Thursday, July 31, 2008

Should Kindergarteners be Redshirted?

Parents often wonder they should enroll their five-year-olds in Kindergarten or hold them back a year. Matthew Ladner, writing for the Jay Greene blog, says that age matters, but not school-starting age.

I've had to make this decision with my four children. I'd been told that if it's a boy with a summer birthday, they should probably be held until they're six to start Kindergarten. I followed that advice with my two sons with August birthdays. Most school districts use the Oct. 1 funding deadline as their cut-off point. Since boys mature slower and they'd rather be the first in their grade level to get a driver's license, rather than the last, I think it was a good decision to hold my two sons for another year.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Charter School Hero Santiago Lopez

You can tell a lot about a person by how they handle adversity. Last year Life Skills Center of Denver had its charter revoked by Denver Public Schools and the school appealed that revocation to the State Board of Education in May 2007. Life Skills serves a very difficult population. Their contract with DPS requires students to be drop-outs for 40 days before the school can take them. In other words, DPS gives up on the students and then lets Life Skills try to educate them -- if the school can get them to attend, that is.

Life Skills was granted a one-year contract by DPS and last spring was granted a two-year contract along with accolades from a DPS board member. Santiago Lopez (pictured), the Principal of Life Skills was at the hearing, along with many of his students. The contract renewal vote was a reward for the many hours of hard work by school leaders and the students.

According to the CSAP scores released just yesterday, Life Skills Center of Denver continues to show strong progress by making gains greater than DPS in several test scores.

People may wonder how a charter school, serving such a needy population, can make significant improvement in such a short time. There's no easy way to accomplish it without hard work. Santiago and his staff kept meticulous student attendance records and got students involved in reaching attendance goals. Whenever a student missed, someone from the school called the student. Every student had at least one adult in the school touch base with him/her every day to discuss their personal academic goals. Santiago learned to focus his time each day on raising student achievement and improving attendance; the two goals he identified as most important. Everyone in the building focused on improvement to ensure the continuation of the charter.
Santiago was thrown into a tough situation when he took over as Principal at Life Skills. The school was in a precarious situation and he had only Assistant Principal experience. There aren't many good administrators to model after in DPS and Santiago simply had not been exposed to good leadership. When he established a relationship with an experienced administrator who met with him weekly and encouraged his productive efforts, Santiago learned quickly how he could impact students in a short time. In fact, while I was concerned that Santiago would initially feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenge before him, he instead eagerly embraced everything he could learn from his mentor and through book studies and even asked for more assignments!
In education, especially in schools that serve high-risk students, there are no shortcuts for hard work. Not only does the school leader need to demonstrate focus and intensity, the staff needs to learn the same focus and intensity. You can bet the team at Life Skills spent many overtime hours maintaining personal contact with their students. For making such a positive impact in the lives of students, Santiago Lopez and his team are charter school heroes!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Center for Education Reform Charter School Study Released

The Center for Education Reform released its Charter School Survey: Innovative Education Models Succeed Despite Large Funding Gap today.

Findings include:
  • Even though they are public schools and should receive the same amount of federal, state and local funds, charter schools receive nearly 40 percent less funding than other public schools.
  • Despite receiving less money, charter schools are able to offer longer school days, longer school years, and innovative curricula not available in conventional public schools.
  • Charter schools have grown at a rapid pace over the last ten years, but state caps and moratoriums on new schools are now impeding the necessary growth.

The study found that states with multiple authorizers have the highest quality and quantity of charter schools. Colorado has two authorizers: the local school district and a state chartering agency. However, recent legislative changes to the Charter School Institute law has further restricted where CSI may authorize charter schools. This year the CSI can charter in only 13 school districts, five of which are over 3,000 students (Durango, Grand Junction, Westminster, Roaring Fork and Poudre). None of these five districts requested exclusive chartering authority this year.

AXL Academy Opening in Aurora

Ben's doing great work highlighting new charter schools in Colorado. Check out his post on AXL Academy in Aurora.

Monday, July 28, 2008

When is Reading not Reading?

