Friday, November 28, 2008

Keeping Control of the Board Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Just Say No -- to DARE

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Civic Literacy Quiz

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Merrifield as House Ed Chair? For Real?

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jeffco Says No to Both Charter Applications

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

Early College HS at Arvada

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CSI Approves New Charter School

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

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

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Future of Education under the new Obama Administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

Flatirons Academy Charter Applications Across the State

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

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

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

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Cesar Chavez Network Drops Lawsuit Against Pueblo 60

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

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

DPS Charter Schools Sharing Space with District Schools

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Memphis and California: A Stark Contrast

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day: A Time to Honor Those Who Served

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 10, 2008

Upcoming Changes to the State Board of Education

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

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

Friday, November 7, 2008

Charter School Conference -- Day Two

The 2008 Charter Friends recipients, announced today, are:

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations, Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll

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

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Colorado Charter School Conference -- Day One

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Charters and the new Legislature

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

BVSD Lawsuit Against CSI Goes to Oral Arguments

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

For more information, check out Face the State.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Justice High Approved for More Students

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

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

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

Atlas Prep Supporters Attend School Board Meeting

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

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

Sunday, November 2, 2008

High School Students Ready for College?

The College Success blog says:

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

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

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

KIPP Expands into Elementary Schools

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