Sunday, September 30, 2007

K-8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap Publication Released

The US Dept of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement just released a new publication providing information on best practices through portraits of seven charter schools that are closing the achievement gap. Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo is one of the seven schools featured in this publication.

The publication states:
for the 2007-08 school year, 347 new charter schools opened, representing an 8 percent increase over the previous year, and bringing the total number of charter schools to more than 4,100, serving over 1,200,000 students.

Because charter schools can more easily affect school climate and address individual student needs, it seems charters are more effective -- over time -- than school district-operated schools.
K-8 Charter Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap cites common factors among all the schools profiled:

1. The schools are mission-driven.
2. The schools have created a safe learning environment and a strong school culture, creating a uniquely focused community.
3. Charter school teachers see themselves teaching for mastery.
4. There is a high expectation that parents are partners with the school, and in some cases, parent involvement is formalized through contracts referred to as a "commitment to excellence."
5. As charter-governed institutions, the schools have the independence to make creative scheduling, curriculum and instruction decisions.
6. Charter schools hold themselves accountable.
7. The schools are able to attract and retain excellent teachers because the schools are committted to continuous internal professional development.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Charter, Contract, Magnet, Focus, Option: What They All Mean

There are a variety of choice options in public education in Colorado. Probably the clearest term is "charter" because it means that there is a contract with an authorizer, usually a local school district. However, if that district doesn't have exclusive chartering authority then the charter could be from the state Charter School Institute.

One school district uses the terms, "internal charter" and "external charter." Another district calls their choice school a "district charter" that is really not a charter school at all. Still another district contracts with a private school for only some grade levels offered by the school. The reason there is such a variety of terms, and definitions of choice schools, is because we're a "local control" state. This means local school districts have the Constitutional authority to establish their own curriculum and operate their districts.

Here are the terms used for choice schools and a short definition:
* Contract: a district school; could be operated very similar to a charter school or could be certain grade levels of a private school
* Magnet/Option: a district-operated choice school with a specific mission, such as a school for performing arts, which requires an audition prior to enrollment
* Focus: a district-operated school with a specific mission; could be a math/science focus; could be a neighborhood school

Thursday, September 27, 2007

CDELA Charter Revocation Rescinded

The Charter School Institute board voted to rescind their previous resolution revoking the charter of the Colorado Distance & Electronic Learning Academy (CDELA). CDELA is managed by White Hat, a for-profit company based in Ohio.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

FERPA and Charter Schools

FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, is a federal law protecting the privacy of student educational records. Here are a few tips for charter schools:
  • Parent volunteers should not have access to individual student records while they are volunteering in the charter school. In other words, they should not be filing CSAP scores in the school office or using individual academic achievement data in their role as a member of the accountability committee.
  • Charter school board members should not have access to student records in their role as board members. For example, they should not have individual student information as a part of conducting the enrollment lottery.
  • A student at least 18 years of age is considered an adult and has the legal right to access his or her own student records without parental consent.
  • Charter schools, like all public schools, may disclose "directory information" such as name, address, phone number, awards and recognitions and date of birth without parental consent, however they should be notified and given the opportunity to request that their child's information not be released.

More information and sample notices are available at: http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdechart/guidebook/fam/index.htm

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Charter School Leaders

This morning more than 20 people met to begin a year-long series of meetings designed to raise up new charter school leaders and increase the personal capacity in current charter school leaders. The group will be studying Dr. Kathryn Knox's, "Windows on Leadership."

Charter school leaders need to have a greater variety of expertise than a traditional school district Principal. In addition to being the instructional leader, a charter school Principal needs to manage the school budget and oversee the business office. Typically charter school Principal's "think outside the box" and appreciate the fact that they can make modifications to their school design when they need to. If one approach to educating students isn't working, the staff can assess the situation and try another method.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Open Meetings

If I could pick one thing that trips up more charter school governing boards than anything else, it'd be not being able to communicate with each other via email.

I wrote this "Top 10 Mistakes Charter School Governing Boards Make" a couple of years ago. It's based on things I've seen happen repeatedly over the years by board members who often didn't know any better. Charter school board members can often be characterized as "the well-intentioned in full pursuit of the irrelevant." They're very well-meaning people who simply don't know that there are laws that affect what they're trying to do.

A charter school board member can send an email to the entire board as an FYI. The key is that individual board members receiving the email cannot hit "reply all" and respond. That "reply all" action makes it a "discussion" and public bodies cannot conduct or discuss business outside of a properly noticed meeting. Further, any email concerning school business, even if it's on the home computer of an individual board member, is subject to an Open Records request.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Charter School History, Part 4

Barry Arrington and I started Jefferson Academy together. I tell people that being a charter school board president was both the most rewarding and most frustrating thing I've ever done over a significant length of time (7.5 yrs).