As someone who sometimes reads like I have ADD, I was very interested in Joanne Jacobs' take on the new digital reading style of many teenagers. I find myself reading differently if I'm on the Internet or if I'm reading a hard-copy book. Internet reading is more like skimming to see if there's something to return to when I have more time.

How does this new digital reading style affect classroom learning? It's important for secondary school students to know how to pull meaning out of written words. To learn this skill, they need to be coached. Kristie Betts Letter in her "Reader's Handbook" explains how to develop these critical skills. Since most teens read only because they have to, teachers can be helpful in explaining to students how they can read more efficiently and how to discern the purpose of different types of reading.

Additionally, the sheer volume of information now available requires different types of skills, such as how to filter out what information is beneficial versus what is not. Plus, students should be learning these types of skills while they're texting during class and trying not to get caught. Last year I even watched a high school student texting during a choir performance; not a smart move since she was on the end of a row and clearly visible to the audience.

Much has been reported about "distracted driving," but what about "distracted learning"? How will today's students learn to read with comprehension while they're texting, chatting on Facebook and surfing the Internet all at the same time? Today's teachers must possess different classroom management skills and make use of different teaching strategies.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some Ideas for Having a Healthy School Culture

I get to see a lot of cool things when I visit the state's charter schools. Below is a list of things I've seen that are great ideas for maintaining a healthy school culture:

1. Utilize good behavior awards where even visitors can acknowledge, in writing, something neat that a student did. One school has a special bulletin board in the hallway to post these recognitions for everyone to see.
2. Establish a student ambassador program that is a privilege to be a part of, which utilizes students to speak with school visitors, give school tours, or otherwise represent their school. Give the students a special polo shirt to wear when they're "on duty" as an extra incentive.
3. Post the school's vision and mission in a prominent location near the school entrance. Clearly communicate the vision/mission through parent/student and staff handbooks.
4. The faculty models high personal expectations through their own written communication, preparation for class, personal reading choices and discussions with students.
5. The school displays academic achievement trophies as prominently as athletic trophies.
6. Evening classes for parents to explain the school's curriculum or teach parents how to encourage academic achievement in their children.
7. Define high expectations in writing and emphasize these in decision-making.
8. Conduct forums where parents are invited to interact with school leadership. These may be Principal coffees, board townhall meetings, or listening sessions. [Note: offering food is always a plus when engaging parental input!]
9. Board members read the vision/mission statement at the beginning of monthly board meetings.
10. At every opportunity, school leaders tell about individual student accomplishment (anonymously, if appropriate) or anecdotes about the school community that reflect the school's priorities.
11. During annual strategic planning, individual board members write thank you notes to individuals or groups of people representative of different parts of the school, such as the PTO, the finance team, the administrative support staff or the janitorial staff.
12. Designate one or two students for each classroom to approach class visitors, introduce themselves and explain what the class is currently working on. Lots of schools do this and as a visitor, I've been extremely impressed by the maturity and poise these students possess. [Note: many charter schools have found they operate in a "fish bowl," meaning they often have visitors watching classrooms.]
13. Encourage the daily use of a school motto. One school's motto was "First Comes Learning." When the Principal was approached by high school students and asked to purchase lockers for them, his first question was, "Tell me how this meets our priority of "First Comes Learning"?
14. Encourage emergent behaviors that represent the school's focus. For example, if a teacher encourages students to visit his/her classroom during lunch for extra help or to work on homework that teacher should be publicly recognized for "going the extra mile" with his or her personal time.
15. Redirect negative behaviors by addressing, instead of ignoring, them. Listen to concerns, but firmly transmit the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
16. Reward good teachers by having other staff members visit his/her classroom to observe skills such as higher-level questioning or classroom management.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Does Size Matter in School Culture?

A topic very relevant to charter schools is the whole small schools and school culture discussion. Initially, the majority of charter schools started out as small schools, but over time many have become much larger and replication of operating, successful schools has become the new trend.

