Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Senate Ed Cmte. Holds Confirmation Hearings for New CSI Board Members

Tomorrow (Thursday) at 2:30 p.m., the Senate Education Committee will hold confirmation hearings for the three newly-appointed CSI board members: Pat Grippe, Sam Batey and Van Schoales. To listen to the confirmation hearings, go to: After the hearing, the committee's recommendation will go to the full Senate for vote.

Data: What's the Big Deal?

Both yesterday and today I was a part of a discussion with charter school administrators about the use of data in a charter school. Yesterday's group of about 24 charter school leaders talked about how data can be manipulated and misleading depending on how it's presented and what the data really means. Moreover, there needs to be a wide array of data collection points in order to get a comprehensive picture. For example, parent survey data, staff surveys, multiple types of achievement data, or focus groups.

When the CSSI teams conduct a site visit they triangulate data before considering it valid. If one disgruntled parent makes a claim, other sources must verify the concern before it'll end up in the final report.

Today's group of about a dozen charter school leaders discussed "facing the brutal facts"; referring to the chapter in Jim Collin's book, Good to Great, that they're studying. It's important for charter school leaders to be able to measure whether or not they're implementing their vision/mission statements. Almost all organizations have a small number of persons who represent the "vocal minority." Leaders may be tempted to respond to concerns, even if they represent a change to the school's mission, if the concerns are expressed passionately by someone whose actions are disruptive to the school system. Wise charter school leaders examine the entire system and consider data that gives the opportunity to either validate the vocal minority, or not.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Pinnacle Charter School

Some of the standards addressed by the Charter School Support Initiative team, using the 9 Standards for School Improvement, deal with effective instruction and using data in order to modify instruction.

Last March the CSSI team did a site visit at The Pinnacle Charter School in Federal Heights. Last night two of us were at The Pinnacle governing board meeting to give them an update on progress made over the last year. The progress has been incredible.

At the beginning of the meeting the board heard reports from staff. A common theme was the challenge to educate students, especially those new to the school, who were multiple grade levels behind and still main the high standards indicative of The Pinnacle. Staff referred to the recent report from the second round of NWEA testing. It was refreshing to hear the governing board discuss instructional successes and challenges with their staff and to note the safe environment that had developed in the last year amongst the staff in order to encourage this type of open discussion. Staff talked about how they'd identified gaps in their curriculum by having vertical team meetings. They had not only identified instructional needs based on various assessment data, they'd discussed it and knew what they needed to do at different grade levels and in different content areas.

A large portion of the credit for this new direction at The Pinnacle comes from their leadership team. This team has drafted an action plan and from all indications, this plan seems to have changed the staff culture at the school. Administrators at The Pinnacle are eager to learn all they can from each other and leaders of other charter schools. They're excited about the purposeful focus on student learning and the progress made by their staff.

School reform takes time and is a lot of work! Most schools consider it a five-year process in order for the reform to be sustainable over time. Clearly The Pinnacle has made remarkable progress and can look forward to a positive impact on student achievement!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Leadership Preparatory Lawsuit Settled

An El Paso County judge ruled that the charter of Leadership Preparatory was not revoked for racial reasons. The African-American founders of Leadership Prep brought a suit against the Widefield School District, saying that the charter was revoked for racial reasons.

Patrick Mooney, attorney for the school district, pointed out that the original charter was granted to an all-Black board and the charter was renewed once with the same board. It wasn't until problems developed that the charter was revoked.

After Leadership Prep closed the school operated as a district-operated school for one year. It is now the James Madison Charter School and operates in the same location in the south end of Colorado Springs.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Charter Schools Like the Marine Corps

My son's last day of a four year contract with the Marine Corps is today. So this opinion piece on how charter schools are like the Marine Corps caught my eye.

To carry the metaphor further, opening a charter school could be compared to boot camp. Some people decide the work is too much for them during this phase while others step up and become leaders. Boot camp is a refining period and only the most hardy make it to graduation. Opening a new charter school is also a refining period and the ultimate reward is the first day of school. There's nothing like seeing the excitement in a 5 year-old's face to make all the time and effort needed to open a charter school worthwhile.

Operating a charter school requires the discipline Marines exercise every day. Charter school staff must have the discipline and intensity to focus solely on kids getting smarter. Teachers cannot be distracted from their mission or it's the people they serve who stand to lose the most.

