Thursday, December 31, 2009

Denver All-Girls Charter School to Open Next Year

Denver Public Schools recently approved the opening of a new charter school to serve only girls. The school will start with middle school grade levels and eventually serve girls through twelth grade. GALS, Girls Athletic Leadership School, is led by founder Elizabeth Wolfson.

Other charter schools in Colorado serve a single gender or separate boys and girls for classes. Ridge View Academy, a youth detention facilitiy in east Aurora, serves only young males. A few years ago the school added an all-girls branch in Jefferson County.

James Irwin Charter Schools in Colorado Springs separates boys and girls for their middle school years. Likewise, AXL Academy in Aurora separates students. Both schools comingle the students for lunch and other activities.

Federal policy makers have been intrigued with single-gender education. In particular, former Sec. of Education Margaret Spellings, championed single-gender education during her administration. Single-gender public charter schools have operated for years in New York and other parts of the country.

In order to be in compliance with federal Title IX rules, single-gender schools need to demonstrate that a comparable program is available to the opposite gender. In the case of James Irwin Charter Schools, the same courses are offered to both single-gender classes of boys and girls, taught by the same teachers for each group.

Update: A Pueblo Chieftain article on the subject.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Peak to Peak Makes the U.S. News & World Report Top 100 Again

For a third year Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette has made U.S. News and World Report's top 100 list for the best high schools in the nation. Last year the school ranked #69 and this year it's #76.

According to Peak to Peak's website, they are the only Colorado school to make the top 100 list this year and one of 16 charter schools in the nation to make the list. Another in the long list of accolades appropriately earned by Peak to Peak, a K-12 college prep school.

The U.S. News and World Report top 100 list is based on "college readiness." The magazine uses scores on Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests to evaluate high schools.

Other Colorado charter schools to make the U.S. News and World Report list include, Silver level: Ridgeview Classical Schools, Fort Collins and Denver School of Science and Technology, Denver. Bronze level winner was Dolores Huerta Preparatory HS in Pueblo.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's the Future for Textbooks?

The possibilities for ways to eliminate the old, thick textbook are endless! I ran across this site that predicts ways the old-fashioned textbook will become a thing of the past. As more colleges and high schools focus on students using laptops, those same students won't be excited about lugging around heavy textbooks.

The question is, however, how will students be assessed about what they know when their cell phones, kindles and laptops have everything readily available to them?

Monday, December 28, 2009

All-STAR's to Replicate Successful Charter Schools

In the new year, Congress will be considering a new bill, All Students Achieving Through Reform, or All-STARs. This bill, introduced by Colorado U.S. Representative, Jared Polis (D-Boulder), along with 15 original Co-sponsors will provide for a competitive grant program for entities wanting to replicate successful charter school models.

Replicating successful charter schools is the latest trend in public charter schools. Rather than take a chance on a brand new charter school application, many authorizers are more eager to accept an application for a new charter school if its based on a model that they know works and if the same people they've already been working with are involved.

Replication is quite different than creating a brand new charter school. Replication models typically identify a new school leader early in the process and create the new school out of the existing school. The schools may share professional development opporunities, business services and a governing board.

Because replication is still so new, there is very little research about what are effective replication practices. In Colorado, it's considered a best practice to identify a new school leader from within the existing school's staff or bring in a qualified school leader from the outside that interns at the existing school for at least one year.

Colorado's authorizers haven't determined yet if they consider it a best practice to contract (charter) with a governing board for the individual charter school (like CSI requires) or a board over multiple charters (such as Denver Public Schools allows).

This new proposed federal legislation, All-STARs, complements the priorities in the federal grant programs Race to the Top and the Charter School Program. Replicating proven models allows students to benefit more quickly from a better school. This is especially appealing in urban areas where there is a very poor school system and drastic measures are needed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adams 12 Denied Two Charter School Applications

Tonight the Adams 12 School District Board of Education unanimously voted to deny two charter school applications. One was from Capstone Academy, a National Heritage Academies, K-8 school emphasizing moral education and rigorous academics. The other application was Prospect Ridge, a K-12 charter school proposing to use the Core Knowledge curriculum and emphasize science and math.

Both of the denial resolutions were very similar, citing classroom size in the elementary schools in that area of the district, comparing the Brighton 27J National Heritage Academies school academic achievement to area elementary schools, financial concerns in a year where the state was rescinding money and the existence of comparable educational programs in district schools.

In my recollection, this is the fifth and sixth charter school applications in a row that District 12 has denied. Just two years ago the district denied another National Heritage Academies application and that decision was never appealed.

Jefferson Academy Beats Peak to Peak in Boys Basketball

As a founder of Jefferson Academy and a big fan of boys basketball coach Mark Sharpley, it's important to note when the team beats another charter school. Last night the JA Jaguars beat the Peak to Peak Pumas 74 to 61. The game went back and forth until the fourth quarter when the Jags pulled away for a comfortable lead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Witch-Hunt" on Colorado's Charter Schools

Four anti-charter school legislators asked for an performance audit on the state's charter schools in a "witch-hunt" requested by Sen. Evie Hudak, Rep. Mike Merrifield, Rep. Judy Solano and Sen. Bob Bacon. Ben DeGrow has the scoop, including the letter requesting the audit and a podcast with Colorado League of Charter Schools' Executive Director, Jim Griffin.