Several years ago I wrote assisted with a charter high school application which had the primary component, "a small school atmosphere." We believed no student should "fall through the cracks" and at least one caring adult should know each student. I believe schools can model tenets of the small school atmosphere even if they are over the 500 student mark, which many consider the threshold for a small school. Most important is the school culture.

The October 2002 edition of "Research You Can Use" states:

Peterson defines school culture as the set of norms, values and beliefs, ritual, ceremonies, symbols, and stories that make of the persona of the school. According to him, "These unwritten expectations build up over time as teachers, administrators, parents, and students work together, to solve problems, deal with challenges and at times, cope with failures. However, many schools have negative or toxic cultures that do not support the changes in teacher practice that promote increased student achievement.
One of the advantages to creating a new charter school is it's easier to build a new, positive school culture instead of trying to improve a toxic school culture. But more often than not, charter school founders struggle to establish the culture they initially envisioned or the students that actually enroll don't match the founder's vision making the desired school culture even more difficult to acquire.

A charter school best practice is to start small and grow one grade level at a time. This allows the new school to clearly define its culture before adding new students and families. Adding new students equal to or more than one-half of a school's student count has been defined as the tipping point, which can adversely affect the school culture. This percentage should probably drop to a lower figure in secondary schools where incoming students have normalized toxic behaviors from their other schools.

Good charter schools determine, before they ever open, how they will assess their school culture and ensure that it continues to be an environment that promotes student academic achievement.

Rick DuFour states that "The question facing educational leaders is not: Will our school have a culture? But "Will we make a conscious effort to shape our culture?" The first step in shaping the culture is to conduct an assessment. Barth (2002) indicates that instructional leaders must first become aware of the culture. He suggests a series of questions that leaders might ask:
􀂃 What do you see, hear, and experience in the school?
􀂃 What don’t you see and hear?
􀂃 What are the clues that reveal the school’s culture?
􀂃 What behaviors get rewards and status?
􀂃 Which ones are greeted with reprimands?
􀂃 Do the adults model the behavior they expect of students?
􀂃 Who makes the decisions?
􀂃 Do parents experience welcome, suspicion, or rejection when they enter the school?

Beginning traditions is an important way to convey the value of academics or character development. School leaders should intentionally give awards, display recognition plaques, honor staff members, recognize student academic achievement, and model expected behaviors. The larger the school size, the harder it is to maintain a positive school culture. Behaviors and traditions must be intentional rather than accidental. Staff professional development and performance pay plans should prioritize expected behaviors.

Standard 4 of the 9 + 1 Standards and Indicators for School Improvement addresses school culture. The associated resource handbook contains a variety of "how to's" for improving school culture.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Schools Opening in Firestone, Colo Springs and Pueblo West

It's that time of year when several new charter schools will be opening their doors for the first time. There's no better reward for charter school founders than to watch students enter the building on the first day of school.

Imagine Charter School at Firestone will open with Kindergarten through eighth grade. Principal George Sanker just recently moved to Colorado after starting a charter school in Washington, DC. The school will use the Core Knowledge curriculum and is operated by Imagine Charter Schools, Inc.

21st Century Charter School @ Colorado Springs is adding a middle college high school. Last year the school was K-9, but just recently the authorizer, the Charter School Institute, agreed to the addition of the high school. The school just signed an agreement with Pikes Peak Community College to allow 10th and 11th grade students to take classes at their downtown campus. 21st Century is operated by the GEO Foundation.

Swallows Charter Academy in Pueblo West is adding an early college high school to their K-8 component. The school established a partnership with Pueblo Community College, which will allow juniors and seniors to earn an Associates degree. The school will add ninth grade this year and expand a grade level each year. Presently, they're trying to work out all the details associated with adding facility space.

The Business of Charters From Another Perspective

Doug Hering, the Chief Financial Officer at The Classical Academy, has been blogging about a charter conference he's attending at Harvard this week. It sounds like participants and presenters have wrestled with a number of philosophical issues relating to charters such as performance pay, budget priorities, educational philosophies and charter school laws. I've heard from people who have attended this conference in the past and while it's expensive, it is very worthwhile.

