for National Heritage Academies, Inc. and continues to do extensive consulting.

SkyView Academy will be opening this fall at C-470 and Quebec in Highlands Ranch where they're converting a building that was formerly at Home Depot store. The school will open K-5, but next year add a sixth and ninth grade as they gradually grow to become a K-12 school.

Business Manager's Network Meeting, Mar. 12th

Charter school business managers met last Friday. Here's a synopsis of their meeting:

Larry Hudson, CLCS Lobbyist and Vincent Badalato, CLCS Public Affairs

1. Budget update: 2.3% cut in current FY; Figure Setting last week with CDE projected a 8.8% cut for next year; next revenue forecast Mar 22; CS cap construction-JBC recommended be fully funded at 5 mil
2. HB 1343: Board cannot adopt standards; concerns expressed about putting charters into a box and reducing creativity/innovation
3. HB 1344: meet authorizer standards by July 1, 2011; may contract with another entity like a BOCES; advisory group to advise state board
4. HB 1345: Brighton and CCA Network situations; Commissioner quasi-judicial role due to emergency nature of the possible situations the bill is designed to address
5. Speakers’ bills taken off calendar indefinitely until agreement reached.

Ken Buckius, UMB Corporate Trust
1. Periodic reports & Certifications include:
a. Monthly construction reports
b. Quarterly financial reports – comparative
c. Insurance consultant review and certification
d. Arbitrage rebate calculation & payments

Colorado School District Self-Insurance Pool
Provided summary of SB 08-181, which requires all schools to have a crisis plan in line with the National Incident Management System. The plan requires the identification of “key people” who are trained to lead in the event of a crisis. The Self-Insurance Pool can provide someone to assist schools in creating their plans and training is also available for the key people at each school.

Trish Boland, Federal Title Funds
1. Charter reps will need to sign the consolidated grant app as proof that they were informed about how the funds will be used. The signature doesn’t mean the charter rep agrees with the plan.
2. Charter schools can no longer be given a proportional amount to do something different with.
3. Title II, Part A can no longer fund one-day workshops.
4. Time and effort must be documented daily and reported twice a year for all positions funded with state or federal funds.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Two Great Principals

On the left is Louis Salazar, the high school principal at The Pinnacle in Federal Heights. On the right is Tony Fontana, the Executive Principal at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette.

Both charter school's boys basketball teams played at the state tournament this weekend and both teams lost their first game. I've written in the past about Jefferson Academy beating both The Pinnacle and Peak to Peak. Last weekend, Peak to Peak beat Jefferson Academy in a very close game that went back and forth repeatedly. In the final seconds of the game, P2P pulled ahead and earned the right to go to state. The class 3A boys basketball championship went to Faith Christian Academy in Arvada.

Charter School Teacher Job Fair

Yesterday Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette hosted the second annual charter school teacher job fair. This year's event drew 700 teacher candidates and 47 charter schools. Eight of the charter schools will be brand new in the fall and so are hiring an entirely new staff.

The job fair gave applicants an opportunity to learn more about the schools that are hiring and then participate in a series of 15 min. interviews with the schools. There were interview blocks in both the morning and the afternoon.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Prospect Ridge Gets Unanimous Approval From State Board

Today in a rare unanimous vote, the State Board of Education remanded the Prospect Ridge case back to the Adams 12 School District for reconsideration. With a unanimous vote, it's unlikely the district will contest working out the contract with the charter school applicants.

Several of the board members pointed out the weakness of the case; in fact, Randy DeHoff agreed with the applicant's legal counsel that it was the weakest case he'd seen in the 16 years of the charter school law.

Quite a bit of the case centered on the efficacy of the Core Knowledge curriculum, which the district questioned. One of Prospect Ridge's founders is Jere Pearcy the former principal of Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen and Flagstaff Academy in Longmont. In addition to being a Core Knowledge trainer, Ms. Pearcy has led two schools to being John J. Irwin Schools of Excellence.

Prospect Ridge will open K-6 in the Erie area, which is along the northern border of Adams 12. The school will have 2 and 3 classes per grade level, based on enrollment needs.