Be sure to read the inflammatory language in the audit request. Items such as "are charter schools paying their share of unreimbursed Special Education costs" and "are districts adequately compensated for administrative responsibilities and legal costs" associated with their charters are just two of the types of information the Democratic legislators requested.

The hero in this story is Sen. Lois Tochtrop who called out these elected officials by labeling it a "witch-hunt." Sen. Tochtrop was the only Democrat to vote with four Republicans on the committee to stop the "witch-hunt." Republicans joining Tochtrop were: Rep. Frank McNulty, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, Sen. Josh Penry, and Rep. Cheri Gerou.

And the next legislative session hasn't even begun yet. Opening day is Jan. 13, 2010.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Charter School Developer's Reading List

Need something to read during the cold winter months? Check out the suggested reading list for new charter school developers on the startacoloradocharter.org website.

After you've mastered the reading list, see if you know all the terms in the glossary. If you have, then you're ready to start writing a charter school application!

The Charter Explosion

The number of charter schools operating in the United States has exploded in recent years. Colorado has around 160 operating this year and eight other states have more than Colorado according to the U.S. News and World Report about this public school choice phenomenon.

California, which has always led the country in the number of charter schools, topped 800+ schools this year. And eleven states continue to hold out without any charter school law at all. The Obama administration is trying to influence states to permit charter schools to flourish by dangling the carrot called "Race to the Top" funds.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

New Charter School Makes History in Colorado!

History was made today in the Colorado charter school community when the Douglas County School District issued securities on behalf of a new charter school, Northstar Academy-West.

The Certificates of Participation were issued only for the charter school. This includes $7.5 million for site acquisition, $5.5 million for construction and $1 million for a debt reserve fund for a total of $14 million. Because the district issued the securities, the charter school is getting a 4.3% rate instead of the 9% rate it would have gotten if the school had used the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority bond as most other charter schools have done. This is the first time that a district has issued securities on behalf of a charter school in this manner.

Northstar Academy-West will open next year as a second campus to already successful Northstar Academy in Parker.

Update: Douglas County News Press article

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When is it Right for an Authorizer to Take Over a Charter School?

There's a precedent-setting situation brewing in the Brighton 27J School District that should have the attention of all charter school leaders in the state. A few years ago, the Brighton Collegiate HS had a couple of situations where teachers had inappropriate behavior with students. Part of the outcome was that the charter school was placed on probation and given a rigorous action plan to implement in order to rectify the environment that allowed these inappropriate situations to occur. One of the steps taken was the charter school implemented a policy that included a "no tolerance" for inappropriate contact with a student.

Last month another incident happened at Brighton Collegiate and the school district board voted to take over the charter school's operations. The charter school then went to court asking for the right to continue operating the school. The judge said that the case is best presented to the State Board of Education and out of the purview of the court.

An authorizer has never taken over a charter school in Colorado, so this case is precedent-setting. The school's charter contract didn't contain a provision explicitly allowing the authorizer to take over the school; however, the district cited concerns over the health and safety of the students in the charter school.

While this is all being sorted out, it's unclear what criteria will be evaluated to determine when, or if, the charter school resumes school operations. Further, it's not clear what course of action the charter school board will have when/if they resume operating the school.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Just Say No" to Union Money Being Used for Anti-Charter School Politics

Once a year Colorado teachers who are members of the teacher's union have the option to request a refund of the money that goes to political activities. Of course, much of this money goes to oppose charter schools and other reforms charter school supporters hold dear.

Every member can request a $39 refund of their "Every Member Option" funds. In addition, many of of the local affiliates have an addtional amount, up to $24, which must be requested separately.

The deadline for requesting these funds is December 15th. If you know of a teacher who belongs to the union, make sure he/she knows about this option so that his/her money isn't being used to oppose charter schools.

Go to Independent Teachers for more information on CEA political refunds.

Cesar Chavez Academy Test Audit Results Released

CDE Releases Audit Of Test Procedures At Cesar Chavez Academy; Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones Calls For New Policies At CCA

The Colorado Department of Education today released the audit of testing procedures at Cesar Chavez Academy conducted by Caveon Test Security. (The audit report may be found at links below.)

The audit found that Cesar Chavez Academy (CCA), a K-8 Charter School in Pueblo City Schools had three successive years of extremely high rates of extra time accommodation for students from 2007 through 2009. The extra time accommodation was provided in grades three through eight and in all subjects—reading, writing, mathematics and science—tested by the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP).

For example, 86.9 percent of fifth grade students at CCA who took the math portion of CSAP in 2008 were provided with extra time. Statewide, just 4.8 percent of fifth-graders were provided with extra time. In 2007, 77.5 percent of CCA third-grade students were provided extra time for the writing portion of CSAP. Statewide, just 6.5 percent of students were provided that accommodation.

The decision to use an accommodation for assessment is made at the local level using a process established by the Colorado Department of Education. Accommodations are designed to provide fair and standardized access to the assessment for students with specialized needs which have been documented in a formal educational plan.

The audit was requested by Commissioner of Education Dwight D. Jones based on concerns raised by former Pueblo City Schools Superintendent John Covington in June.

“The audit clearly shows that CCA had three successive years of extremely high rates of extra time accommodation for students,” said Commissioner Jones. “There is no justifiable basis for these high rates of accommodation levels. The state is compelled to require Cesar Chavez Academy to establish new policies and implement new procedures to ensure these high rates of accommodations are not repeated. CSAP testing forms the foundation of Colorado’s educational accreditation system and the accuracy, reliability and integrity of those results are paramount.”

