Monday, December 29, 2008

Overcoming Founder's Syndrome

Almost every charter school that opens can credit one to three people who made it happen. These founders were the people who gave up personal time to write the charter school application, attended countless meetings and trainings, and carried the bulk of the load for everything that needed to be done. When the charter school opens there needs to be a transition away from the organization being the founder's "baby" to a sustainable organization. But how can that be done without alienating the founder or losing the original vision before the school is firmly established? The key to this transition rests with the other board members.

The entire board should operate as one, without individuals making decisions absent full board approval. The board should meet only once a month to physically limit their time together and reinforce the administrator's role in leading the school on a day-to-day basis. The board should focus on writing policies during the first year, even though they may be tempted to carry out many of the operational duties they began assuming before the school had employees. This could take the form of "committee work" or simply individuals on the board who seem irreplacable.

When the school opens, the founders must transition from operating independently doing "all that needs to be done" over to being one member of a board. Hopefully there are numerous board members with the expertise, skill and experience to live up to their responsibilities. Board leadership should be spread across every member.

Typically when the entire board is developing its first strategic plan is a good time to refocus and objectively examine where the board should ultimately govern. There will be a transition period, but there should be progress made on turning over operational management to school staff.

Sometimes founders express concern that there aren't enough qualified people to volunteer for key responsibilities and use this as justification for not relinquishing some of the tasks they've been doing all along. People need to be asked to help with specific projects. Founders who confidently complete responsibilities, such as overseeing facility renovation, often don't communicate their need for assistance. Moreover, they're not building a sustainable foundation for the school's future. Once the school opens, founders should focus their work on preparing for when founders are no longer on the board.

A few tips to transition from leadership resting largely with key founders are:
* Write policies -- lots of policies. Put everything in writing so that future boards have a record for their own decision-making. Founders want to convey their values for the school as the school's culture and reputation are shaped. That's best done through policies.
* If not everyone on the board is carrying their weight--replace them. Founders need to ensure the board is operating as one, which means every board member needs to fulfill his/her individual role.
* Communicate often and honestly with the administrator. Primarily the communication should serve to develop a trusting relationship that will be needed for future crises or difficult decisions. It's important for the founder to reinforce the administrator's leadership role both personally and in front of staff members or parents.
* Put structures in place for the board to govern through policy. This includes using a strategic plan, holding effective and productive meetings, and continually taking a step back to look objectively if the board should even be addressing a particular issue. Sometimes the most effective way for a governing board to communicate its role, is to not address something. A parent unhappy with the administrator's tardy policy will understand the administrator makes daily operational decisions, that are supported by the board, if the board refuses to consider a change to the administrator's policy.
* The entire board should increase their capacity to lead the school by seeking training. Having someone with experience in charter school governance, who is outside the organization, give another perspective to the board is beneficial in a number of ways. Most charter school board members don't know how other charter boards operate so they don't know if their board is "normal." Professional development for the board lays a foundation for mutual understanding that increases the board's effectiveness.

Many founders have personal characteristics that allowed for the charter school to be created. These characteristics may include tenacity, an entrepenurial perspective, a willingness to take risks or an willingness to take a "no" answer. Even if the founder can stay on the board for the first several years of the charter school, there will be a point when the founder leaves. The school community should honor and respect the role the founder played in creating the school and take the steps necessary to achieve the next season of the school's life.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"The Forgotten Middle" Report

ACT has just released a report, "The Forgotten Middle: Ensuring That All Students Are on Target for College and Career Readiness before High School." The report says that fewer than 20% of eighth graders are on target to do college-level work by the time they graduate high school. Further, the "level of academic achievement students attain by eighth grade has a larger impact on their college and career readiness by the time they graduate from high school than anything that happens academically in high school."

In conducting the study, researchers found that three behaviors significantly predicted the student’s future academic performance: “academic discipline, orderly conduct, and having positive relationships with school personnel.”

Academic discipline can be found in many characteristics and behaviors, including the following:
· The ability to complete homework assignments on time.
· The perseverance to work through multiple-step directions and problem solving exercises.
· The self-control to focus on academics rather than pleasurable activities.

The dictionary defines “discipline” with the phrase “orderly conduct.” By their middle school years, students should be able to independently complete assignments and manage projects. “The Forgotten Middle” study indicates these college and career readiness characteristics should be a primary focus in middle school in order to achieve greater gains in high school. A student learning organizational skills in middle school will find high school and college projects easier to manage.

“Having positive relationships with school personnel” could take on many nuances such as every student knowing a caring adult in the school, or a small school culture where no student’s accomplishments or needs are neglected. Through these relationships, school has meaning for students. Teacher’s model high expectations for students through their own personal high expectations and students begin to appreciate the value of advanced learning.

The ACT report has several recommendations for improving college and career readiness. The first is to “focus on K-8 standards on the knowledge and skills that are essential for college and career readiness, and make these nonnegotiable for all students.” This recommendation can be accomplished with a focus on foundational skills in the key subjects. Having a strong foundation allows students to succeed in high school and take increasingly difficult courses.

The report also recommends monitoring student progress and intervening with students who are not on track, beginning in the late elementary school years. In addition to monitoring progress on the foundational skills and knowledge of the core subject areas, the process should include monitoring progress on the academic discipline and orderly conduct skills identified as influencing college and career readiness. These behaviors, if positively developed during the formative years, can become laudable employee traits in the future.

Ultimately, the report is a reminder that the middle school years are just as important for college and career preparation as the high school years; in fact, probably more so.

New Orleans to Convert Failing Schools to Charter

Anyone following the changes in the public education system in New Orleans, post-Katrina, knows that there is a high number of charter schools (50%) and that there is now real accountability. For any remaining skeptics who wonder if the system can be cleaned up, the superintendent, Paul Vallas, has just announced four underperforming district schools will be converted to charters. Additionally, Vallas will permit high-performing district schools to convert to charter status if they choose.

Vallas contends that preventing a "monopolistic education system" doesn't serve students well. He advocates charter schools, which operate with autonomy and are dependent upon consumer (parent) demand.

Monday, December 22, 2008

2nd CD Selects Angelika Schroeder to State Board

The 2nd Congressional District's vacancy committee selected former Boulder Valley School District board member, Angelika Schroeder, to replace Evie Hudak on the State Board of Education. Schroeder will be seated in January, which is the time the board will also elect new officers.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Another Viewpoint on SAR Data

Krista Kafer, team lead for the Charter School Support Initiative and author of several CDE publications, had a column in last Sunday's Rocky Mountain News. In it, she uses the SAR results to show the high percentage of charter schools getting an Excellent or High rating. Watch for more detail on this when the state evaluation of charter schools is released in January.

"Yes We Will"

Rich Barrett, the founding principal of KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy in Denver who is now working on opening a KIPP high school has an opinion column in the Denver Post.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Interview

It's considered a best practice for authorizers to interview the steering committee or founding board members of a new charter school. The Charter School Institute does this and it's widely recommended by charter authorizers throughout the country.

Whether or not a charter school applicant has the capacity to carry off the formation of a new school is largely dependent upon the key people involved. Somewhere within the founding group should be the capacity to hire an effective administrator, identify and prepare a facility, ensure adequate cash flow and the numerous other things that need to be done before the first students arrive.

Founders should be asked about how the school's vision and mission were created, what their individual vision for the school is, what expertise they will bring, if they have any potential conflicts of interest, their understanding of the administrator's role versus the board's role, and other topics that will bring out the founder's knowledge about the school's governance and operations.

In my experience of working with founding charter school groups, it's possible to determine which schools will be successful right away and which ones will struggle, if approved. I have the advantage of getting to know most of the founders. I've seen several "overachiever" founding groups that have gone on to create some of the best charter schools in the state. Authorizers would be wise to also spend time getting to know the people who are applying for a charter school in their district.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

DC Charter Schools Take Strong Academic Lead Over Non-Charter Public Schools


I'm in Washington, DC for the annual Charter School Program Project Director's meeting. The big news here is that the DC public charter schools made the front page of the Washington Post for impressive gains in student academic achievement. One-third of DC students attend a charter school. Two-thirds of the district's students meet poverty standards.