Yesterday's post mentions a discussion the group had about how public funds are used in charter schools.
The case involved a Denver charter that was saving money for a down payment on a
building. A parent found out after about three or four years when the fund
balance hit about $2.6 million in a school with revenue of about $5 million. The
saving was board approved, but the parent and many teachers wanted the money
spent now. There were many complicating factors in the case, but the ultimate
question is what is fair to current staff and students? Can a school withhold
money from the current allocation to spend on a future building?

Charter schools must use their per pupil funding for facility costs, in addition to operating costs. In fact, some charter schools spend up to 30% of their Per Pupil Revenue on capital needs. This is quite different than most public, district-operated schools that have access to taxpayer-generated bond money for capital purposes.

It's rare when a brand new charter school can get facility financing. Most lenders want to see a good credit history over a three-year period and steady enrollment demand before they're willing to fund charter school capital. In order to prepare for financing, charter schools must put away money to use for a down payment and the costs associated with making the financial arrangements (e.g. bond/legal counsel).

Most people examining financial "big picture" issues for a charter school first consider if large budget categories are within reasonable margins. There are average percentages for salaries, capital and general operating expenses. Next, a comparison of charter school salaries with the district's salaries is recommended. Charter school leaders shouldn't feel a need to have salaries within a certain percentage as much as they should analyze similarities and differences between job descriptions. For example, many charters use aides in the classroom, which alleviates the teacher's need to take home papers to grade and maintain student files. For many teachers, this is a worthwhile trade-off for a little less pay.

The solution to fairly compensating charter school teachers is not in recreating a step and level chart, such as is used by most districts where years of experience and degree level are considered. Rather, charter schools factor in adherence to the charter school's instructional philosophy and outputs such as student academic performance.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Power of the Teacher's Union

Over at The Daily Blogster, Bob has a videoclip posted that explains the process leaders from the Locke High School in Los Angeles went through in order to convert their school into a public charter school. Note that the teacher's union actually opposed the majority of Locke teachers who wanted the Green Dot company to manage their school as a charter school. Further, the principal was removed and assigned to a cubicle near the bathrooms at the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters. Fortunately, parents and students were eventually successful!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

School Newsletters

I love getting newsletters from the charter schools! I must admit I have some favorites and read some of them cover to cover.

I first got hooked on the Paradox Valley Charter School's "Paradox Paragraphs" when the school started and then-Director Renee Owen wrote about non-parent, community members bringing pies to the school or sharing the zucchini from their gardens. The May edition, which just arrived, introduces the new school director, Jon Orris. But true to the newsletter's history, the "thanks" section recognizes Redd Ranches for a truckload of manure for the gardening club!

For people unfamiliar with the Paradox Valley Charter School, it's at the end of a 20 mi. long valley, about 4 mi. from the Utah border and it's so remote that it's where they release the bears captured in Yellowstone. The charter school opened after the community school closed and the town began to dry up. Little kids were riding an hour on the bus to reach Nucla.

The other newsletter I read is Ridgeview Classical School's "The Conversation." I learn something every time I read this newsletter. It's been a good way for the school to communicate their values and educational philosophy. In another post I'll use a clip from this edition to talk about the teacher selection process. This edition has the second part of the school's history, written by Joshua Purcell. Joshua contacted me when he was writing Part One of this piece and he had some of the most intelligent, in-depth questions that I've ever had to respond to in an email. He had a very good understanding of the legal foundation for charter schools before he even contacted me. Joshua will be attending Baylor University this fall, studying law.

Monday, July 21, 2008

School Choice

A former professor from Aims Community College in Greeley has an interesting guest editorial about school choice in the Greeley Tribune. He talks about the great lengths parents will go to in order to enroll their children in quality schools and the connection between school success and freedom from bureaucratic restrictions.

Colorado's Growth Model Just Released

Today the Department of Education released data related to the new Colorado Growth Model. The Growth Model will be included in future Accreditation data reviews and provides a more holistic understanding of how a district, and individual students, are performing academically by comparing students and groups to their academic peers.