The audit also found no evidence, however, that the extra time accommodation resulted in improved scores for Cesar Chavez Academy students, based on Caveon’s analysis of the CSAP results.

The audit looked at testing procedures and practices at both Cesar Chavez Academy and Delores Huerta Preparatory Academy, a high school program that is part of the same network.

Audit findings include:

No evidence of answer sheet tampering (through erasures), test coaching (through similar test analysis), unusual gains from prior years or unexpectedly high scores at Cesar Chavez Academy.
Evidence of unusual allotment of extra-time accommodations at CCA.
• No evidence of any form of testing irregularity at Delores Huerta Preparatory Academy.
• If improper assistance was provided to the students while taking the test, it was done on an individual basis.
• Normal rates of extra time found in 2006 at CCA.
• Extreme rates of extra time accommodations for all grades in 2007 and 2008.
• Extreme rates of extra time accommodations during 2009, especially for grades seven and three.
• The process for granting extra time accommodation was inconsistent from 2008 to 2009.
• The process for granting the extra time accommodation was inconsistent in 2008 from process in 2009 used by other schools.

In response to the audit, Commissioner Jones requested that Cesar Chavez Academy develop and submit to the Pueblo City Schools a written plan to remedy training and implementation of testing procedures by Feb. 1, 2010. Commissioner Jones said the plan must include new CCA policies and assurances that school test procedures are transparent to the school district and to the state.

Commissioner Jones said the policies also must include detail about how accommodation decisions are reached and a mechanism for routine and periodic checking by district and/or state officials to verify that the Cesar Chavez Academy staff is following procedures.

Commissioner Jones noted that the state will review the district-approved plan and determine whether it is sufficient to make needed adjustments and provide assurances to parents, students and the public that the errors will not be repeated. Additionally, said Commissioner Jones, “a lack of good faith efforts at CCA to comply with the development and implementation of new policies and procedures will be viewed critically.”

The Colorado Department of Education also is in the process of identifying a firm that will be engaged to conduct a financial audit of the Cesar Chavez Academy. The announcement of a firm to conduct that audit is expected soon.

Caveon Audit Links:

Cover Letter:
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdegen/downloads/CDE-CoverLetterDec52009.pdf

Caveon Cesar Chavez Test Security (Powerpoint):
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdegen/downloads/CDE-CaveonCesarChavezTestSecurityDec52009.ppt

Caveon Cesar Chavez Test Security (PDF):
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdegen/downloads/CDE-CaveonCesarChavezTestSecurityDec52009.pdf

For more information, contact Mark Stevens, 303-866-3898, or Megan McDermott, 303-866-2334, in the CDE Office of Communications. To sign up for the CDE e-mail news service, please visit http://www.cde.state.co.us/Communications/index.html.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Is it CMO or EMO and What's the Difference?

One of the many acronyms that gets floated around in education are the acronyms for Charter Management Organization (CMO) and Education Management Organization (EMO). The difference between these two labels is very relevant now that school districts in Colorado are talking about turning around failing schools and we've just had a very public charter network (CMO) expose its dirty laundry.

An EMO is a for-profit or non-profit company that manages schools. The educational program is typically proprietary, the company runs all of the business operations and pays key administration staff. The model the company usually employs is unique to each company. Some companies were established based on a particular model (i.e., National Heritage Academies use only the Core Knowledge curriculum and Mosaica Education, Inc. uses only the Paragon curriculum). Other companies were more focused on establishing a business of operating public schools (i.e. Edison, Imagine Inc. or White Hat Management) than on the educational program that was used.

In recent years a new genre surfaced as the number of high quality charter schools increased and the focus switched to replicating successful models rather than experimenting with new models. These CMO's are the more grassroots operations and often focus on an educational philosophy rather than a business. In fact, these nonprofit companies or foundations sometimes only franchise their model and don't assume operations of the new charter school.

The looming question about CMOs is how many can they replicate without sacrificing quality? This question impacted KIPP developers when they were approached about replicating KIPP schools across the country. Rather than create new KIPP schools, KIPP chose to train new KIPP leaders. Each of the newly trained principals went out to start their own KIPP schools or take over the principalship at an existing KIPP school. The model was franchised.

This emerging trend to replicate existing highly successful charter schools lacks the research to support what is truly the best practice.

However, it's a hot topic for the state of Colorado as Denver Public Schools plans to replicate W Denver Prep, Denver School of Science and Technology and KIPP schools. In DPS' turnaround plan some of the unique characteristics of these successful charter schools are tweaked. This includes making a charter school a "boundary" school, or a neighborhood school serving all of the students in a particular geographical region.

Again, it's too early to tell what type of impact it will have on students that don't choose to attend a school with a particular model, but instead are assigned to that model. For example, the W Denver Prep model includes a longer school day, longer school day and rigorous academics. Students that aren't bought into this model, may decide to either transfer or fail out of the system. Lack of support (i.e. the decision to choose a choice school) by a student and his/her family, greatly impacts the effectiveness of the model.

On its own, one component of a unique model probably will not disintegrate. But when does the erosion of the unique charteristics cause the model to fail? There are numeorus characteristics inherent in successful urban charter schools that aren't palatable to the current education establishment. It will be interesting to watch how EMOs and CMOs change the landscape of what was previously considered protected territory that outsiders wouldn't dare touch.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Douglas County Approves New STEM HS Charter

The newly-seated Board of Education for the Douglas County School District voted on a resolution to approve the STEM HS charter application last night. The vote was unanimous.