According to the article, "D.C. middle-school charters scored 19 points higher than the regular public schools in reading and 20 points higher in math." This point spread is even more remarkable when you compare it to the national trend to stagnate or decrease academic performance as the student ages. Throughout the country, middle schools and high schools struggle to get students to attend, much less perform academically.

DC Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, has created a reputation for shaking things up and demanding school faculties demonstrate academic achievement in the school or else look for other jobs. She's encouraged charter schools to address the academic needs in the district. Largely due to the autonomy charter schools provide, but also due to the the ability to offer unique and innovative educational programs, charter schools are often able to more effectively address student academic needs. Now, one of the largest school districts in the nation, DC Public Schools, has evidence that charter schools are serving the district's students better than non-charter public schools!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Charter School Grant Searchable Database

I often get asked if I know anything about other grants available for charter schools. Now I have a great resource to direct people to. The National Resource Center on Charter School Finance & Governance has an online searchable database for charter schools here.

The site provides search options for:
* uses of funds
* federal agency
* who can apply
* type of funding
* matching requirement

The database is easy to use. Every charter school should check it out!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mark Sharpley: Charter School Hero

Yesterday at the Jefferson Academy boys basketball game I was reminded of how great the coach, Mark Sharpley, is. Mark came to the JA at the beginning of the high school right after he'd taken a state 1A championship with his private school team and earned a 1A Coach of the Year. Several of Mark's top players followed him and in the second year of JAHS the team won a state title in boys basketball. To my knowledge, this was the first charter school to get a state title in an athletic sport anywhere in the nation (I checked with other state leaders at the time).

Now the JA team is comprised of students I knew as elementary school students or that I remember when they were born. I don't know if kids just grow taller now, but the varsity team has 7 of the 12 measuring over 6 ft. Two are 6'5". To be clear, these boys didn't transfer in, they're long-time JA families. Several of these families have a second or third son playing for Sharpley.

Obviously, Mark Sharpley is an extremely talented coach. But I believe his "secret" is more than just the fundamentals or his skill. Mark's greatest strength is the young men of character that he develops through personal relationships, perseverence and dedication on the basketball court and his own personal integrity. Mark's a tough coach. His players work hard the entire year, including summers where they either play Jam ball or work Mark's clinics. He drills them on the fundamentals, in fact since he's built up the program at JA, these basic skills are taught early at JA, and it shows in their performance. Currently the high school has four boys teams.

I've heard Mark say that it's not the game that's the most important -- it's what the young men learn from playing the sport. Every day his plan for practice includes a character trait or quote that he discusses with the players. Whether it's as a team, or individually, he has numerous conversations with his players about the type of men they should always strive to become. He seems to have a knack for understanding the young male thought processes. He knows when to push them harder and he knows when to drive home his point.

Mark does all of this with the greatest of humility. He's very low-key about his accomplishments and the recognition he's received over the years. He's "adopted" several young men in the past. Sharpley's own son, who's in seventh grade this year, is over 6 ft already and clearly headed to a successful career on the court.

I've always had a great deal of respect for Mark Sharpley. While probably most everyone who knows him, respects his talent and leadership, I think Mark's greatest quality is his own personal character and integrity. He serves as an excellent role model for his students. He impacts lives just because of who he is.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Northeast Academy

I visited Northeast Academy in the Montbello area this week. They have about 450 students in grades K-8 with another 250 on the waiting list. At the national Core Knowledge conference last month the school received official Core Knowledge status.

Dr. Thomas Bouknight is the principal; he's in his second year at Northeast Academy. Additionally, a key founder of the school, Janet Darnell, works at the school and remains heavily involved in development and administration.

Character development is a priority at Northeast. The school serves primarily an at-risk student population and their goals are to excite students to learn and develop high-quality students of character. The character development is done through a formal character education program and also a positive school culture.

I've often heard the phrase, "it's all about the kids," bantered about. Northeast Academy is a school where the atmosphere speaks for itself: It is all about the kids.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

SAR Scores Put Charter Schools at the Top!

Four of the top five high schools in the state are charter schools! Number one for a second year in a row, The Vanguard School (CSI-Colorado Springs), has a 2.88 score. Number 3 in the state -- again for a second year in a row -- is Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins. Ridgeview Classical's score is 2.23. Peak to Peak, in Lafayette is number four with 1.92 and The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs is fifth with 1.91.

More good news in top middle school SAR scores! Eight of the top 10 middle schools in Colorado are charter schools.
#2: Summit MS-Boulder
#3: Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy-CSI, Colorado Springs
#4: Liberty Common School-Fort Collins
#5: The Connect School-Pueblo
#6: American Academy @ Castle Pines
#7: Littleton Academy
#8: Stargate Charter School-Thornton
#9: Platte River Academy-Highlands Ranch

The SAR scores are used to determine a school's rating: Excellent, High, Average, Low or Unsatisfactory. When the legislature adopted the School Accountability Report law, it defined a bell curve so that 40% of schools fell into the Average category while only 2% would be rated Excellent.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

SARs Released Today

Today the Colorado Department of Education released 2008 School Accountability Reports.

ACT and CSAP results are used to develop school ratings. This is the first year the Colorado Growth Model data was incorporated into school ratings.

Additionally, the SAR contains information from each individual school and information especially for parents.

Historically, charter schools tend to get more "Excellent" and "High" ratings than their non-charter public school counterparts.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ridgeview Classical Ranked #15 in the Nation

The U.S. News and World Report just ranked Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins as the 15th best high school in the nation. The charter school, which opened in 2001, has been at the top of the state's School Accountability Report measures and was previously near the top 100 in the U.S. News and World Report study.

The charter school uses a "classical" approach to education with a focus on Latin, classical literature, writing, and critical thinking. The trivium of classical education is grammar, logic and rhetoric. Grammar is learning basic skills often by rote mememorization, associated with elementary school-aged students. Logic happens during the middle school years when students begin thinking using the skills they have previously acquired. Rhetoric is in the high school phase when students apply all they have learned to participate in deeper discussions and cogently persuade their readers.

The school has been fortunate to have numerous key individuals shape the school's initial years. Dr. Terrence Moore was critical to the formation of the academic program model. Founders Kim Miller and Peggy Schunk, honed in on keeping the original vision and mission in all decision-making. Since the beginning, other individuals have served on the governing board and in key staff positions. For example, the current principal, Dr. Florian Hild was a teacher from the very beginning.

Ridgeview Classical Schools is authorized by the Poudre School District. Last week the Court of Appeals handed down a decision ruling in favor of Ridgeview in a case where the school district wanted to pro-rate student funding if a student left Ridgeview after the annual Oct. 1 funding date.

Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette ranked #69 in the US News and World Report listing. Peak to Peak was in the top 100 last year, also. Dolores Huerta in Pueblo ranked in the Bronze category.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"We're a Charter, Not 'an Expenditure'"

Guest post by Russ Spicer, Headmaster of Liberty Common School in Fort Collins. This piece originally ran in the school's weekly newsletter, on Jan. 30, 2006.

An article about Poudre School District’s proposed budget ran in this week’s Coloradoan. Not surprisingly, the article mentioned on several occasions that “charter schools” were negatively impacting their budget. The article made sure to list charter schools as an expenditure of $8,420,457 dollars. This is exactly what the district would like everyone to believe. The reality of this situation is that it is not an “expenditure.” It is simply parents choosing to place their children in a charter school instead of the mainstream public school, and thus allowing the PPR (Per Pupil Revenue) to go with the child to the charter instead of staying in the district. Again, this should not be called an “expenditure,” it should be called an educational choice.

In the Liberty Common School - School Accountability Report, it is reported the Poudre School District revenue per pupil is $7,874.00. The actual funding provided by the state for Poudre School District students last year was $5,704.00. When you add on the local tax contributions, state tax contributions, federal grants, state grants, private/partnership grants, and other discretionary income, the number jumps up to the $7,874.00 as reported on the School Accountability Report. What the report fails to mention is that Liberty Common School does not receive money from all of the sources that the district does. We actually only receive additional funding through the charter school capital construction money and mill levies from 1998 and 2000. What does that amount to you ask? Our total per pupil revenue, for the 2004-2005 school year, was $5,983.00. That means that we operate on 76% of the district budget and can still be a high performing, nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School that consistently receives excellent ratings on the School Accountability Report.