Colorado’s Growth Model provides students, parents, teachers, principals, administrators, policy makers and the public with an easily understood yet
rigorous means by which to understand student progress over time. Colorado’s
Growth Model:

* Quantifies year-to-year growth
* Defines what constitutes “typical growth” (or “one-year’s growth in one-year’s time”)
* Defines what constitutes “adequate growth” to reach proficient and advanced
performance within one, two, or three years.

In August, school districts will receive more information when the 2008 CSAP results are made public.

District and school level growth plots are available for review based on prior CSAP data. All of the state's charter schools can be compared on one growth plot. Each bubble represents a charter school and a block pops up that cites the school's enrollment, median growth percentile and CSAP proficiency rate. Top performing schools are in the upper right quadrant and the lowest performing schools are in the lower left quadrant.

Using the growth plot parents can easily compare schools within a district or charter schools with each other. The visual representation of school performance makes it easy to get a quick snapshot of performance before conducting further research into each type of school.

From a quick review of the growth plots, it seems as though very few high schools are in the top performer quadrant when using the Math CSAP. On the charter-only growth plot, Ridgeview Classical, Denver School of Science and Technology and Peak to Peak are the only high schools.

Everyone associated with a charter school should take the time to find their charter school and look at the bubbles in order to understand how their school compares to other schools.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Imagine Charter School to Open in Colorado Springs

The Imagine Classical Academy (Falcon School District) will open August 21st with grades K-6 at a cottage campus in the Forest Meadows (eastern Colorado Springs) development while two permanent K- 8 facilities are built. Both permanent facilities will open in time for the 2009-2010 school year.

The Imagine Classical Academy (TICA) is about the Five “C’s”: Character Education, strong Community, College Prep, the Classical approach and Core Knowledge.

The founder’s goal is to help students attain a level of education that would allow them to compete in both U.S. global markets. The school will implement classical techniques and ideals with how instructors teach and how students learn. The Trivium will guide both instructional practice and how students learn in the classroom. Classical education is a timeless, effective approach that has been used across the centuries and still is as applicable today as it was centuries ago.

The charter school’s Five “C’s” can be summed up in the school motto. By the end of a student’s eighth grade year, students will be: classically trained, culturally literate, and globally prepared.

TICA is managed by Imagine Schools, Inc., which adheres to the Six Measures of Excellence and provides the school a report card each year on its performance in these Six Measures:
*Shared Values of integrity, justice and fun.
*Parent Choice
*Excellence in Academic Achievement
*Economic Sustainability
*Character Education
*New School Development

A special thanks to Tina Leone, Principal and School Founder of TICA, for guest writing this post.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's Ahead?

There are several projects in the works that will interest charter school folks!

1. An administrator's handbook is in development. This is the guide for new administrators from date of hire through the third year of operation. It'll only be available online because it is highly interactive. Expected completion is October.

2. Board training modules will soon be online. These modules are based on the board training handbook. Three modules are completed and we'll start by posting those while others are still being developed. Individuals can sign on, take a pre-test for each module, take the module if profiency on the topic is obtained, and then take a post-test. This will be an excellent way to ensure new board members have at least the basic training needed to serve on a charter school board.

3. The charter school typology study is due for completion in November. This study categories all operating charter schools in Colorado and then measures their longitudinal CSAP data to compare categories. This study is a state-level examination similar to the Fordham Foundation typology study; in fact, Dr. Dick Carpenter is also the lead on this Colorado report.

4. This year's monthly administrator breakfasts will include a book study on "10 Traits of Highly Effective Principals" by Elaine McEwan. These will be held at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

How to Select Board Members

Whether a group of founders starting a new charter school or an existing board looking to replace or add members, all charter school boards should constantly be looking for prospective board members. Some boards have a formal committee for this, others do it informally, especially in small schools.

Ideally, board members shouldn't be added to the board unless they've come up through the ranks; serving on board subcommittees, for example. Through committee work people demonstrate if they're more interested in the title/position or if they're simply about "getting it done" without caring who gets the recognition.