The four new board members sworn in last night ran as a pro-charter slate. Many of the Douglas County charter school parents were active in campaigning and voting for this slate.

The district is also in the midst of hiring a new Superintendent after the departure of Jim Christensen earlier this school year.

The STEM HS is slated to open in the fall of 2010 near the Lucent Blvd and C-470 intersection. The secondary school will begin with grades 6-9 and grow one grade level at a time through 12th grade. Members of the aerospace industry have been vocal supporters of the charter school application.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rich Barrett, Charter School Hero

Please take the time to read these words about Rich Barrett, the recently-resigned leader of KIPP high school in Denver. I've known Rich since he first came to town to start the KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy and every word that others have said about him on the Ed News blog is accurate.

Rich Barrett is truly a hero for charter schools in Colorado! My hope is that he'll continue to use his passion for educating all types of kids in our state!

Turf Wars for Charter Schools

Ever since the beginning of charter schools (Minnesota, 1992) there has been problems with identifying financial feasible charter school facilities. New York City's charter schools often share space with traditional public schools. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes public charter schools are a part of the education solution for the city. This notion is supported by NYC Schools Channcellor Joel Klein. About 75 of the city's 99 charter schools are in public school facilities, with the blessing of Chancellor Klein.

Denver Public Schools' Superintendent Tom Boasberg has also permitted public charter schools to either share or take over the district's underused facilities. Further, part of the turnaround plan being considered for DPS' lowest six schools includes allowing new public charter schools to open in underperforming neighborhood schools facing closure via a graduated plan to bring new students into higher performing schools while phasing out poor performing schools.

As in New York City, sharing school district facilities is often contentious just as it is in Denver. Parents want higher performing neighborhood schools that aren't necessarily charter schools.

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan supports having high-quality charter schools in place to draw students away from the underperforming public schools. Moreover, he noted that high-performing charter schools take away the excuses traditional public educators use for not educating students adequately. Charter schools located in the same neighborhoods as underperforming schools creates a healthy competition and eliminates the excuses for certain groups of students not being able to learn at the same rate or capacity as other students.

Mountain Middle School Application Pulled for Further Work

Last week the state Charter School Institute met and heard the charter application from Mountain Middle School, Durango. Lead developer, Nancy Heleno decided to pull the application and reapplication next year rather than risk a vote denying the charter.

Mountain MS will be modeled after the San Diego charter school, High Tech MS. Animas HS is already operating in Durango and is modeled after High Tech High, another California charter school.

Both educational programs are modeled after project-based learning styles, which incorporate real-life experiences into daily learning. Animas HS is in its first year of operation after delaying its opening for a year.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Board Training Modules

Charter school board members often get into difficult situations and don't know how to handle them because of a lack of experience. They have good judgment, but sometimes having the knowledge of what other boards have already gone through is invaluable.

There are board training modules online at: boardtrainingmodules.org. The content for the modules was developed in collaboration with the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the Charter School Institute and the Colorado Dept of Education. All board members are encouraged to take the modules. Individuals can sign on and independently work through each of the 30 modules (24 are up right now).

The modules are considered the basics that every board member should know. Because much of the content applies generally, charter school board members from other states are welcome to take the modules, too. In fact, boards of education for school districts could also benefit from taking the modules.

If you're not a charter school board member, but are interested in education issues or want to learn more, check out the modules. You might learn something!

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Charter "Fad"

The head of the teachers union in Alabama doesn't want charter schools in the state and called them a "fad." Many states are finally opening their doors to charter school law now that Race to the Top stimulus money comes with a requirement that the state is friendly to charter schools.

Minnesota adopted the first charter school law back in 1992 after the idea was originally suggested by AFT chair, Albert Shanker. Colorado's law was enacted in 1993 and two charter schools opened that fall. One of the oldest charter schools in Colorado Springs was started by the teachers union: CIVA.

Why do teachers unions oppose charter schools? Charter schools utilize only at-will employment. Teachers aren't guaranteed a job based on their seniority. Instead charter school teachers continue to teach as long as the students are learning and the administration is satisfied with the teacher's performance. The right to employ at will is one of the state law waivers automatically granted to charter schools by the State Board of Education.

Back in 1998 about the time the Colorado Charter Schools Act came off "pilot" status, many of the groups that were fighting charter schools acknowledged that charter schools were a permanent part of the education landscape and stopped opposing them.

Now that more than 5,000 charter schools are operating in the United States, I think it's safe to say the "fad" is permanent.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jeffco School Board Seats New Members

I just watched the swearing in of the new Jeffco school board members: Laura Boggs, Robin Johnson and Paula Noonan. Laura Boggs publicly supported school choice and charter schools during her campaign.

The board also voted on new officers. Dave Thomas will serve as President, Jane Barnes as 1st Vice President, Laura Boggs 2nd Vice President, Robin Johnson Secretary and Paula Noonan Treasurer. All the votes were unanimous and uncontested.

Additionally, Superintendent Cindy Stevenson was recognized as Superintendent of the Year by the Colorado Association of School Executives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What is Excellence?

Today at the administrator's lunch at The Academy Charter School in Broomfield, the group discussed "An Ethic of Excellence" by Ron Berger. Ron Berger talks about creating a culture of high expectations and a focus on excellence. In fact, he told about a situation where his students did a presentation and then the adults asked them questions about why they work at such a high level and the students didn't understand the line of questions. For them, working at a high level was the norm and they couldn't imagine doing anything differently.