It is faulty logic for the district to say that we are “an expenditure” to them. PSD simply takes the money given to them by the state of Colorado for our students (the $5983.00), and then returns it to us. That is it, plain and simple. Oh, and did I mention that they take out 2% of that money for “Indirect Overhead.” This money goes to the district to support the work that they are required to do with the charter schools. Please see listed below the costs of the “Indirect Overhead” for the past few years.

2001-2002 $36,482
2002-2003 $47,228
2003-2004 $55,645
2004-2005 $57,197

The only thing that the district can reasonably assert in regards to how charter schools are effecting their budget is that students whom are choosing to attend the charter schools indirectly cause the district to lose the money because those students are not attending their schools. The question that begs to be answered however is, “if the district schools were already meeting the needs of these students, why would they want to attend the charter schools in the first place?” That is the beauty about charter schools and schools of choice. The parents and students can talk with their feet. They have the option to choose the school that they feel is best. There is now competition in the choice of a school, whereas before there was none.

We are not “an expenditure” to the district. Liberty Common School is a very viable, educationally rigorous, academically strong, safe, award winning, fiscally sound, charter school of choice. One would think that PSD would want to embrace our school and other successful charters, and even try to implement some of our successful strategies instead of semi-denigrating us by calling us a drain on their budget.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Now's the Time to Opt Out!

December 15th is an important deadline for teachers in Colorado who don't want their union dues going to political activities with which they might disagree. That's the deadline for teachers to complete a form in order to keep their $39 fee.

The detailed information on how to opt out of this deduction is at the Independent Teachers website.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Charter Schools

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued their decision in Ridgeview Classical Schools v. Poudre School District. The case was filed after the Poudre School District (PSD) made the charter school leaders sign a charter contract that made an adjustment to funding when students left the charter school after the annual October 1 count day. Contract stipulations required the charter school to give up funding for students that didn't remain in the school.

The Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 decision, said that the contract provisions requiring prorated student funding were "null and void" because they were contrary to the Charter Schools Act. In the suit, the district claimed the prorated funding was a "purchased service," but the court said that wasn't a valid argument because the charter school hadn't chosen to purchase the service, there wasn't any way to determine the actual cost (as required by statute for purchased services), and the school would need to get a service to carry out its educational program.

This case had already been heard in district court. It's possible that PSD may decide to appeal the Court of Appeals decision to the state Supreme Court.

The opinion, written by Judge Roy and supported by Judge Graham and Judge J. Jones, has numerous interesting statements. The opinion recognizes the lack of negotiating power a charter school developer has in contract negotiations by stating, "the school district is the conduit through which all of the public funding for the charter school -- local, state, and federal -- must pass, resulting in the school district having a vastly superior bargaining position."

The court examined the legislative history of charter school laws and determined that "legislators were specifically concerned that charter schools had to accept less funding than that dictated by the statute to get their applications approved."

The funding for public schools in the state School Finance Act is predicated on the annual October 1 count. The court said that "there is no funding enrollment date specified in the Charter Schools Act" and that the district's position "ignores the school's need for stability in funding because a significant portion of its annual expenses are fixed and do not vary with enrollment."

This decision is momumental for the charter schools that have recently signed prorated contracts, believing they had no other options. Some districts have enacted policies that district schools don't have to accept charter school students who disenroll after the October 1 count day. Other districts have required monthly or quarterly student counts on which they base charter school funding. This court decision bolsters charter school leader's contentions that their funding must be based strictly on the annual count, the same as school districts get their funding from the state.

This case was originally heard by the State Board of Education in September 2006. The board remanded the case back to the district for reconsideration. After Ridgeview Classical School leaders were required to sign the prorated contract, they did so with a letter stating they signed it under durress and immediately filed the lawsuit.

Ridgeview Classical Schools is a K-12 Core Knowledge and classical charter school serving about 700 students. Every year the school has been in the top three high schools in the state based on its School Accountability Report score.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Resources for Finance and Governance Issues

I spent some time on the National Resource Center on Charter School Governance and Finance website today. They have some interesting resources online. Charter school authorizers will want to check out the resources for contracting with education service providers. Charter school leaders will want to use the online searchable list of grants that are available and get ideas for financing capital needs. There's even information for state policy makers who want to know how their state's law compares to others.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Keeping Control of the Board Meeting

The other day I was trying to figure out how many different charter school or school district board meetings I've been to. I decided there were too many to count. Lately, I've seen some trends in charter school boards. Specifically, charter school boards that don't know how to keep control of the meeting. It's rare to find a board chair with experience to handle unusual situations as they occur. Most often, an effective chair has a wealth of previous experience to react correctly.

Monthly board meetings are for the board to conduct its business. These are meetings conducted in public, but they are not open to public discussion. Each business meeting should have a public comment line item, which is an appropriate time for comment from parents or community members. The chair may limit the amount of time each person has to speak and should make sure individual students or staff members are not discussed by name. Further, it's wise for the board to only listen, and not interact with the speaker.

The board chair should monitor the pace of the meeting to make sure its productive and people don't get off subject. In fact, every board member should help the board chair with this responsibility. If the discussion wanders, any director can call "the question" and the motion must be voted on without further discussion. Each director should arrive at the meeting prepared to discuss agenda items and prepared to vote, if required.

The board president, along with the school's principal, should set the board meeting agenda. The board president should ensure agenda items are relevant to board action or information and that supporting documentation is included in board packets. Board packets should be distributed to the entire board a week prior to the meeting. Many charter school boards now put their entire board packet online, which is a great way to ensure transparency by making access very easy for the school's stakeholders.

Board meetings should advance the school's vision and mission. Charter schools that say they're about academic achievement, but little or no board time is spent discussing academic achievement, needs to re-examine priorities. The board president is ultimately responsible to ensure board meetings are focused on the school's vision and mission.

To support the governing board speaking with one voice, every charter school board should lead through a strategic plan. The plan is updated annually. A key part of each update is a discussion about the vision and mission of the school. Each director carries an individual vision for the school, but only through a discussion can the board understand what the common vision and mission contains. The board should checks its progress on the strategic plan at least quarterly at meetings. One of the main reasons to have a strategic plan for the school is that it's an effective way to communicate the board's purpose and goals.

Over the years, I've seen and heard some funny anecdotes from charter school boards:
* the board that discussed whether homemade or store bought cookies should be served at school functions
* the board chair who allowed audience members to interact throughout the entire meeting
* board meetings where people just sat around and discussed things for hours; even board members weren't sure of the outcome after the meeting
* the board that had officer elections only to rescind them two weeks later and create new officer positions so that everyone had a "title"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers! I am blessed to be spending the day with family, including my mother who has been battling an agressive form of cancer for a year and a half. Our son, Aaron, has the turkey in the oven and there's guaranteed to be more food than we can eat! Blessings to each of you!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just Say No -- to DARE

The El Paso County sheriff is considering an end to the Drug Abuse Resistence Education (DARE) program. When my children went through the DARE program I decided a dime of taxpayer money spent on the program is too much.

My kids were given a DARE calendar with the Budweiser frogs as the prominent feature. Other people have also criticized the effects of this "prevention program."

According to the opinion piece in the Colorado Springs Gazette:
D.A.R.E. has come under scrutiny since it was started by the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1980s. Studies have consistently called the program's value into question, and some highly credible critics have called D.A.R.E. a menace. Adjustments have been made over the years, but parents still lack credible evidence that tells them the program does more good than harm. Common sense tells us a few D.A.R.E. officers, for a county of a half million-plus residents, may do more harm than good. A little knowledge, after all, can be dangerous. D.A.R.E., at best, imparts a little knowledge about a dangerous topic in public institutions that should stick with basic subjects. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report in 1996 showed a rise in teen drug use of 78 percent, and the rise coincided directly with D.A.R.E.'s introduction into public schools.

Several other county Sheriff's Departments have already dropped the DARE program. I doubt it'll be missed in El Paso County.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Civic Literacy Quiz

Being a history geek, I can't resist stuff like this. This year's Civic Quiz is a "must-do" for everyone!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Merrifield as House Ed Chair? For Real?

Rep. Terrance Carroll, the next Speaker of the House when the 2009 session convenes in early January, has reappointed Rep. Mike Merrifield as Chair of the House Education committee. To more completely understand why this is of issue for charter schools, read Krista Kafer's column at Face the State.

