The discussion started in October of 1993 when Barry asked me one day if I'd like to start a charter school with him and our friend, Tom McMillen. After finding out what a "charter school" was I was ready to jump in. Our first parent meeting was October 30th at someone's home. We submitted our application to Jeffco on Jan. 10, 1994.
I can't write about how we started JA without mentioning a humorous anecdote. In a previous posting, I'd mentioned we'd gotten the Academy Charter School application (hard copy). I volunteered to enter the basis of what we needed into a word processing program. It being 1994, I knew very little about Microsoft and had only recently converted from DOS programs. So as I wrote the first draft of the charter application during Christmas break, I put a hard return after every line. I was happy to be out of state when Barry later discovered the draft had hundreds of unncessary page returns in it!
There were 13 charter applications submitted to Jeffco that year. The district held hearings at area high schools because there wasn't enough room in the district board room. At one of these meetings, I met Randy DeHoff, one of the parents working on the SciTech charter school application.
On March 9th, the Jeffco board voted on all 13 charter applications. They approved the Community Involved Charter School (a.k.a. Center for Discovery Learning) and SciTech. They voted down Jefferson Academy. We appealed that denial to the State Board of Education in April. The State Board unanimously voted to remand JA's application back to Jeffco and in doing so, reprimanded the district, which ultimately made the front of both newspapers the following day.
The appeal was based on two issues: 1) a location and 2) the curriculum. We had a copy of an internal memo written by then-Superintendent Lewis Finch that stated "no charter school" would ever be allowed to use a district facility. Of course, the statute very clearly allowed charter schools to use vacant facilities and we were asking to use an elementary school that was just being vacated, but was still in good shape (and is still in use today). The second issue was our intent to use the Core Knowledge curriculum. Jeffco's board members stated it was "experimental" and it was too heavy with content--kids wouldn't be able to learn. Tom Howerton, one of the State Board members who heard the appeal, had done his own research on the curriculum and was very enthusiastic about a charter school using it the curriculum. In addition, there were well over 1,000 students on the Dennison Elementary wait list in Jeffco and Jefferson Academy's educational program would alleviate some of the parents who couldn't get their children into Dennison.
In May the Jeffco school board reconsidered the JA charter application as required by State Board order. As is their typical pattern, they went into Executive Session with their legal counsel before coming out and voting. The vote was split. Kirk Brady was the swing vote in favor of JA. The school board did require that JA open with only one class per grade level rather than the proposed two. This proved to be a very wise requirement. Opening with 180 students and growing one grade level each year was hard enough!
Within two years of operation JA had more than 1,000 students on its wait list. It's earned the John. J. Irwin School of Excellence award three times. In 1996 a junior high charter was approved and then in 1999 a senior high charter was approved. All three charters operate under one governing board and are located on the same campus. This year the first class to go Kindergarten through 12th grade at JA graduated.