How does a school that doesn't have a culture of quality ingrain that into parents, students and staff? If a teacher doesn't understand high quality work, will he/she ever be able to understand it and convey consistent high expectations for students? How can teachers, across the different content areas, ensure consistent standards for writing, research papers, or general homework assignments? These were some of the questions considered in the small discussions.

In the school where Ron Berger works he was able to create a culture of excellence because the entire town had the same values and the students learned these values of excellence as youngsters. By the time they reached sixth grade, Mr. Berger's class, they were ready to work at higher levels.

Students don't learn to work at a level of excellence overnight. It comes through years of consistent expectations, teachers that are relentless in holding all students to improvement and a school-wide culture that supports excellence. Most often, this begins with the adults in the building who hold high expectations for themselves.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Jeopardy Game Web Site

One of the fun things I get to do is visit schools. Today I visited a junior high class at Jefferson Academy where the students were preparing for a test tomorrow in their World Religions class by playing the game of Jeopardy.

The teacher used JeopardyLabs to build the game with questions that would be on the test. The class was divided into four teams and the online program has a score keeper at the bottom, making it easy to keep track of which team is ahead. Each team lost points if their answer was wrong.

This was a good way for students to study for the test as everything that was included in the game was included in the test. This way students knew what they needed to study for. A couple of the 500 pt questions could easily be essay questions or extra point questions on the test because they were more complex.

When the game was done, one student was heard saying, "That was fun!" I wonder if he realized he'd been studying for a test?

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Blog for Everyone

I subscribe to the RSS feed of almost 80 blogs; many of which are education related. There's one that I subscribe to just for fun and think some teachers will be interested in this blog post. There are 100 blogs that will interest teachers.

Interesting Pile is a collection of lists with a few recipes tossed in. If you follow the blog for awhile you'll be amazed at how many different "lists" are on the Internet!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Reform in DPS

Denver Public Schools Superintendent, Tom Boasberg, started Monday night's board work session with the statement, "We need significant change that will make our schools better." That was the theme for the evening as staff and board members all seemed to agree that drastic measures are necessary to improve schools and no excuses will work in the future.

From the tough questions posed by board members, it's clear they understand the importance of research-based strategies designed for similar demographic student populations. Further, it's evident that everyone understands the urgency for the students currently enrolled in DPS schools.

Tom Boasberg presented recommendations for future action with the bottom 5% schools based on the distric'ts School Performance Framework. This includes three charter schools: Northeast Academy, PS 1 and Skyland Community.

The staff recommended Northeast Academy partner with a management company or consulting firm for school reform. PS 1's staff recommendation is that the school be given another year to improve or else face closure. The staff recommended Skyland Community close at the end of the current school year.

The board will vote on these recommendations at their Nov. 30th meeting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Greeley's Mill Levy Override for Schools Fails by 2 to 1 Margin Despite CLCS Support

Last week, the Greeley 6 School District placed a proposed mill levy override on the ballot only to have it fail by a 2 to 1 margin. This measure included the district's charter schools.

In the last few weeks of the campaign, the Colorado League of Charter Schools came out endorsing the mill levy override ballot measure. According to the League's Executive Director, Jim Griffin, this endorsement came as a result of the district including its charter schools in a manner better than the statutory minimum required.

As a nonprofit, the League can endorse a ballot measure. The problem inherent for a nonprofit that has members of both ends of the political spectrum, and whose members have both supported and opposed this particular proposed tax increase, is making a broad statement without offending a portion of the membership.

The quintessential issue for the League is that Colorado's charter schools are about 40% Core Knowledge (traditional, high expectations, content rich) while the rest of the schools are as diverse as the students themselves: alternative/dropout; youth detention or partnered with the juvenile justice system; pregnant and parenting teens; experiential; and progressive. Historically, the charter school community has maintained its cohesiveness by focusing on the commonalities while respecting the stark differences.

This is the first time the League has supported a ballot issue. Certainly individual members have been involved in campaigns for ballot measures and candidates, including League board members. Since this League endorsement didn't receive board approval before it was publicized, it's hard to say how the League will handle endorsements in the future. To be sure, there will be continued discussion in the charter school community from members who want to know what their membership in the League means to their schools.

Monday, November 9, 2009

1.5 Million U.S. Students in Public Charter Schools

More than 400 new public charter schools opened in the 2009-2010 school year according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. This brings the total number of operating charter schools to more than 4900 nationwide and the number of students attending these charter schools to 1.5 million.

Back in 1997 at the first National Charter School Conference everyone was abuzz about the Clinton Administration's goal to have 2,000 charter schools by 2000. Don't know that we met that goal in 2000, but it was hard to imagine so many charter schools at the time when only a couple of hundred people were attending the charter conference and involved in charter school operation.

Back in 1997, Colorado had 52 operating charter schools and this year tops 160 operating schools. Today's percentage of students attending a public charter schools is around 8% or 66,000 students.

Note: I don't know where the Alliance got their data from since it doesn't match CDE data.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Business Manager's Network Meeting Synopsis

Items discussed at today's Business Manager's Network meeting include:

* The Governor has announced an additional $250 million will be cut from K-12 education during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. The $110 million reserved in a special fund this year will be refunded to the state. The Joint Budget Committee must approve the Governor's recommendations before it goes to the full General Assembly.