On the remote chance you don't remember Rep. Mike Merrifield's "charterizers deserve a special place in hell" email exchange with Sen. Sue Windels, you can find it here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jeffco Says No to Both Charter Applications

Tonight the Jeffco school board unanimously denied both charter applications submitted this fall. Global Outreach Charter School planned to serve primarily Slavic children in north Jeffco. The Lotus School for Excellence proposed replicating a school similar to the one operating in Aurora. All board members stated they had hoped the Lotus application would have been stronger since the district needs a math/science focus school, but they cited the underperformance of the already operating school in Aurora. Lotus applicants were invited to return if academic achievement approves in Aurora.

Early College HS at Arvada

Today I visited the Early College HS at Arvada, near 60th & Sheridan. The charter school is authorized by the state Charter School Institute and in its first year of operation. Sarah Brock is the Principal and founder. Her background includes being the director of Sylvan Learning Center in Massachusetts. The charter school is the second for co-founder Chris Gerboth, who first started the Southwest Early College in Denver.

There are several key features of this school's model that will lead to school success. It's a small school (64 students this year, growing one grade level each year), the culture is focused on college prep, students are expected to work hard and take their education seriously, and there is a comprehensive intervention system to ensure adequate support for students.

The student success management program is a system of green, yellow or red lights. Students can earn up 24 points through an objective system that includes academics, attendance, and behavior. Every four weeks students' individual scores are calculated and an assembly is held to hand out certificates. The number of students earning a green light has increased each of the first three time periods this fall. The most recent data show that over half of the students earned a green light and eight students were only one point away from earning a green light.

Students who earn a red light are given phased interventions to help them move up their points. This includes a meeting with the parents and Principal, a meeting with the parents and the entire staff, student contracts and motivations unique to the individual student.

An essential component of the academic support provided at ECHS is online tutoring via Sylvan Learning Centers. ECHS students work in a computer lab with a teacher in the room, Sylvan's online program first analyzes the student's strengths and weaknesses and then designs a remediation program matched to that student. Students work with headphones on where they speak directly with a Sylvan teacher who has no more than three students working with him/her at a time. The student has an electronic writing pad and can write answers into the questions on the screen, jot notes in the scratch pad area of the screen or select answers to questions. Further they can online chat with other students or their Sylvan teacher. Sometimes they're asked to read a selected passage to their Sylvan teacher. Every student begins the supplemental program at their level so they can achieve success the first day. The classroom teacher is ECHS's designated Sylvan contact and monitors individual student progress, which is also available for the students to monitor their own progress.

The combination of the student success management system, the small school size, the high degree of accountability and strong academic support almost ensure academic success. Clearly any student who wants to progress has the supports to make that happen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CSI Approves New Charter School

Today the Charter School Institute board unanimously approved the Thomas MacLaren State Charter School, which originally applied under the name of Veritas Academy. MacLaren will be located in Colorado Springs, serve secondary school students, and provide an educational program modeled after the Trinity School in Indiana.

The school's founders, Eric and Mary Faith Hall and Kathryn Brophy, have worked really hard this year preparing their application. They had a long list of questions to respond to for the CSI board after their hearing last month. Ultimately their hard work paid off with a unanimous approval!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Future of Education under the new Obama Administration

While I've read countless blog posts speculating who will be the next US Secretary of Education and sat through more speculation at the Thursday lunch panel discussion at the League of Charter Schools conference earlier this month, I've not ventured into that realm here on this blog. But I did find this post by Chester Finn interesting and worth passing along.

First, we learned that the nascent Obama administration has picked Stanford
education professor Linda Darling-Hammond to lead the policy side of the transition operation at the U.S. Department of Education. She is a pleasant and smart woman but she surely does harbor a lot of retro ideas about education. She’s Public Enemy #1 of Teach for America, for example, and for twelve years (since her report, “What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future“, came out) has been the nation’s foremost embodiment of the view that improving teachers ought to be America’s chief reform strategy, the heck with standards-and-accountability on the one hand and school choice on the other. If her policy views dominate the new administration’s education-policy stance, groups such as Democrats for Education Reform might as well take a LONG vacation. The unions and the ed schools will be overjoyed.


Rather than getting too concerned about speculation, actions carry more weight with me. Any deference to the teacher's union power in the U.S. doesn't bode well for charter schools, which are the bane of teacher's unions. Further, the Teach for America program has brought many talented teachers into the classrooms of Colorado's public schools.

I'm looking for something tangible for charter schools from the new Obama administration. I'm a bit jaded after his May visit to the Mapleton Expeditionary School for the Arts (MESA) when he referred to it as a "charter school" for weeks and it isn't.

I've heard that President-elect Obama has said he'd double the funding for charter schools. But lest anyone already associated with a charter school in Colorado think they'll get more money for their school through this proposal, the startup and implementation grant in No Child Left Behind is presently capped at $199 million, but is only for new charter schools in up to their third year of operation. Moreover, in order to be eligible for this grant program, or the charter school credit enhancement program, charter schools must use a federally-approved lottery system for enrollment. Many of the older charter schools in Colorado use another means of enrollment and several others, after they've spent these federal grant dollars, have modified their lottery in order to increase access to more at-risk students. I'm all for new charter schools getting more startup and implementation grant funds. But, across the nation, the focus has been on creating more quality public charter schools, not just the number of more charter schools.

So I'm holding out for something with merit for charter schools. This might be greater facility financing options for charter schools to access, more educational options available to parents whose children are in failing public schools, or even less federal regulation on charter school enrollment lotteries. In fact, I'd even cheer if I heard the Obama daughters were going to enroll at the KIPP charter school in Washington, DC!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Flatirons Academy Charter Applications Across the State

At least 66 school districts in Colorado have received a charter application from Flatirons Academy, a proposed online charter school. The hearing by the Windsor-Severence School District is next Monday evening.

Many districts have reported difficulties with communicating with the applicant, Mr. John Redding, of Louisville, CO. Some districts have determined the charter application was incomplete and not reviewed it with district staff or the local board of education.

Denver Public Schools received the charter application under the name Mile High Academy. DPS makes decisions on all their charter applications at their meeting November 20th.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cesar Chavez Network Drops Lawsuit Against Pueblo 60

As a result of two failed ballot measures by the Pueblo 60 School District, the Cesar Chavez Academy School Network has dropped their lawsuit against the district citing the district's failure to include the charter school in their mill levy and bond ballot questions.

Inequity in charter school inclusion in mill levy and ballot questions across the state has been a hot topic in the charter school community this year. The Colorado League of Charter Schools' lobbyist has been discussing the possibility of running legislation to remedy the problem for future years.

DPS Charter Schools Sharing Space with District Schools

It's only happened a few times in the 15-year history of the Charter Schools Act in Colorado. Districts tend to frown on sharing their facilities with charter schools; although many charter school applicants have asked to share space over the years.

Denver Public Schools is allowing several newly-approved charter schools to open in district facilities with underused space. Beginning next fall, the second campus of W Denver Prep, the new KIPP high school, Envision and Edison will all be located in district facilities.

DPS was viewed as being reticent to charter schools in the 1990's. Now DPS is known as a model charter authorizer utilizing several unique approaches to chartering such as releasing a Request for Proposals to make it known they need specific types of new schools in specific geographical parts of the district. This type of "portfolio management" by a district looks at the total public school offerings with equal consideration for current and prospective charter school models. DPS has embraced the notion of charter schools in meeting the broad educational needs of students in the district.

Charter school law prohibits a district from charging rent for excess facility space, but since DPS would be paying for upkeep and utilities on these underused spaces anyway, it appears to be a win-win for both parties.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Memphis and California: A Stark Contrast

The school board in Memphis denied all three of its charter school applications this year. Tennessee already has a weak charter school law, but to deny all three applications -- one based on a successfully operating charter school -- sends a pretty strong message about the school board. This is the "beat 'em down until they don't return" strategy people who don't want charter schools use.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports the California Charter Schools Association says that "12 of the top 15 public schools in California that cater primarily to poor children are charters." Charter schools in California tend to outperform noncharter public schools. Likewise, in Colorado charter schools tend to outperform noncharters.