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.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Charter Schools in New Mexico

Our neighboring state to the south adopted a charter school law similar to ours a few years after Colorado. Their new state authorizer recently denied all but one charter school application.

A recent change in New Mexico's charter school law gave applicants the choice to go straight to the state for approval. In its inaugural application process, the state's Public Education Commission denied all but one application for new state-chartered schools. Some applicants thought the application process was flawed and applicants needed more clear direction. "This commission needs to take responsibility" in making sure charter developers know what's expected of them, said Dennis Deliman, whose Arenas Valley Charter School was denied. Lisa Grover of the New Mexico Coalition for Charter Schools said the application process focuses too much on small details and should instead look at school management and academic programs. "We're talking about where governing councils' agendas are posted," said Grover. "That to me is not where we would like to see the conversation." Source: Santa Fe New Mexican, (09/12/2007) http://www.freenewmexican.com/news/68432.html

This is a great reminder of how fortunate the charter school community in Colorado is that the state Charter School Institute established itself with a fair, but rigorous process and a reputation for being tough, but willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a quality charter applicant. When state authorizers are established having people who understand the vision is critical. Just as charter schools are driven by a vision, charter authorizers need to have a vision for their role.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cesar Chavez Academy Featured in US Dept of Ed Webcast

This week the US Dept of Education aired their "Education News Parents Can Use" show, which featured Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, the Principal of Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo. You can watch the webcast at: http://www.connectlive.com/events/ednews/ It's the Sept. 18th show.

The second quarter of the show, between the 15 min. mark and 30 min. mark, features scenes from Cesar Chavez Academy and then an interview with Lawrence and another Principal. Lawrence notes that they receive new students, performing up to four years behind grade level, and so they "close the achievement gap" by intense remediation, including one-on-one tutoring. Students advance quicker, sometimes one year's progress in one semester.

The "secret" to Cesar Chavez' Academy's success could be summarized in two words: intensity and focus. They don't waste any time and everyone knows how important their work is. In the video segment, linked in the first paragraph of this post, a CCA curriculum director states they know where each of their students are academically, even before they come to the school. The culture of CCA is an intense focus on achievement data and advancing each student as quickly as possible. With one-on-one tutoring available for underperforming students, there's no place to hide! They have to learn!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

North Area Regional Charter School Luncheon Today

It was great to see more than 20 people at today's north area luncheon. We welcomed two new principals, Mr. Chris Cockrill at New Vision Charter School and Conchetta Robinson at Knowledge Quest Academy. Additionally, Mary Meersman is now the secondary school Principal at Frontier. She previously was Assistant Principal for the middle school. Eddie Liddel is the new middle school Principal at The Pinnacle Charter School.

Michael Clough, CDE's North Central Regional Team Manager, spoke about secondary school literacy and it's unique challenges. He said that brain research, conducted with MRI readings, found that a 17 year old brain can learn to read similar to a 7 year old's brain. Michael offered to do a half-day training on secondary school literacy for interested charter schools. This seminar will be hosted by Peak to Peak in Lafayette later this year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Arabic-Language Charter Schools

From the Charter School News Connection:

Arabic-language public schools are in the spotlight. New York City's first publicly funded Arabic-language school opened earlier this month despite critics that warned it could foster anti-American Islamist extremism or even just include Islamic teachings. In Ohio, two public charter schools, Central Academy and Bridge Academy, are run by Global Educational Excellence, which also runs five Arabic-themed schools in Michigan. Mohamad Issa, director of the company, said parents have been asking him to start such schools for years, and that school leaders "make it clear to parents that this is only teaching culture and teaching the language. We are not going to teach any religion." Many of the teachers at all of the company's schools are non-Arabic, though the majority of students do come from Arabic-speaking homes. Source: Toledo Blade, (09/16/2007) http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070916/NEWS04/709160331/-1/NEWS

Monday, September 17, 2007

Replicating

Many people in the charter school community across the nation have decided the best way to expand the number of high quality charter schools is to replicate already-successful models. In our state, the Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo has received a grant from the Walton Foundation to replicate their model. This fall a new school, called Cesar Chavez Academy--Colorado Springs opened in the central part of the city and was authorized by the Charter School Institute. Next year another new charter school will open called Cesar Chavez Academy--Central, also in Colorado Springs.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to replication. Ideally, we could clone the school leader because oftentimes that individual is critical to the school's success. In the case of the CCA school opening in the Springs this year, the principal was an employee of the Pueblo school for several years before taking on this new role.