* The Race to the Top federal US Dept of Education application will be submitted in December. An outcome won't be known until mid-spring. Denied applicants can reapply at a later time. For schools receiving the RttT funds, reporting to the state may be daily. The process is being guided by the Governor's office.

* There is an insurance pool for liability insurance coverage being created and presenters outlined the type of products that will be included.

* The CO League of Charter School's state conference is Feb. 25 & 26. The CO Charter Schools Week is the week of April 19th. The rally on the west steps of the Capitol will be on Thursday, the 22nd at 11:30.

* Charter schools with investments in banks should provide the bank with their PDPA number and make sure the bank has pledged their assets for safekeeping. If the charter school has a separate foundation that is a nonprofit, those assets are not PDPA insured, however.

* The website techsoup.org has discounted bar coding systems for inventory control.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Banning Lewis Ranch Academy


I spent most of the day at Banning Lewis Ranch Academy in the Falcon School District (east Colorado Springs). The charter school is operated by Mosaica Education, Inc. and serves about 700 students in grades K-8. The principal, Eric Dinnell, came to the school after the first year of operation. The school uses the Paragon curriculum.

The school serves a high-growth area of the Falcon School District where the district would otherwise need to build a new facility. The district hasn't been able to pass a bond for new construction and so having the charter school provide educational services for that region has been beneficial for the district.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Douglas County School Board Hears STEM HS Charter Application

Tonight the Douglas County Board of Education held a hearing on the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Charter High School proposal. Presenters included representatives from the aerospace industry, United Launch Alliance and Raytheon. The school will emphasize experiential learning through partnerships with aerospace. Initial designs for the facility include labs for partner businesses.

Charter school founders noted that there are 180,000 high-tech jobs in Colorado and with the aging of experts in the industry there is a very real need to replace retiring workers with new employees with relevant experience and education.

School board members asked a few questions about the school budget and facility plans while staff raised a few concerns about the educational program's details. Further meetings and a written response to questions from the founders will be reviewed by the district before the next hearing, which is Nov. 17th.

One DPS Charter School Application Moves Forward

Out of four applications for new charter schools in Denver Public Schools, the only one to receive a favorable recommendation from staff is the Girls Athletic Leadership School (GALS). The other applications, Global Village Academy-Denver, Independence HS and Denver HS of Medical Science, all received a negative review by staff.

GALS is a proposed project-based secondary, single gender secondary school. The school plans to emphasize health education and leadership qualities.

DPS staff also recommended three charter schools get renewed: Omar D. Blair (an Edison-operated K-8 school), Life Skills Academy of Denver (a White Hat Mgmt. school) and Southeast Early College. Just two years ago, Life Skills was denied and after a successful appeal to the State Board of Education made significant improvements.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Liberty Common School's New High School

Already Liberty Common School's new high school is making itself known on the Internet. Check out this posting on the ColoradoCharters ning website.

Charter Schools Defined

One of my favorite weekly reads is the Liberty Common School newsletter. I'm a big fan of Russ Spicer and his ability to articulate his school's vision and philosophy through the articles he writes and includes from others. Again, is the case with this week's newsletter. Russ uses a piece written by Dr. Terrence O. Moore on what are charter schools.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Imagine Schools, Inc.: In the News

The internet is abuzz about the internal email from Imagine Schools, Inc. CEO Dennis Bakke about charter school board members at Imagine charter schools. David Hunn released the email in an article he wrote for the St. Louis Dispatch. The email is below.

From: Dennis Bakke
Sent: Thu 9/4/2008 10:26 AM
To: #DL All School Developers; #DL All National Principals; #DL All
Regional Directors; Alan Olkes; Barry Sharp; Eileen Bakke; Isabel Berio; Jason
Bryant; Nancy Hall; Roy Gamse; Sam Howard; Octavio Visiedo
Subject: Boards for Imagine Schools

DRAFT (for internal Imagine discussion purposes only)

This draft note includes some thoughts, observations and suggestions about our local school boards. Please feel free to opine on any of the draft comments I make in this email. This is not a legal pronouncement for Imagine Schools or an announcement of official policy. It is simply some preliminary observations and possible approaches to selecting and caring for these important people who help us educate children.

What are we learning about the selection and care of board members for our schools? Most Board members become very involved in the life of the school. Often, even before the school begins operation, the Board members have taken “ownership” of the school. Many honestly believe it is their school and that the school will not go well without them steering the school toward “excellence”. They believe they are the “governing” Board even if that adjective to describe the board has never been used by an Imagine School person. Many become involved in the daily life of the school, volunteering and “helping” teachers and and other staff to get things done. Even those who are not parents, take “ownership” of the school as if they started it. Initially, they are grateful to Imagine (especially Eileen and me) for helping them start the (their) school. I have been to 3 school openings in the last month where I was thanked for helping the local board start the(our) school. In none of these cases did the board have a major role in “starting” the school. They didn’t write the charter. They didn’t finance the start up of the school or the building. They didn’t find the principal or any of the teachers and staff. They didn’t design the curriculum.
In some cases, they did help recruit students.

Why does it matter? Don’t we want local boards to be grateful and helpful and take ownership of the school? “Yes” and “No”. I do not mind them being grateful to us for starting the school (our school,not theirs), but the gratitude and the humility that goes with it, needs to extend to the operation of the school. In all three cases of the new schools I visited this past month, I started my talks by responding to the flowery introduction thanking Eileen and me for helping to start the XYZ school, with a thank you to the Board and others for helping Imagine start ITS school. Most people probably missed the serious point I was making. Besides, it was probably too late in most cases to correct the misconception that we had given to Board members and other volunteers about the nature of governance of the school Imagine had created.