Hopefully, someone on the Memphis school board reads newspapers and will realize that approving charter schools, and giving parents an option for their children to get a good education, benefits everyone in a school district.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day: A Time to Honor Those Who Served

This is my son, Aaron's, first Veteran's Day. In January he completed a four-year active duty contract with the U.S. Marine Corps. Aaron enlisted primarily because of his strong sense of patriotism. As his mother, I had many reservations. In the end, I was pleased that Aaron included me in his decision-making process, but he was an adult and had to make his own decision.

With great pride we attended his boot camp graduation at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and were awed by the transformation in our quick-to-grin son who had developed his "bearing." He was physically in shape for boot camp before entering, so we didn't notice a remarkable change in his physical appearance, other than his erect stature. What we noticed was that he looked us in the eye, posessed an air of self-confidence and was conditioned to be aware of others in his environment. He'd always had good manners (we did raise him right!), but even those manners were more distinct.

Aaron's transformation is even more remarkable remembering his last couple of years of high school. He barely earned that diploma! Sometimes I wondered if he ever would. Aaron was in third grade when I began to wonder if he'd be a high school dropout. In addition to ADD, Aaron had learning disabilities that went undiagnosed for several years. He developed excellent coping skills, such as doing math problems in his head instead of on paper. Reading and writing didn't come easy for Aaron.

How does one go from being a kid with ADD to a U.S. Marine? Lots of hard work and self-discipline. We don't know much about what happened in boot camp (parents are told "what happens in boot camp, stays in boot camp"), but we know snippets of the self-discipline Aaron had to develop from the situations he was in. Some were humorous (they were led to believe they needed to sleep at attention the first night, so got little rest) and others seemed downright unfair (Aaron once had four Drill Instructors screaming in his face when he didn't say "yes, sir!" loud enough).

What Aaron learned in the Marine Corps will stay with him for his entire life. There's a brotherhood amongst Marines that I never really understood before. I wondered how the TSA officer at DIA knew it was Aaron's combat boots that set off the luggage screening machine. Even though Aaron was dressed in "civies " he tracked down the Marine; he even knew Aaron was headed back to MCT. While on active duty, Aaron learned he can do anything and to believe in his own judgment. He learned when to advocate for himself or his men (this was one of his 504 goals while in high school -- which he struggled with). He learned to read and understand weapons manuals and monitor details such as serial numbers.

I know that as his mother, there are things I'll never hear about that Aaron experienced during his four year commitment. What I do know is that the Marine Corps developed a man of great potential and inner strength.

To all the veterans who became men, or women, during their service, it is an honor to salute you today! My heartfelt appreciation goes out to you for the sacrifice you made for our freedom!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Upcoming Changes to the State Board of Education

Marcia Neal, R-Grand Junction, was elected to the State Board of Education and will replace current Chair Pam Suckla (R-Slickrock) at the January meeting. Evie Hudak (D-Arvada) was elected to Sen. Dist. 19 and a vacancy committee will determine her replacement within 30 days of Hudak's resignation. State law prohibits her from serving on both the State Board and in the Senate.

The board will reorganize in January when new members are sworn in. It's unclear at this time if the only new member at that meeting will be Marcia Neal, since Hudak has not yet tendered her resignation.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Charter School Conference -- Day Two

The 2008 Charter Friends recipients, announced today, are:

Tim Gallagher, board member, Landmark Academy
Rep. Karen Middleton (D-Aurora)
Sen. Bob Hagedorn (D-Aurora)

Michael Bennett, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools was the lunch speaker at the second day of the annual charter school conference. He started by saying only 9% of DPS ninth graders will graduate from a four-year college; by stating this fact first, he was acknowledging the needs in DPS before talking about things they're doing in DPS to rectify problems. Bennett said that failure shouldn't be treated as someone else's problem.

There are 20 charter schools operating in Denver, serving about 8,000 students or 10% of the total student population. As many as four more charter schools may be approved to open in the fall of 2009.

Bennett said the solution in DPS lies in both charter and noncharter choices. He explained that DPS was being thoughtful about which schools they approve. Last year DPS put out a Request for Proposals that identified which types of schools the district needed and extended an invitation to school developers to propose charter or noncharter schools to meet these needs.

When asked what is his greatest challenge, Bennett responded that some people think they're moving too slow in DPS.

Congratulations, Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll


The Democrats in the state House of Representatives have elected Rep. Terrance Carroll as the Speaker of the House. This means the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate (Senator Peter Groff) are the two prime sponsors of the 2004 Charter School Institute Act and very strong supporters of charter schools. Congratulations to the new Speaker!
More from Face the State.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Colorado Charter School Conference -- Day One

More than 200 people attended the state Charter School Conference today in Aurora. The morning began with a delegate assembly to elect four new CO League of Charter School board members and discuss future legislative priorities. The lunch panel discussion was about potential priorities for the Obama administration.

This afternoon I was in two sessions for board members. The first was presented by Marci Cornell-Feist of Meetinghouse Solutions, Inc. Marci created a stir, and received some opposition from attendees, when she stated parents should not be on charter school governing boards because they have an inherent conflict of interest. Marci works with governing boards in other states. Colorado is atypical from the rest of the country because here most of the charter schools are grassroots startups by parents and therefore most of the charter boards are comprised of parents. In other states, the inverse is true and only a small percentage of charter school governing boards have parent representation.

The second session of the afternoon was on strategic planning and I was one of the presenters. I was impressed with how many new board members attended. With 150 operating charter schools, an estimated 1,000 plus people are charter school governing board members in the state. Training these new board members is a never-ending process.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Charters and the new Legislature

Come January the newly elected House and Senate members will be sworn in. This means both good and bad for charter school folks. Some very staunch pro-teachers union/anti-charter schools people were elected and we can bet at least some will want to serve on one of the two education committees. House Ed will probably still be chaired by Rep. Mike Merrifield (the "charterizers deserve a special place in hell" infamous email author).

Senator Peter Groff, Senate President, is a very strong supporter of charter schools and will probably make sure he has good control over the Senate Ed committee. Sen. Windels, term-limited and out-going chair of Senate Ed, was Sen. Groff's opponent on many issues even though they are from the same party. Sen. Windels was the other person in the Merrifield email exchange that was critical of charter schools.

Keith King, a founder of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy in 1995, James Irwin Charter High School in 2000 and Colorado Springs Early College in 2007, has been elected to the state Senate after formerly serving eight years in the House. During his prior service in the General Assembly, Keith King was a staunch supporter of charter schools and one of the most knowledgeable members on the charter school issue ever to serve. Sen.-elect King is in his second year of being an administrator at the charter high school he started to serve at-risk students and make it easier for them to attend college, by providing the opportunity to get both a high school diploma and an Associates Degree. With this "in the trenches" experience, Sen.-elect King will be an even better advocate for quality public schools!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

BVSD Lawsuit Against CSI Goes to Oral Arguments

The Boulder Valley School District's (BVSD's) lawsuit contending that the Charter School Institute Act is uconstitional has gone to oral arguments in the Court of Appeals. A decision could come before the end of December. Initially cases were brought by the Poudre School District, Adams 50 School District and BVSD. Poudre and Adams 50 both dropped out after the three cases failed in district court back in 2006.

For more information, check out Face the State.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Justice High Approved for More Students

Justice High School, a charter school authorized by the Boulder Valley School District, serves high-risk youth, many of whom have gone through the juvenile justice system. Magistrate T.J. Cole, the Justice HS principal, sees many of the students in his court room.

Recently the district approved an increase in the number of students Justice High can receive funding for. The only legally permissible way to cap students at a charter school is if there is a limitation on how many students can safely occupy the school's facility. Justice High's student population fluctuates during the school year when students are expelled from other schools.

Most school districts pay charter schools based on their October 1 count, or their annual count, which is the same way school districts are paid by the state. A handful of charter schools have more frequent counts throughout the school year and their funding is adjusted based on the count. Further, some districts have capped how much they'll fund a charter school that has gone above its annual projected student count. Justice High probably has a cap in its charter contract with BVSD, hence the need to increase its student cap.