The number one thing to look for in a prospective board member is their character. People with agendas, egos or looking for praise, shouldn't seek a position on a charter school board. The work is hard and there should be little public acknowledgement for the successes. After all, it's the kids who should shine in a charter school, not the adults.

Many board members have asked me over the years about what types of expertise they need on a board. Yes, it's good to have people with legal, facility, financial, or educational experience, but it's not critical. It's more important to have a group of people with wisdom, courage, humility, honesty, and leadership skills. Learning how to govern a public school is something that can be learned. Rarely do people develop the integrity needed to lead a school, if it isn't already inherent in their character.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bring on the Sunshine!

Colorado's "Sunshine Law" was passed so that people entrusted with public funds conduct their business in public. Charter school boards are subject to the Sunshine Law. A few quick points critical for all charter board members to know:

* Three board members cannot meet without there being a properly posted meeting. Two can meet or speak on the phone, but not three or more.
* There should never be email discussions amongst board members. Email is treated the same as the telephone or a meeting in the law. One individual can send out an email as an FYI, or get a "Reply" email, but never hit the "Reply All" button!
* Less than half of a board's meetings should have an Executive Session, and then it should be properly noted on the agenda why an Executive Session will be held. Board members should help each other to adhere to the legally-permissible topic while in Executive Session.
* Never take a vote in Executive Session. If parents are at the meeting, let them know if you'll be taking a vote after the Executive Session before you adjourn to Executive Session.
* Every school should publicize their Sunshine List. This allows parents or interested community members to get notified whenever the board meets or posts an agenda. (All school districts have this, too!)
* Board member's personal email is subject to Open Records requests if they use it to discuss school business.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

School Advisory Councils in Charter Schools

The School Advisory Council law predates the Charter Schools Act. The legislative intent of school-level accountability committees is to provide parents a way to be involved in their child's education. My experience with these committees at neighborhood public schools is that they're for show, if they meet at all. Not much effort is put into them and when I've asked SAC leaders what the role of the committee is, they don't have much of an answer.

But many charter schools are governed by parents, which is the ultimate of involving parents. Therefore, when charter schools initially began in the mid 1990's many didn't have a separate accountability; instead, the governing board acted as the accountability committee. For charter schools established after Jan. 1, 2000 there should be a subcommittee of the board focused on accountability. This committee should serve the purposes of the board, rather than be focused on the parameters of the statute.

Since almost all charter schools conduct parent surveys each spring, many SACs create the survey for board approval and then compile results. In addition, the committee takes a close look at assessment data and develops the School Accreditation Plan. Charter boards have also asked the SAC to review curriculum components and other tasks specific to the needs of the school.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Jeffco School Board Asks the Slapper to Step Down

The Jeffco R-1 Board of Education met yesterday to discuss "board member issues," according to their posted agenda. The result was agreement that Vince Chowdhury should resign after pleading guilty to assaulting his daughter by slapping her. Chowdhury was given a one-year deferred sentence if he takes anger management and parenting classes and meets the conditions of his probation, which includes a protective order to stay away from his wife and 16 year-old daughter (the victim in the case). True to the cycle of domestic violence, Chowdhury is now contrite about his actions and asked his wife and daughter for forgiveness after yesterday's court hearing.

Even though fellow school board members endorsed Chowdhury's campaign for House District 22, they unanimously voted to ask for his resignation. Dave Thomas, Chowdhury's legal counsel for the case and fellow school board member abstained from voting due to a potential conflict of interest. Both Thomas and Sue Marinelli endorsed Chowdhury's House campaign. Asking Chowdhury to resign was the right thing to do for the other Jeffco school board members: Jane Barnes, Scott Benefield and Sue Marinelli.

Chowdhury hadn't yet decided if he would resign, however. Although the slapping incident happened two weeks ago, as late as last week Chowdhury was still sending out campaign emails asking for support and notifying people of recent endorsements.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Light Posting Ahead

The next couple of weeks I will post only occasionally and use some guest posts. My son is getting married next week so we'll be busy celebrating with family and friends!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Chowdhury Should Resign From Jeffco School Board

I believe everyone elected by the voters should serve with integrity. This is especially true for people representing children by serving on a school board, which includes charter school boards. In Jeffco, where I live, one of the Jeffco R-1 school board members, Vince Chowdhury, has been arrested for allegedly choking his daughter. According to media reports, Chowdhury admitted to losing his temper and slapping his 16 year old daughter.