“But Dennis, I need strong Board members or the authorizer won’t give me the charter” Even though, some authorizers (or their staffs) use this threat to keep control of our schools, I do not believe it is a significant reason that will stop us from receiving a charter or be rejected. If it does, so be it. If an authorizer is using this as the excuse, it is likely about 5th on the list of real reasons for rejecting the application. Also, we need to examine our definition of “strong board member”. As much as we heard about board make-up in New York while we went after the charter, in the end it had no bearing on whether we got the charter.

I suggest that not one application granted or rejected in Florida or Indiana or DC or anywhere else had anything to do with the membership of the board, the governance approach, or the “quality” of the application. It has taken me about 4 years to convince many of you that getting the charter has almost nothing to do with what you put in the application or who your board members are. And, in the one or two cases where it did matter which board members were part of the application, it was likely a disaster for Imagine Schools just waiting to happen.

Most problems we have with Boards were not, however, caused by our developers or regional directors or executive vice presidents choosing the wrong board members. In many cases, I think we didn’t make clear their role as a board member before we selected them. Sometimes we let a self-proclaimed Board chair select the Board (Please do not do that). By “we” I start with my own lack of understanding and poor teaching on this subject. I am learning most of these things right along with the rest of you. Whether or not a person has been on a board or not (with the exception of someone who has experience on the board of a major corporation), most people believe that Boards are “governance” boards. In other words, they are “in charge” of the school.

Without you saying anything to them, they will believe that they are responsible for making big decisions about budget matters, school policies, hiring of the principal and dozens of other matters. This is the way most nonprofit boards work, so no one should be surprised by the assumptions held by the board members you select for an Imagine School.

I suggest that Imagine boards and board members have two significant roles. The first is to “affirm” (vote FOR if legally required) significant items like our selection of the Principal and the budget (if you “need” to give them veto power over our proposed principal, then that would be okay although I don’t think in most cases it is essential that they be given that power (check the State law).

Legally, I believe “affirming” is the same as voting “yes”. The difference is the assumption that we have made a “recommendation” or decision and want the board to agree formally with that decision. Before selecting board members we need to go over the voting process and our expectations that they will go along with Imagine unless the board member is convinced that we are doing something illegal. Of course, we want the board member to vote “no” on any proposal that the board member believes is illegal. However, in non legal issues of judgment , we expect them to argue the issue vigorously, but if they can’t convince us to change our position, we expect them to vote for our proposal. It is our school, our money and our risk, not theirs.


The second and most important role of board members is to advise us on all matters of employment, policies, school climate, shared values, growth, building, academics and financial. We have school principals and regional directors who are not involving their boards sufficiently in this important advisory role. I think this is a big part of the problems we have had in Atlanta. Board members want to be needed (all of us do). The best way to acknowledge your need for a board member is to keep them
informed of what is happening and ask them their advice on ALL significant decisions before the school, including hiring and firing decisions. I believe that most of the problems we have with boards are caused not from taking decision making away from them, but not involving them in the advice process. Remember, the advice process shares your thinking with others and brings them into your circle. Some of you aren’t even doing an adequate job of asking your colleagues or your staff or your bosses for advice ,so including the board in that way is going to be even more challenging. I told the Pittsburgh school board that if our principal didn’t ask for advice on significant issues like hiring and firing and budget, a new building addition and school policies, that they should give me a call. Not asking advice of the appropriate people before making a decision is a good way to lose a job at Imagine Schools.

None of this will protect you from the person who starts out as an “advisor”, but
becomes a major problem, thinking he/she are crucial to the success of the school. Sometimes you can protect yourself from board members that you chose, by getting undated letters of resignation from the start that can be acted on by us at any time would also help. Some states allow “founding” boards that can be changed once the school starts. That is a good idea if we can control who stays and who goes. Maybe you make all terms one year (if legal) so that we can re-nominate who we want. Make it clear that we will propose all new board members. Again, when the legal rules seem contrary to what I have been suggesting, seek lots of advice about how to set up the board before you select members.

There are probably hundreds of other approaches to overcome the “runaway”
board problems that can arise if you are not careful.

Please take this area of Imagine life seriously. The Board of Imagine Schools meets once a year. It is made up of very secure people that I have known for a long time. They do not need to be “in control”. They are not power hungry. They are encouragers, advisers and people who want to see Imagine grow and succeed. They realize that society places a significant responsibility on them to ensure that we do not participate in illegal activity or do things that will hurt children. They trust that we will do our best to make Imagine the best for parents and students as possible. They know we can’t eliminate all the problems and mistakes, but they also trust us to correct those mistakes and overcome the problems when they arrive. They are ready with assistance and advice when we ask for that, but they are comfortable letting Imagine people do their thing.

That is the kind of board members we want for each of our schools. To get them and keep them, we need to tell potential and current board members the truth about our expectations and keep them involved in all the significant successes and problems that occur in the school. Probably the most important concept that needs to be grasped by potential and sitting board members for our new schools going forward is that Imagine Owns the school, not just the building. Obviously, there are a few legacy school boards for which this will not likely be true, but let’s not create new one if at all possible.