Atlas Prep Supporters Attend School Board Meeting

Supporters of the proposed Atlas Preparatory Charter School in Colorado Springs attended the Harrison 2 Board of Education meeting to show support for the charter school application. The school would serve middle school and prepare students for attending college.

Zach McComsey attended the Building Excellent Schools year-long fellowship program out of Massachusetts and now is ready to start a new school in the fall of 2009. His school targets low-performing, high-risk students. McComsey spent time interning at West Denver Prep (under Building Excellent Schools alum Chris Gibbons), KIPP Sunshine Peak and Denver School of Science and Technology before selecting a rigorous educational program designed after these successful charter schools.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

High School Students Ready for College?

The College Success blog says:

First year students in college spend more than twice as much time studying in college compared to their high school senior year. Half of college students spend more than 10 hours a week studying in their first year, but only 14% of high school seniors devote this much time to homework. 47% of the seniors spend three hours or less per week studying, but most get A's or B's in high school. Seniors write a few short papers and many skip math in the senior year.

I've heard that it's important for high school seniors to take a full load of classes during their Senior year because it's a predictor of how they'll do in college. This report from the High School Survey of Student Engagement seems to support that claim.

However, many school districts in Colorado refuse to give Seniors the courses they want it a student wants to graduate with more than the required number of credits. Districts claim they don't have the facilities or staff to allow Seniors to attend classes for a full day. However, it should be noted that every Senior must take enough classes for the district to get full funding for the student.

KIPP Expands into Elementary Schools

After realizing many of its fifth grade students arrive already way behind in their educations, KIPP has decided to expand into elementary school according to their press release announcing a $5.5 million gift from the Rainwater Foundation. KIPP is planning on at least one elementary school in Denver, but first will open a high school next fall. Rich Barrett, the first principal of Denver's KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy attended a leadership training in New York this summer and is working on opening a new high school.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Unsung Heroes

There are many very committed parent volunteers in charter schools. All too often, it's hard to adequately recognize these heroes for the hundreds of hours they devote to their school. Here's an article about a mother, whose students attend Ridgeview Classical Schools, and who is outfitting the cast of the school play.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Nature School Denied Again

The Nature School was denied by the Poudre School District Board of Education with a unanimous vote. Last year the Nature School, under the name of the Raptor School and in partnership with Imagine Schools, Inc, was denied by the Charter School Institute. The Nature School also has an application in to CSI again this year and a vote is expected at their Nov. 18th meeting. The application was heard at the last CSI board meeting on October 21st and it didn't go well.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

New Charter School Approved in St. Vrain

Yesterday the St. Vrain Valley School District unanimously approved the charter application from the St.Vrain Montessori Charter School. This charter school joins Twin Peaks Academy, Carbon Valley Academy, and Flagstaff Academy for a total of four charter schools in SVVSD.

Another Montessori charter application is being heard in Douglas County; the school is called the Montessori Academy of Parker (MAP). A decision is expected by mid-November.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Ridge View Academy in the News

The Rocky Mountain News had a great article about the Ridge View Academy football team. Well, after you get past the inaccuracies about the schools mentioned in the two related articles, that is. Ridge View Academy is not a "private" school, but rather a private youth detention facility with a public charter school educational program. The article also says that D'Evelyn is a "chartered academic" school, which is patently false. It's a district magnet school. Since the articles were in the sports section, the mistaken reporter can be forgiven.

Ridge View Academy is an excellent model of positive peer pressure. The facility is run by Rite of Passage, a company that has experience operating similar facilities in other states. Ridge View Academy is chartered by Denver Public Schools and serves about 400 males in a residential facility that looks much like a college campus.

I've attended athletic events at RVA and been on campus for meetings or tours more times than I can count. I highly recommend a school tour for anyone working with high-risk youth. Students leave either enlisted, enrolled or employed. The school boasts a low residivism rate.

Students can achieve different ranks based on their behavior. Higher ranking students set the school culture and are responsible for lower-ranking students' behavior if they see it. The young men at RVA learn self-discipline (everyone participates in a sport and has regular physical exercise) and get a good education. Further, students all learn a trade such as barbering, auto mechanics, video production, tile trades, construction, or welding.

For several years RVA students have done community service projects in Denver Public Schools facilities, such as wall repair, saving the district thousands of dollars each year.

RVA focuses on character development as a central aspect of their program and are very successful with some pretty serious offenders. Clearly, a key to their success is the people they hire and train who are passionate about improving the lives of these young men.

The Boulder Streaker -- the Rest of the Story

The Boulder Daily Camera reported there was a male streaker at Friday night's football game who was arrested. The streaker carried a fake sword and wore only athletic shoes.

What the newspaper article doesn't say is that this 17 year-old junior from Fairview High School is the son of House Majority Leader, Rep. Alice Madden. Rep. Madden is term limited and officially done with her term in early January. Maybe about that same time her son will be able to leave the house again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

NACSA Conference Next Week

Numerous members of the Colorado charter school community will be heading to Indianapolis in a few days for the annual National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference. This is the eighth annual conference. I was at the first organizational meeting, which was held in Chicago.

Several districts in Colorado are members of NACSA. Recently they released standards for quality charter authorizing. There are a variety of other publications that are helpful for charter authorizers such as self-evaluation instruments and issue briefs. Further, staff members and people from authorizing entities are very willing to share best practices and help others newer to authorizing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Parents for School Choice Makes Endorsements

Parents for School Choice, a group of charter school parents and supporters, released the following today:

Parents for School Choice is pleased to announce the following endorsements:

SENATE DISTRICT 19 - LIBBY SZABO
Libby Szabo has shown a full understanding of the issues that face charter schools. Her children have been enrolled in charter schools and she fully supports charter schools. Libby's opponent, Evie Hudak, has been a strident critic of charter schools and has exhibited a lack of understanding of charter school issues. For Senate District 19, we recommend Libby Szabo.

SENATE DISTRICT 23 - SHAWN MITCHELL
Shawn Mitchell has been involved with the charter school movement since the very beginning. Shawn helped found the Academy of Charter Schools, serving as their legal counsel. Shawn guided the Academy through their appeals process with the State Board of Education and later argued successfully before the Colorado Supreme Court in a landmark charter school decision. In the legislature Shawn has always been a strong advocate of charter school issues. Shawn's opponent, Joe Whitcomb, has stated that he feels that charter schools take money away from public schools and should be limited accordingly. For Senate District 23, we recommend Shawn Mitchell.

HOUSE DISTRICT 31 - HOLLY HANSEN
Holly Hansen is a strong advocate for school choice and for charter schools. As the mother of two children, Holly is acutely aware of the need for quality education, from pre-school forward. Holly's opponent, Judy Solano, is the current vice chair of the House Education Committee. In that position she has worked against charter school legislation at every opportunity. We recommend Holly Hansen for House District 31.

Our endorsements are based on candidate's positions on charter schools and school choice. We feel our recommendations are made in the best interests of charter schools and charter school students. Please pass these recommendations on to other charter school families. As we enter the final days of this election, we ask you to help us support our endorsed candidates.

Please make a contribution to:
Parents for School Choice
P.O. Box 1312
Eastlake, CO 80614

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

CSI Hears Two Charter School Applications Today

Today the Charter School Institute board heard two charter applications: Veritas Academy (Colorado Springs) and The Nature School (Fort Collins). Veritas would offer a classical education for grades 6 through 12th. Their program is modeled after Trinity School in Indiana. The Nature School is a partnership with the Raptor Center in Fort Collins. Both sets of applicants were given a list of questions to respond to and a vote will be on Nov. 17th at the next regular CSI meeting.

CSI has received two other applications, from Essence Online and Mountain Online, which are similar programs.

CSI is considering a significant update to their Request for Applications and review process based on best practices from other authorizers. Next week is the National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference in Indianapolis. CSI staff and board members will be researching this topic at the conference.

The CSI board was informed that oral arguments have been set in the lawsuit brought by the Boulder Valley School District against CSI and the State Board of Education. This is an appeal after a lower court ruled in favor of the Institute.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tis the Season..for Charter School Application Review

I was in two different conversations today about how authorizers should review charter applications. Once an authorizer has determined they've received a complete charter application, it must be reviewed by a subcommittee of the District Accountability Committee and undergo two public hearings by the Board of Education. Many districts also choose to have their staff review the application. The Charter School Institute contracts with outside reviewers to score the application based on a rubric they provide.