I've admired that Lawrence Hernandez has concentrated the majority of his efforts on making his own school successful. Furthermore, he made sure there was solid evidence of increased academic achievement before he considered replicating the model. If you want to see "what works" at CCA, you need to go visit the school because Lawrence probably will not come to visit your school. And that's the way it should be!

The downside to replicating is when new charter schools are approved with a model that hasn't shown academic success. We have plenty of those in our state, too.

The Rocky Mountain News had an article today about a model that's working in Denver. When Chris Gibbons was putting together his program design, he interned at both Denver School of Science and Technology and KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy. He gleaned the best from both of these schools to create the model he uses at West Denver Prep. Chris knew that his students would have dramatic improvements in their academics because he used a proven-to-be-effective model.

The key to effective replicating is making sure the research supports the design model serving the intended student population.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Charter School History, Part 3

The first state charter school conference was in the fall of 1994. It was in Summit County and there were maybe 40 of us in attendance. At this meeting I first met several people that I would eventually get to know quite well.

One of those people is Keith King. During the summer of 1994 Keith had called me repeatedly to ask me if he could get a copy of our Jefferson Academy charter application on disk (at this point in time it was a small floppy disk). The summer of 1994 was the busiest summer I ever remember. We had just gotten Jefferson Academy approved on May 9th, my kids were aged 4 to 12 years, and I was working on a statewide ballot initiative that consumed about 60-80 hours a week. It wasn't a priority for me to go downtown and download a copy of the charter application for Keith, so it took several phone calls before I mailed him what he wanted. When I met Keith at this fall charter school conference, his first words were, "Thank you SO much for sending that disk, it only took me about 20 hours after that." To say that I was fuming was an understatement. It had taken us hundreds of hours to write the Jefferson Academy application and having Keith's process be that much quicker just wasn't fair! If you know Keith, you can probably hear the roar of his laughter whenever I tell this story. Yep, I've gotten lots of mileage out of it!

Some of the other people at this first conference were: Jim Griffin, Kin Griffith, Bill Windler, Bill Bethke, and Barry Arrington. All of these people continue to be involved in charter schools today.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

New Charter School Applications

Today I counted 18 new charter school applications this year. The Charter School Institute received four; Denver Public Schools received four; Greeley received two. Greeley hasn't had a charter application in probably ten years. Similarly, Durango received a charter application this year and I can't remember them having gotten one since the mid-1990's.

From 2000 to 2003 only one or two charter schools were approved in the state each year. That annual number jumped dramatically in 2004 when the Charter School Institute Act was passed and has continued to be robust.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Charter School History, Part 2

The first charter school to open in Colorado was the Academy Charter School in Castle Rock. One of the parent founders of the school was Bill Windler. Academy was immediately in a fish bowl. Then-Governor Roy Romer visited the school and media were visiting on a regular basis. The school opened in a strip mall. Not long after opening, the governing board dismissed the principal, which of course brought on more media attention. The second principal at ACS was Kathy Consigli.

ACS was also the first charter school to use the Core Knowledge curriculum. A district-operated school in Fort Collins (Washington Core Knowledge) was one of the very first to use Core Knowledge in the nation. Core Knowledge was developed in the early 1990's by E.D. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Foundation. CK was created after E.D. Hirsch's book, Cultural Literacy, outlined "standards" or things students should know to be a productive and literate member of society. Former Colorado Education Commissioner, William J. Moloney, was at the initial brainstorming meetings that resulted in the formation of the Core Knowledge Foundation. Dr. Moloney later served on the CK Board.

Vincent Carroll, of the Rocky Mountain News interviewed Professor E.D. Hirsch in November, 1993. It was this article that caught the attention of Barry Arrington and myself and ultimately resulted in our developing Jefferson Academy, and using the Core Knowledge curriculum. After reading the article, Barry met with Kathy Consigli at ACS and received a hard copy of their charter school application.

After Dave D'Evelyn's death, Bill Windler was assigned the responsibility of creating the Charter Schools Unit at CDE. He wrote the first federal grant application in 1995 in one evening because he was scheduled to leave the next day for a business trip. That grant application was funded. At that point, there was much less money available for states. Charter schools in Colorado were lucky to receive $30,000 a year, for three years, to assist in their startup costs.

As a charter school founder and parent, Bill Windler has always adamantly defended the rights of the average parent to start a charter school. The charter application process has become much more sophisticated over the years and there have been countless philosophical discussions about when regulation is too much and how to guard against only "professionals" starting charter schools. Bill was the first person to work for a state agency charter school office who also had personal charter school experience. The US Dept of Education's Charter School Program office soon saw the advantages to first-hand charter school experience and today there are numerous people working for charter schools in state agencies.