Marines are focused on accomplishing their mission and making sure no one gets left behind. Marines go into battle knowing they will give it their all in order to accomplish their mission. I've seen similar dedication in the many unsung heroes who work in charter schools. They care so strongly about their mission that things like personal time and resources aren't important. Further, their work is done together. Teachers and administration work together to make sure ALL students are learning.

Dr. Terrence Moore, the high school principal at Ridgeview Classical Schools, is a former Marine. When he spoke to his graduating seniors last May at their commencement program, it was evident that he accomplished his mission with those Seniors. It was also very clear that he had "fought the battle" alongside his students--his mission included making sure all of his students were prepared to go on to higher education. He accomplished his mission.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Charter School Leadership Needs

Charter schools in Colorado use a wide variety of leadership models. Some governing boards have multiple administrators report to the board while most boards have only one employee and the rest of the staff is employed by the lead administrator. In fact, charter schools have changed their models over the years based on their needs. Just another example of how charter schools rarely operate "inside the box."

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Most Unusual?

Folks from the Raptor Center in Fort Collins have joined with Imagine Schools, Inc. to create a charter school application and have submitted it to the Charter School Institute. One great thing about charter schools is that they're very unique, but I think this might be the most unusual in the entire nation if it is approved.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Next Week

Next week's postings will be light as I travel out of state to be with my Mom as she undergoes more chemotherapy.

Adolescent Literacy

This afternoon, CDE Regional Team Managers Michael Clough and Jackie Webb, spoke about Adolescent Literacy with about 50 charter school teachers. The schools are faced with a wide disparity in reading levels amongst their secondary students, which also affects the different content area classes. Diagnosis and instruction were the main area of focus today. Different diagnostic tools were discussed in detail and resources provided such as a list of the assessments and which areas they assess. Good assessments measure the five key reading components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension.

Most parents would think that a student who measures "proficient" on the CSAP would be reading at grade level. Not so! The CSAP proficiency level begins at about 27%tile, which is below grade level for many of the subjects measured by CSAP. For comparison, the NAEP proficiency level begins at about 51%tile.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

New Charter School Institute Bill Introduced

HB 1159, the new Charter School Institute bill by Rep. Fischer (D-Ft Collins) and Sen. Bacon (D-Ft Collins) is online at This version shows only Democrats are signed on as co-sponsors.

Some provisions in the bill are designed to clarify issues such as that existing state Institute charter schools within a specific school district remain Institute schools even if the district obtains exclusive chartering authority. Other provisions make it easier for districts to be granted exclusive chartering authority by the State Board of Education.

The League of Charter Schools encourages charter schools to invite legislators to their school or school events and speak to them about impending legislation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Principal Licensure

Over at the other Colorado charter school blog, Charter Insights at, Doug Hering on Sunday wrote about the topic of principal licensure. Yesterday I was in a discussion exploring the possibility of creating a virtual alternative principal licensure program for charter schools. We discussed the fact that many charter schools employ non-licensed principals and most of the charter schools have a waiver from the principal licensure statute.

I can name several very successful charter school principals who do not have a background in education prior to their employment at a charter school. There is a variety of skills needed to lead a charter school, but these skills don't all have to come from the same individual. Especially in larger charter schools there are a variety of people in administration with skills in finance, administration, compliance, governance and curriculum/instruction. The principals who aren't curriculum or instructional leaders often have other people on their leadership team with the skills necessary to lead the school's academic program.

Many of the prinipal preparation programs in higher education do not serve the needs of a charter school princpal because the program doesn't adequately cover financial operations and the interaction with a charter school governing board. Charter school principals have a wider variety of responsibilities. In fact, yesterday we decided that the very first meeting with candidates for an alternative principal licensure program should start with a toilet and a plunger. Almost every charter school principal I know has had to master the plugged toilet!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Single Gender Education

NBC Evening News today had a story on single-gender schools. They said that the number of single-gender schools has increased from 12 to 360 in the past few years. Further, boys in single gender schools in Florida scored 85% on the state assessment whereas boys from regular public schools scored only 55%.

In Colorado, the James Irwin Charter Middle School has single-gender classes. The school is a K-12 system, but only the middle school separates the boys and girls for classes. They have the same teachers, who teach differently according to the gender, but then students mix for lunch.