Unless a school district has recent experience reviewing charter school applications they might not know what a "complete" application looks like, what a strong or weak application contains and what is within their purview as an authorizer.

For some time now authorizers have been asking for a statewide agreed-upon application process. This includes agreement on what type of charter application should be approved and some sort of "norming" of the process across districts and with the state Charter School Institute. In other words, that a charter application that's approved on the western slope would be comparable to a charter application approved in Colorado Springs 11.

Currently scant 13 page applications have been approved and comprehensive applications from experienced charter school founders and operators have been denied. Compounding this is the diversity of charter appeal hearings presented to the State Board of Education. Districts want to know what the State Board is looking for during an appeal hearing.

To standardize the process several different components should be examined:

* school district charter school policies for application review, renewal and exclusive chartering authority;
* what is a "complete" charter school application and if it's not, how should that be documented and communicated to the applicant;
* when the 75 day "clock" starts ticking on a complete charter school application;
* how can quality be consistent across school districts and charter school applications;
* when and how can an applicant submit new information during the review process, either on their own initiative or in response to questions from the authorizer; and
* what type of research basis is adequate to ensure the educational program has a fair chance of demonstrating academic achievement?

These and a host of other questions need to be considered by all the stakeholders involved in the charter school community. Many people, rightly, want to prevent the creation of a "box" for what type of charter school application will get approved. Several times there has been the applicant from a group of parents who can carry off the formation of a new charter school largely based on their sheer will and determination.

During this season when at least 75 charter school applications have been submitted across the state, it is a good time to have these discussions.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Donors Choose Reminder

Remember to check out the DonorsChoose.org link on the top right of this blog site. I'm a part of a blogger's challenge to raise funds for classroom projects. The three projects I've targeted are all from charter schools here in Colorado! Please help me out!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Two Applicants Present in Jeffco

Tonight two applicants presented their charter applications to the Jeffco Board of Education. Global Outreach Academy is a proposed K-8 school in Arvada, which would primarily serve Slavic families. The school would be modeled after another charter school operating in California. The school would not provide bilingual education, but would have bilingual teachers and target students whose primary language is not English.

The second applicant was for a replication of the Lotus School for Excellence in Aurora. The school would focus on math, science and technology and serve grades 4-7 initially, but K-12 eventually. There is a new principal at the Aurora campus this year who recently came from a sister charter school in San Diego, the Magnolia School. The presenters said that school served 80% Free/Reduced Lunch qualifying students and had a 0% dropout rate.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Charter School Board Member Elections

Guest blog from Jen:

Charter board elections underway this fall at Colorado’s charter schools are running concurrent with the national presidential election. However, unlike the presidential election, the candidates for election to a charter board should be considered based on visionary planning skills and leadership experience, and not on their agenda for change. Perhaps it is because charter board members are elected, but there seems to be a misperception that charter board members must be representatives of the community, as an elected public official would be. The belief that a charter board member is elected to represent the “vote of the people” in a democratic structure is actually inaccurate. Charter board members are elected as non-profit directors of the school program, to provide oversight and leadership based on the parameters set by the mission and vision of the school.

Recent elections at several schools have included opportunities for candidates to “present their platforms” to the charter school community and demonstrate “support from their constituents” to the nominating committee. School communities have divided along lines of support for certain candidates based on their position with regard to critical issues facing the school. Political positions, constituent support, and opinionated platforms are inappropriate for charter school board elections. What is next, a candidate debate?

A good charter school board candidate has a strong commitment to the mission and vision of the school. They seek the opportunity to contribute to the school community in a positive way, and they have the ability to design paths to success. Candidates should be elected to the board because they are committed to engaging in a process of leading the school to success. The board should prepare for incoming directors by providing potential members of the board with documentation that communicates this expectation of guidance and leadership. Once elected, good board members read profusely, research topics, and make decisions based not on pressure from vocal groups in the school community, but rather base decisions on best practices, visionary leadership, and good business.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Douglas County Charter Parent Educating the Public

What a treat to see Karin Piper post information about charter schools in her Your Hub paper! She cleverly educates parents and dispels charter school myths. Kudos for being a great representative of the ingenuity and creativity that comes from the charter school community!

"The Rest of the Story" on the Jeffco School District 3A Election Booklet Comments

Below is the Jeffco School District's response to the 3A arguments "for" in the Jeffco "blue book." Apparently the comments were written by someone facetiously. Although the statement below is from the school district, please note that there is an independent group running the campaign to get 3A and 3B passed and the district cannot campaign for or against the measures.
The following is a public statement issued by Jeffco Public Schools today regarding the summary of written comments for the 3A/3B Ballot Propositions printed in the 2008 Jefferson County Tabor Notice booklet. The booklets were mailed to Jefferson County registered voters recently as required by state law.

The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights gives citizens the right to express their views on ballot measures, and have their views amplified at government expense through the so-called TABOR notice. The statement that appears in the TABOR notice is NOT the statement of the School District and the Jefferson County School District does not condone the remarks made by a citizen who submitted comments for publication in the notice that many people find misleading and offensive. Instead, court decisions make it clear that government officials may not deny a citizen access to this avenue of communication because government officials believe the citizen’s comments are sarcastic, offensive, or even dishonest. Jefferson County School District has great regard for its senior citizens; does not intend to pay its beginning teachers six figure salaries, and has no interest in establishing a socialist utopia. The Jefferson County School District is confident that the voters of the community will make an informed decision on ballot measure 3A without regard to political dirty tricks.

A copy of the Election Booklet is available online at:
http://jeffco.us/jeffco/elections_uploads/JEFFCO_TABOR_2008.pdf

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Six Figure Income for New Teachers?

I try to stay away from writing about ballot issues, but after reading the Jefferson County R-1's reasons to support ballot measure 3A, I have to point out the exact language of the Jeffco "blue book." In addition to having the exact language of the ballot measures, this book has the arguments for and against each measure. This is what the school district's mill levy argument "for" 3A says, on page 21:

"Teachers are poorly paid and hopefully beginning salaries in the six-digit range can be offered within three or four years."

"Seniors on fixed incomes are hard-pressed to shoulder increases in property tax. These people should realize that their reduced productivity calls for them to be replaced by the youth of our nation. Seniors on fixed incomes, to whom this school tax is burdensome, need training, as well as compassion. They must be offered the oportunity to learn how to locate more modest accommodations than those they currently occupy, and how to cope, in other communities if necessary."

"This tax increase furthers the goals of our teachers unions. It is consistent with a presidential candidate's promise for change, and hope for progress toward the Socialist utopia through education."

Failure is Not an Option, Part 6

The sixth principle in the book, Failure is Not an Option is: building sustainable leadership capacity. The need for quality leadership is one of the most pressing issues in education. Leading a charter school is even harder because the leader needs to understand the business side of the school in addition to the standard academic leadership expected in most schools. Further, because charter schools operate in a customer-driven situation, the leaders must be exceptional.

Key to this principle is developing leaders within the school to support the vision and mission. This includes teacher mentors, master teachers, Professional Learning Communities, etc. Effective leadership outlives the leader when the leader leaves because many people are involved in leadership.

Many leaders feel threatened by having strong leaders working for them. Effective leaders develop a strong group of individuals to assist in leading the school. It's important for charter school board members to recognize what kind of leader they employ. The school is more sustainable if the leadership is spread across a number of individuals.

The book says, "The future of leadership must be embedded in the hearts and minds of the many, and not rest on the shoulders of a heroic few." "School leadership is not the sum of its individual leaders, still less its separate principals. School leadership is a system, a culture."

"Distributed leadership means more than delegation. Delegation involves passing on lesser and often unwanted tasks to others. The individual leader decides what will be delegated and to whom. Distributed leadership means creating a culture of initiative and opportunity, in which teachers of all kinds propose new directions, start innovations--perhaps sometimes even challenging and creating difficulties for their leaders in the higher interests of the pupils and the school. In its fullest development, distributed leadership extends beyond the staff to pupils and parents. Distributed leadership gives depth and breadth to the idea and practice of leadership."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Role of Charter School Board Members

Most people on charter school boards have little knowledge of what other charter school boards are like. I'd be surprised if more than just a few have visited another school's board meeting. Typically their only experience is maybe attending a few board meetings at their child's school before being elected to the board.