Bill Windler attended the very first National Charter School Conference where everyone fit around one table. Chester Finn, Joe Nathan and Eric Premack were at that first meeting. They still attend, and speak at, the national conferences.

To be completely transparent, I report to Bill Windler at CDE. He hired me in 1999. In addition to learning an immense amount from him over the years, he's instilled in me a strong belief in a "pure" charter school philosophy. I rely on his wisdom on a regular basis. After this many years, I don't even have to ask him a question when I can hear his response in my head. One of his favorite responses is, "Don't ask the question, if you don't want the answer."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Federal Charter School Program

Changes to the Charter School Program, Part V of No Child Left Behind, are being discussed by Congress. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are six key points proposed.

1. Enhancing support for start-ups and replications
2. Strengthening priority criteria for state grants
3. Allowing authorizers to serve as grant administrators
4. Granting funding discretion to the Secretary
5. Creating a national dissemination program
6. Reauthorizing the Credit Enhancement Program

Monday, September 10, 2007

Charter School Achievement

There's a new study titled "Charter School Achievement: What We Know" by Bryan C. Hassel and Michelle Godard Terrell for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The study summarizes and evaluates 58 charter school studies.

Recommendations from the study include:

1. We need better research about how well students in charter schools are performing.
2. We need more and better research about why some charter schools perform so much better than other charter and non-charter schools.
3. We need much more attention focused on evaluating chartering as a policy. Knowing how well charter school students on average are performing does not answer the most important questions policymakers have about where to go with their charter policies.
4. Charter schooling represents an experiment worth continuing -- and refining to improve quality further over time.

In general, the study determined that studies really needed to compare how students did over time rather than how students in charter schools are doing to students in a comparable non-charter school.

The charter is but a shell, into which the operators place an instructional and management program. Asking about the quality of "charter schools" as a group is a bit like asking about the quality of "new restaurants" or "American cars" -- any overall generalization will mask the great diversity within.

http://www.publiccharters.org/content/publication/detail/1554/

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Back to the Beginning

Since the Charter Schools Act passed back in 1993, many people don't know much about the origins of charter schools in Colorado. The Act was carried by then-State Senator Bill Owens (R)and Rep. Peggy Kerns (D). There was an attempt to get a law passed the previous year that was unsuccessful. Minnesota was the first, and only, state to pass a charter law in 1992.

A lot of grassroots parents showed up at the Capitol to support the Charter Schools Act, SB 93-183. The Act was also supported by the Colorado Children's Campaign, specifically Barbara O'Brien (our current Lt. Gov). A man named Dave D'Evelyn, a policy analyst for the CO Dept of Education was a key player in the process.

When I was working in the Senate in the late 1990's I was fortunate enough to get former State Senator Bob Schaffer's file on SB 93-183. Included in the file are numerous position statements, both pro and con, for the Charter Schools Act. The file includes a memo, dated April 1, 1993, from Dave D'Evelyn to Owens, Kerns, Bill Porter and Barbara O'Brien. Additionally, Schaffer's own handwritten notes on the bill provide insight into the debate on different provisions. For example, originally it was proposed that 120 days would be a good timeframe for newly-approved charters and their school districts to negotiate a contract. Of course, that ultimately was decreased to 75 days and in 2004 when the Charter School Institute Act was passed, it was 60 days for the Institute to settle a contract.

Dave D'Evelyn, while a valiant advocate for charter schools, never got to see them implemented. Shortly after the 1993 legislative session ended, he was killed in a small plane crash in the southwestern part of Colorado. Dave was on CDE business at the time of the crash.

At the end of 1993, a group of parents filed a charter/option application for a liberal arts high school in Jefferson County. It was eventually approved as an option school and named after Dave D'Evelyn. Dave would be proud of the school that carries his name as it routinely ranks at the top of all Colorado high schools academically.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Picky Parent Guide by Bryan Hassel

One of the best publications I've ever read for educating parents on how to choose a school is Bryan and Emily Hassel's, Picky Parents Guide. I know Bryan fairly well and I've been a fan of his research for quite some time.

Bryan and Emily Hassel are Co-Director's of Public Impact. Together they wrote the Picky Parents Guide. The books offers suggested questions to ask about a school, ways to determine which type of school would be the best match for your child's needs, a description of the different types of educational options and ways to assess if your child is doing well. The book is very user-friendly with lots of quick-lists and tips.

This "Top Ten Signs of a Mediocre School" is a great example of Bryan and Emily's work. #8 is:
"Your child's principal says low grade level pass rates are to be expected, given the student population."

