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:

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.

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.

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 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:

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 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!