Ridge View Academy, a youth detention facility east of Denver operated by the Youth Services Division of the Dept of Corrections and Rite of Passage, Inc., is a charter school serving only incarcerated young men. A year ago they opened a facility for young women, the Betty Marler school located in Lakewood. Ridge View is a great model of a school effectively serving high risk youth. The school is built on the positive peer pressure model. Students are often better behaved than at regular high schools. I've had lunch in the cafeteria with about 100 students and could speak in a normal voice -- a feat unheard of in other schools. The students take general education courses, typical of a regular high school, during the day and then also participate in a vocational program. It's a residential facility and there are three staff members for every four students. Students leave Ridge View Academy either enrolled, enlisted, or employed.

Western Slope Charters Meet

Yesterday charter school leaders from Western Slope schools met to discuss how to improve instruction in the classroom, network with each other and discuss hot topics in charter schools. The meeting was a joint effort by CDE and Charter School Institute staff and hosted by Caprock Academy in Grand Junction.

Caprock Academy is authorized by CSI, uses the Core Knowledge curriculum and is in its first year of operation. The school doesn't have theme-based, holiday parties. Instead, classes have parties related to the curriculum the students are studying. Just before the winter break, students had a "knighting ceremony" where the principal knighted each student and called them by their new name (e.g. Sir Robert). Parents and students alike love the emphasis on academic achievement at Caprock Academy. Caprock is the only educational choice alternative in Grand Junction for parents of elementary school-aged children.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Internet Resource

I just found this website the other day, thanks to Bob at The Daily Blogster.

This archive site has historical documents in PDF. I read a lot of books on history and found a collection of anecdotes compiled after the Civil War, which was very interesting. Teachers could use this site to find resources for their classes. I can't quite believe there's actually 2,555 books, journals, or articles on ants, though!

Check out the education page. There are some great resources to support Advanced Placement courses!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Wyoming Charter Supporters Want the Law Changed

The Cheyenne school board voted down a charter application from Cheyenne Classical Academy earlier this week. Now charter supporters, are behind new legislation to fix the Wyoming charter school law.

The director of the Wyoming Association of Public Charter Schools, and a State Representative, Amy Edmonds said, "Asking a school district's trustees to approve a charter school is like asking Lowe's to open a Home Depot." How true! Only three charter schools are open in Wyoming due to their restrictive law. For example, Wyoming charter schools must employ only licensed teachers and cannot waive participation in teacher union contracts.

Owl Creek Charter School Loses Appeal Bid

Today the State Board of Education voted to affirm the school district in the Owl Creek Charter School v. Ridgeway School District appeal hearing. Bob Schaffer was the lone board member opposing the motion brought by Gantz-Berman and seconded by Middleton.

One of the contested issues was how many students, in a small school district, are enough to warrant the school choice option. Students signed up to enroll in the charter school comprise approximately 10% of the school district's total enrollment. The two issues cited by board members supporting the motion were the lack of a solid curriculum and a weak budget.

He's Baaaaaack!

House Speaker Andrew Romanoff released the names of committee chairs today and Rep. Mike Merrifield is back as the chair of the House Education committee. Last spring an email was exposed with Merrifield's comment that parents who support charter schools "deserve a special place in hell." Soon after he stepped down from his role as House Ed chair, but within four days avowed he'd return as House Ed chair. And now he has!

What does this mean for charter schools? It means that this legislative session will be an excellent time to get involved and keep up-to-date with what's happening at the state Capitol. It's easier than ever with the wealth of information available over the Internet! The Colorado General Assembly page has all the bills, agendas for when bills are heard in committee or on the floor and audio/video streaming of hearings. Further, the CO League of Charter Schools has information about their Advocacy Program online.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Educating Students with Special Needs

Today I heard Julie Fabrocini, the principal of the CHIME Charter School in Los Angeles speak at Vanguard Classical School. Julie was at Vanguard speaking to the staff because Vanguard is largely based on the CHIME model.

The CHIME school provides a co-teaching model where there is both a general education and Special Education certified teacher in the classroom. Students with moderate and severe needs are included in the classroom. For severe needs students with a full-time paraprofessional, that adult may or may not provide services with just that particular student. All adults in the classroom (teachers, parents, paras) are encouraged to work with all students. The co-teaching model has different forms, but the basic philosophy is to teach in a variety of ways, largely kinestic, in order to address different learning styles and abilities.

