Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Phi Delta Kappan Article on Jeffco Charter Schools (1995)

The final blog as a result of purging my home files (I promise!)...

The March 1995 issue of Phi Delta Kappan had a lengthy article, "The Struggles and Joys of Trailblazing: A Tale of Two Charter Schools" that explained the development of Community Involved Charter Schools (CICS)[note: CICS later became the Center for Discovery Learning] and Jefferson Academy (JA). Both charters were approved in Jeffco in 1994.

Since the mid-1970's the district had two successful district-operated choice schools: Jeffco Open and Dennison Elementary. These two schools served students at both ends of the spectrum: progressive and traditional, respectively. Comparatively, CICS and JA were approved to serve the same diverse student populations. In 1987 the district conducted an audit of its choice schools and noted that they had twice as many applicants as could be enrolled.

The article relates the opposition to charter schools in Jeffco to then-Superintendent Dr. Lew Finch. Finch believed charter schools were "private schools in disguise." However, in 1992, Rep. John Irwin introduced the first Charter Schools Act--the same year Minnesota passed the first charter schools law. Irwin's bill called for the creation of a single statewide district to authorize charter schools. The bill eventually died.

"Superintendent Finch urged his board to adopt guidelines prescribing student selection procedures for the new charter schools and requiring that they conform to the district's learning outcomes expectations. He also recommended that 'no district facilities be turned over to charter schools.' In response, an editorial in the Rocky Mountain News identified the superintendent's view as a 'most alarming misreading of the charter law and spirit' and characterized the district's attitude as 'bordering on the obstructist': a more outspoken legislator accused the superintendent of displaying a 'flagrant disregard for the law.' Several months later, the Senate Education Committee rather pointedly endorsed a bill amending the existing law to require districts to make empty schools available for charter use and specifying that a charter school could determine their enrollment procedures for themselves."

This part of the article speaks to Jefferson Academy. The district tried to impose a lottery requirement and refused to let us use the vacant Juchem Elementary building, which they intended to raze. We obtained a copy of an internal memo from Lew Finch that we used during our appeal hearing to the State Board, which said no charter school would ever get the use of a Jeffco school facility. It was State Senator Al Meiklejohn, from the Arvada/Westminster area who carried the bill to allow charter schools to use the enrollment method they proposed in their charter application. Meiklejohn was the chair of the Senate Education Committee and a strong supporter over the years of Jeffco Public Schools, but he worked to pass legislation contrary to the district's wishes.

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