Vince Chowdhury should resign from his position on the Jeffco School Board.

What would happen if a school teacher were arrested for domestic violence, assault and harrassment? On a minor, no less? That teacher wouldn't be in the classroom!

Elected officials responsible for making decisions on behalf of children must adhere to high moral standards. They act on behalf of tens of thousands of children every day. Our children are too precious to have someone with Chowdhury's character representing them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Charter School Names

I've often said that I'd like to be in charge of approving the names of new charter schools in Colorado. Why? Because it'd be nice if the school names were unique rather than almost the same as others. Here are some facts to back me up:
  • We have an Academy Charter School and Academy of Charter Schools (we commonly refer to them as "Academy" and "Academy of").
  • Academy of Charter Schools recently changed their name to The Academy; now they join The Academy at High Point in wanting to be called "The Academy."
  • There are two Frontier's: Frontier in Calhan and Frontier in Greeley.
  • There were two Pioneers (although Pioneer in Ft Collins closed this past year): Pioneer in Denver and Pioneer School of Expeditionary Learning in Fort Collins.
  • A whopping 33 charter schools use the letter "C"! Of these there are four that refer to themselves as "CCA": Cardinal Community Academy, Cherry Creek Academy, Cesar Chavez Academy, Corridor Community Academy.
  • Until the EXCEL school in Durango closed a couple of years ago, we had two Excel's. There is also an Excel Academy in Arvada.
  • There are four New America Schools. We hyphenate the school name and add the city, but even this becomes difficult when they move their schools between school districts.
  • There are two Southwest's: Southwest Early College in Denver and Southwest Open School in Cortez.
  • There are both Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins and Ridge View Academy in Denver.
  • There are two Vanguards: Vanguard Classical School in Aurora/Lowry and the Vanguard School, which is the high school portion of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy.
  • Hope Online is often confused with the HOPE homeschool program operated by Lincoln Academy.
  • There's a new trend from management company-operated schools to have a common name at the beginning of the school name and then differentiate it by location, such as Imagine @ Firestone and Imagine @ Indigo Ranch or LifeSkills Center of Denver and LifeSkills Center of Colorado Springs.

Most district-operated public schools in Colorado go for the geographical or animal names. Schools used to be named after former Presidents, but that rarely happens anymore (other than the charter schools in north Jeffco where developing charter schools could use the Jefferson Academy wait list if they named their school after a President; hence, Jefferson Academy, Lincoln Academy and Woodrow Wilson Academy are all named after Presidents.)

Probably the worst was the non-charter private school that used "charter" in its name. Imagine explaining that to upset parents who called to inquire about the school and ask why they were charged tuition.

In my dream world new charter schools select names that are unique and easy to differentiate. The founders check the Secretary of State's website to make sure the legal name is available. And, of course, my dream world includes charter founders asking about the feasibility of using a school name before making it official.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

KIPP Expanding Program to Elementary School

The Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in Baltimore is asking to open an elementary school because they're finding their incoming fifth graders aren't prepared and new student placement scores are slipping.

In Denver, KIPP plans to apply for a high school and in future years an elementary school. This follows other KIPP schools in the nation that have decided they need to expand the grade levels they serve because students benefit from their program, but the school is having to undo wasted years before students enter KIPP in fifth grade. Currently, new middle school students must learn to adjust to the disciplined environment common at KIPP schools and for many students, get up to grade level through intense remediation. This often means undoing bad study habits, a poor attitude about school work and a "I deserve [fill in the blank]" attitude. New students at KIPP must earn the privilege of having a desk and a chair. Moreover, KIPP leaders have been known to go into student's homes and take their TV and video game machine.

Watch for dramatic changes in KIPP as they expand into offering high school and elementary school programs!