Julie also talked about some of the criticism CHIME received when the general education community found out they would literally accept all students, regardless of their disability. This included students who would otherwise be at a center-based program, or a "special school" for kids with similar disabilities. At CHIME, and Vanguard Classical, these students are included in the classroom. Vanguard's Special Ed rate is twice that of the Aurora Public School District, the sponsor of their charter. Some people in general education believe severe needs students should only be served in center-based programs.

One of the struggles that has faced Vanguard Classical this year is that their charter application proposed this co-teaching model with a Special Ed certified teacher in each classroom alongside the general ed teacher. During the final phase of their charter contract negotiations, the district required the charter school to use district services for all Special Ed. This was a complete 180 from the original intent of the charter school and a central piece to its educational program design. There is ongoing discussion between both parties as they attempt to figure out what's best for the students and each other.

It's refreshing to hear educators talk about educating unique students based on what the student's needs are rather than what fits within the budget or what accommodates the schedule of available staff members. From different comments made today by the staff members in attendance, it's clear that the leadership and staff at Vanguard Classical truly believes in educating all students and they're doing everything they can to make sure all students learn!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

School Choice & Open Enrollment

Many school districts in the state have their Open Enrollment window this month. I recommend signing up your kids in more than one school if more than one school interests you. Then when you're notified of an opening, you at least have the option.

Open Enrollment is a law that preceeds the Charter Schools Act of 1993. It allows parents to enroll their child in any public school as long as the family is willing to provide transportation. State law permits a district to designate a school as "full" and not accept Open Enrollments, but many do accept students. This law even allows students to cross district boundaries in order to attend the school of their choice.

Open Enrollment policies vary from district to district. Parents are encouraged to contact their district, or neighboring districts, because often the window for completing an Open Enrollment form differs.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Board Governance

Brian Carpenter has written several monographs about charter school governance that I highly recommend. They're at:

Brian recommends the John Carver Policy Governance model and that's where he and I differ. I've spoken with Brian about this. I believe in policy governance, or what I call "Carver-lite." By this I mean I think charter school boards should not get involved in the day-to-day operations and should govern through policy--putting their specifics on how to implement the vision--in writing. Brian Carpenter, however, espouses Policy Governance, which means the Carver model. The Carver model, in use by some school districts in the state, limits the powers of the board, which could include the type of information available to the board. Some education leaders in Colorado have attributed at least part of the financial mess the St. Vrain Valley School District was in a few years ago to the limitations imposed on them by the Carver model. In Carver, the board receives limited information through reports delivered by the chief administrator on a predetermined time table.

It may be possible for some charter school boards to effectively use the Carver model. In order to do so, however, would require a lot of training, very little board turnover, and a strong administrator. In other words, everything should be going very well. My experience is that charter school board members often have little prior board experience, there is difficulty in finding people to serve on the governing board, and when there are problems with the administrator, the Carver model simply doesn't work.

With "Carver-lite" or the policy governance (small 'p' and small 'g') model, the board states its values in written policies. These policies should include a clear description of what each board member's role is, and is not, especially in contrast to the administrator's role. With this model the board can ask for additional information, not routinely provided by the administrator. Further, if problems develop with the administrator, the board's hands are not tied.

If a charter school board is considering adopting the Carver model, they should conduct their own research and know what they're getting in to. The board should make sure they have the resources for ongoing training and technical support to make it work.

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.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

1997 Denver Post Article on Core Knowledge

Still purging my old charter school files...

In 1997 Janet Bingham did a three-part series in the Denver Post about charter schools. The second piece in the series was about the prevalence of Core Knowledge charter schools in Colorado. Since the beginning, Core Knowledge charter schools have typically comprised at least 40% of the state's charters.

Dr. E.D. Hirsch, the originator of the Core Knowledge curriculum, has repeatedly expressed surprise that his culturally-based curriculum appealed to conservatives. In the Denver Post article, he says, "I'm a political liberal. My agenda is a social justice agenda. The core curriculum, he said, assures that all children have access to the same foundation of knowledge. If you want social and economic justice, yo've got to give children a rigorous education."

The article also quotes Mike Munier, Principal at Jefferson Academy, as saying about 40% of students initially arrived below grade level when the school opened in 1994. At the end of the second year of JA, only 18% were below grade level.