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Charter Schools and Finances

The primary reason charter schools close in Colorado is financial problems. Typically this is an overcommitment in a facility financing packaging; sometimes it's simply lack of enrollment.

Because this issue has been so important to charter school longevity, for the past six years the Charter School Business Manager Network has been a safe place for Business Managers to network and get the information they need to do their job well. For example, in the spring of each year the group develops their budgets together, taking into consideration the anticipated cost of living increase, changes to charter school capital construction funding, and other variables. In addition, the Network has created a How to Open and Operate a Charter School Business Office guide, which is valuable to new Business Managers, or Business Managers new to their position.

On Nov. 6th CDE's Schools of Choice Unit will host its annual Charter School Finance Seminar. This is for charter school board members, administrators, Business Managers and Finance Committee members. As in years past, this is a great opportunity to learn everything from how to align the school's vision/mission with the budget to how to budget for Special Education costs. Two consecutive workshops will be "SimCharter"--a small group activity similar to the game "SimCity." The group will decide what type of school, its size, number of staff members, and other figures and then deal with a crisis such as the principal leaving or a situation that would cause a significant drop in student enrollment.

The role of a charter school Business Manager is very unique. The public would expect to find a Principal at a school, but not someone dealing with the finances. Depending on the type of charter school and its size, the job description could include supervising staff or unplugging toilets. Making sure a charter school has financial safeguards in place and a transparent system, is the responsibility of charter school founders, governing board members, administration and the Finance Committee.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Not all Charter Schools are the Same

I heard it again this evening. People tend to believe that all charter schools are like the one near their home or the one they heard about from a friend. But not all charter schools are the same--nor are many of them even similar!

In Montrose there is a charter school for pregnant and parenting teens. Several charters serve adjudicated youth and one is a residential youth detention facility. There are numerous charter schools in rural Colorado where otherwise students would be on the bus for several hours a day. Many of these rural charter schools use a "place-based" curriculum that ties what the students are learning to what is available in the community. In the tiny town of Crestone, there is an experiential charter school that complements the Core Knowledge/ranching community/K-12 district-operated school.

It's true that almost half of the charter schools in Colorado use the Core Knowledge curriculum. This leads many people to believe that all charter schools require students to wear uniforms and focus on rigorous academics. The truth is, not all Core Knowledge charter schools even require uniforms.

Each state has their own unique charter school idenity, however. Colorado is known for slow, steady growth with a focus on increasing student academic achievement. We've always believed that charter schools should be able to educate students better than their neighborhood school. While not all charter schools perform well academically, charter school students outperform noncharter public school students on CSAP in grades 3-8, according to the last state evaluation of charter schools.

In the next year there will be a study done of Colorado charter schools, first categorizing them by their educational program and student population. Next, three years of CSAP scores for students in charter schools over the three year period will be analyzed to see which of the five categories of schools performs the best. A fourth year of CSAP data, available in August 2008, will be included in the analysis when it becomes available to make sure the data is consistent with the original findings. This charter school typology study will be completed late 2008.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Life Skills Center of Colorado Springs


Life Skills Center of Colorado Springs is a technology-based high school for drop outs. The school is an excellent model of how to impact student's lives through academics in a caring and supportive environment. Many of the Life Skills students have difficult home situations, are parents themselves and/or are homeless.

A visitor to Life Skills is first struck by the environment of the school. The respect amongst students and staff is tangible. Students know what's expected of them and they thrive knowing someone cares, yet is going to push them to reach their goals. This is even evident by the security guard who greets students by name as they enter the building. If students aren't in uniform, the guard directs them to a place where they can change their clothes. No one messes with this kind-hearted gentlemen who takes his job very seriously.

Chuck Holt, a retired Air Force pilot, is Life Skills' very capable leader. Chuck's military background is inculcated in every student. Students know their "OI" (operational instructions) includes earning credits toward their diploma and maintaining a disciplined environment. Chuck is quick to praise his highly qualified and dedicated staff. These teachers are exemplary. They know where each of their students is at academically and different ways to motivate each one. If the student isn't learning, it's the teacher who modifies instruction.

It's rare to find a high quality school serving high-risk students like Life Skills. In addition to doing a good job of educating their students, they've recently started a variety of programs to address the serious life situations these students deal with. As with other aspects of the school, these social programs are research-based.

Life Skills Center's authorizer is Colorado Springs 11, which is very supportive of the school and recognizes its value to the district. In numerous situations, the district has waived the 30-day drop out rule in order to allow students to attend Life Skills sooner than is normally allowed. This is a district that puts the needs of the student first! In turn, the charter school provides a top-notch education to students who would otherwise not even be in school.