This isn't enough. Often this leads to myopia: not being able to see the larger picture. Rather than reading about Roberts Rules of Order, for example, new board members become familiar with the "way it's always been done." In my experience, new board members (particularly parents) come on the charter school board believing their commitment level should be the same as the school's founders (not true for maintainence mode) and being reactive instead of proactive.

Board training is essential. First, there should be formal board training covering the basics such as:
* the importance of leading through the vision and misison of the school
* requirements of the Open Meetings and Open Records laws
* legal requirements for going into executive session
* how to know if the school is on course academically and how to make improvements if necessary
* how to lead through the use of a strategic plan
* how to avoid conflict, or handle conflict if it becomes apparent

But then the board should also seek more specialized training as a result of identified needs. This may include the board's finance subcommittee explaining the budgeting process and how Public School Finance works in Colorado.

Board training should be ongoing due to turnover in board membership. Further, each board member should take responsibility for their own learning by reading books related to the curriculum or educational design of the school, attending charter school meetings whenever possible, and networking with other charter school board members to learn more about how a board can improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Donate to Classroom Projects

Remember to check out the Donors Choose link on the right side of this page. I'm participating in a challenge to raise funds for classroom projects through Donors Choose. Every project I'm raising funds for is a need at a Colorado charter school. I regularly donate to projects through this website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen


Last week I visited Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen. This school had a very difficult time getting open the first year because of problems with the county planning and zoning commission. There were numerous obstacles that the dedicated founders had to overcome in order to open in what was formerly an office building. The school was crammed into a small space with office staff working on top of each other, small classrooms and a small hallway.
But now they've moved up the hill with a great view, three large, spacious modular buildings, and even a library! The new campus is much nicer and everyone is happy to have more space. In the next few years they plan to move into a permanent facility, these modulars are the interim plan.
Rocky Mountain Academy is a Core Knowledge K-8 charter school authorized by the Jefferson County R-1 School District.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Board Agenda Setting

The charter school board leads through implementing the vision and mission of the school. Typically this is done with a strategic plan that is updated annually and communicated with regularly with constituents. On a monthly basis, the board leads through what is discussed, and accomplished, at its board meetings.

The board president usually develops the agenda along with the lead administrator. The agenda should reflect the vision and mission of the school. Some boards read the vision and mission statements at the beginning of the meeting; others have these statements written on the agenda.

The board meets in public to conduct business. Commonly charter boards have difficulty drawing the line between what is healthy parental interaction and when that interaction distracts from the board's meeting purpose. There usually aren't too many parents who attend charter school board meetings; until there is a problem and then there could be hundreds in the audience!

A few tips for charter school boards include:
* Make it clear when an item on the agenda requires action or just discussion.
* Use the consent agenda whenever possible for routine items.
* Put the most important decision items at the beginning of the agenda or if parents are interested in a particular subject, put it at the beginning of the agenda so they don't have to stay late into the evening.
* Make sure the agenda conveys the school's vision and mission. If the school's priority is academic achievement, how often does the board discuss that issue?
* Periodically get feedback from individual board members to continually improve board performance.
* If there is strong disagreement on a decision item, consider postponing the decision until the next meeting.
* Clearly designate action items as a result of the meeting and make sure individuals follow up on their responsibilities prior to the next meeting.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Waiting to Get into a Charter School?

There are more than 24,000 students waiting to get into Colorado charter schools. Every year we hear about families who "win the lottery" by getting their children into a charter school, but there are still many families that get the heart-breaking news that their child didn't make the lottery cut.

Here's a new video from Illinois about charter schools in that state. To compare some of the statistics: Colorado has 150 charter schools operating with approximately 55,000 students enrolled.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Failure is Not an Option, Part 5

The fifth principle in Failure is Not an Option, is "gaining active engagement from family and community."

Charter schools often have less difficulties with involving parents in their child's education because as a choice school, the parents have made a decision to support the school. Many charter schools have "mandatory" volunteer hours (I've always thought that was an oxymoron) of between 20 to 40 hours per family.

One essential component of involving parents in their child’s education is communication. Parents typically expect more, and better, communication from a charter school than their neighborhood school. Further, charter parents often have higher expectations for their contact with the school. They want access to the principal and they don’t want their child to receive a failing grade without some sort of notification first.

There is also a need to educate parents via the school newsletter or other publications. Parents should be able to learn about what are the key charter school philosophies, how charter schools are funded, why the charter school governing board uses a strategic plan to lead the school, and the role of parental involvement in a charter school. For many parents, their expectations of what it’ll be like to be a part of a charter school is based solely on their neighbor’s former experiences.

Many schools have found some sort of classes for parents to be effective. These may include a night where teachers explain the curriculum to parents or teachers and counselors explain which classes junior high students should take in junior and senior high. Most parents are eager to learn these types of things, especially if the student is their oldest child.

The book says every school should consider questions such as:
· In what capacity are volunteers used at the school?
· What types of outreach activities have been undertaken to recruit community members?
· What forums or meetings have been organized to explain school-related issues and answer families’ questions?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

AYP Released Today

Last year 75% of Colorado's public schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and only 60% made AYP this year. Targets jumped significantly this year due to the formula approved by the federal government. AYP is a part of the No Child Left Behind provision that all students will be proficient in reading and math by 2012. The feds approved state plans for calculating which schools make AYP each year. Colorado's formula "stair steps" instead of a steady, gradual incline. Every three years the targets jump significantly.

Most notable in this new AYP release is the 34 schools that have missed AYP targets for six consecutive years. These schools are required to restructure or reconstitute and are considered in the implementation phase. Another 18 schools have missed their AYP targets for five consecutive years and therefore start the restructuring/reconstituting process.

One charter school, the Youth and Family Academy in Pueblo, hasn't made AYP for six consecutive years. These same federal laws also apply to underperforming charter schools. Therefore, the Pueblo 60 School District has the following options: revoke the YAFA charter and close the school; revoke the charter and allow another group to submit a charter proposal and operate the school; or revoke the charter and the district takes over the school.

Blogger Challenge Day #1

Today's the big day! I've started my challenge to get you to donate to Colorado charter school projects through the DonorsChoose.org website. See the link to the right. Click on the blue text link and it'll take you to the projects I'm currently working on. I have already started funding two projects and now I want you to help me out!

I've personally visited every school I've selected and can vouch for their dedication to excellence. These are top-quality projects!

Everyone who donates can send me either a comment or an email with a suggestion for a stunt or something to do. If I make my challenge amount, I'll do one of the suggestions. Go easy on me!! No, I'm not shaving my head!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

When is Pushing Children to Advance NOT a Good Thing?

A new study, released by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute, says that most eighth graders pushed to do Algebra I shouldn't be in that class. The bottom 10% of students taking the math NAEP are students taking Algebra I, Geometry or Algebra II, all traditionally considered high school courses.

The problem is that students didn't have the foundational skills to build upon successfully. They hadn't completely learned basic skills such as multiplication and computation. In order for students to excel in middle school mathematics courses, they need to have mastered 3rd thru 5th grade math. Middle school math develops higher order thinking skills in students: a requirement to excel in high-level math courses such as trigonometry and calculus.

I recently learned that the Jeffco School District, as one of its Accreditation Indicators for public schools, is measuring how many eighth grades are enrolled in Algebra I or higher. This immediately raises two important questions:

1. How will the district pay for students taking additional math courses in high school? About four years ago the district considered increasing the high school graduation requirements for math from 3 to 4, to match CCHE college entrance requirements, and decided they couldn't afford the estimated $7 million price tag for additional teachers and classrooms.

2. Will high schools adjust their math graduation requirements if a students is advanced a year? There isn't any incentive for students to advance a year if they don't "save" a year as Seniors. This is another example of where "seat time" often supercedes "subject mastery." Related to this is the question of whether the content of these high school math courses are considered essential content. Why is Calculus important for graduating seniors to know?

As the CCHE college entrance requirements increase for students graduating high school in 2010 or beyond, to four years of math, it'll be interesting to see if the graduation rate is affected and how school districts respond to this since the graduation rate is one of the Accreditation Indicators and closely monitored by policy makers.