The subject of how management companies come into new states, identify a mock board and then open a charter school has been a hot topic in Colorado in the past few years. Many authorizers question board members extensively during the hearing procewss in order to ensure due dilligence has been done in selecting a management company and that the board members have true authority over the school. Now along comes this Bakke email exposing the company's intent to establish a mock board and keep the power with the management company.

Dean Titterington spoke with the reporter that released the memo when both were at last week's National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference in Salt Lake City. One of the workshops both were in was about the role of management companies. Titterington, the Vice President of the Colorado Charter School Institute, noted in that workshop that CSI was on the watch for management companies who want to set up shop in Colorado without a board with true authority.

Authorizers in Colorado are currently considering a draft of a common contract drafted by the CO Dept of Education, the CO League of Charter Schools and the Charter School Institute. Included with the draft is an attachment of Education Service Provider provisions that authorizers can require of charter school applicants who are using a management company. These provisions include having a performance contract that can be severed without the board ending up with a charter on paper only (all the assets belong to the management company), that the charter board have its own legal counsel separate from the management company and evidence that the board compared the management company to others and selected the company based on what was the wisest decision for the charter school board.

The Charter School Institute has already established a reputation for not being friendly to management companies. It seems as though the Bakke memo just fed more fuel to that fire.

Note: There are a couple of Imagine Schools, Inc. operating in Colorado and this posting is not meant to be a reflection of them individually. Instead, it is about the national management company.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Turnaround and More

I'm at the Office of Parental Options and Information Project Director's Conference in Washington, DC. This is all the U.S. Department of Education's programs under the Office of Innovation and Improvement, which includes the Charter School Program.

This morning a panel of speakers addressed the topic of turnaround schools and how charter schools fit into the turnaround of failing public schools. Justin Cohen, of Mass Insights, said that in order to determine if a turnaround is working there should be demonstrable academic results within two years. If there isn't, another turnaround plan should be used. He also said it's impossible to over-communicate change in a turnaround school.

Later in the morning, during a workshop session, Cohen and his colleague, Meredith Liu, spoke about Lead Partners and Partnership Zones. Both of these dynamics are used by Mass Insights when the organization considers working with a school or district in turnaround efforts. Lead Partners work with a school, or a cluster of schools within one district, to handle all of the partnerships, district bureaucracy and other time-consuming activities that distract the school's principal from the essential responsibility to focus on improving academic achievement. Partnership Clusters are a group of schools undergoing turnaround.

When asked what was different about the decade-old federal program, Comprehensive School Reform (CSR), Cohen said two things: 1) the partner is accountable for student achievement and 2) the partner has management over people in the building. With the old CSR program, the only accountability for partners (then called service providers) was that the professional development was delivered, but the partner could blame the school for lack of academic achievement rather than owning the outcome of its work.

Cohen was formerly involved in the turnaround of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and said there were lessons learned from that work, including:
* elementary and middle schools are vital for reforming high schools
* it doesn't work to do stand-alone school reform, they need to be in clusters
* turnaround schools need to be carved out of the collective bargaining agreement

In the afternoon there was another panel discussion, this time about recommendations for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called No Child Left Behind by the previous administration. It's anticipated that the ESEA will be reauthorized sometime in 2010.

Panelists stated recommendations for reauthorization of the ESEA include:
* taking the charter school credit enhancement program off pilot status and decoupling it from the Charter School Program
* funding networks and nonprofits with CSP funds
* prioritizing high-need communities
* defining highly "effective" teachers (currently called Highly Qualified Teachers in NCLB)
* delineating priorities for charter school authorizer quality
* easing restrictions and simplifying the process for charter schools that are replicating and having already demonstrated academic success

The hot topic throughout today's program was turnaround efforts for the bottom 5% of public schools. Throughout the rest of the nation, management companies play a significant role in the charter landscape and so much of the discussion was about how management companies are stepping up their efforts to work with these schools. Most of Colorado's charter schools are considered "grassroots" startups and the state has significantly less management company-operated charter schools than other states.

Another tidbit of information, the hotel where we're having the conference is also hosting the Philadelphia Eagles football team. I've seen several of the players and there are numerous fans in the lobby waiting to get autographs. The Eagles play the Washington Redskins tonight on Monday Night Football.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jeffco Approves Two New Charter Schools

This week the Jeffco Board of Education voted to approve two new charter schools: Twin Roads High School and the Rocky Mountain Deaf High School.

Twin Roads is the high school to an existing home-based option the district has operated for many years. Many of the same families in the home school program will enroll full-time to attend the high school.

Rocky Mountain Deaf School opened as a K-8 and teaches American Sign Language. The newly approved high school portion will continue the existing program.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who Holds the Charter?

States across America have different laws regarding who can hold the charter: a network board or the individual charter school board. In California, the authorizer contracts with a network for numerous boards. If a charter applicant is deemed a charter school with statewide impact the board can have ten separate schools via a streamlined process.

Other states, such as Florida and Michigan, don't allow an authorizer to contract for multiple charter schools. Every contract is with an individual charter school board.

This is a very big issue in Colorado now where the Charter School Institute recently changed from contracting with the Cesar Chavez Network board for individual contracts with GOAL Academy and Cesar Chavez Academy-North Colo. Springs (now called Scholars to Leaders Academy). Both of the CSI charter schools created their own governing boards under a Memorandum of Understanding between the CSI board and the Network. The two schools are now operating independent of the Network.

Now that the Network only has two charter schools -- Cesar Chavez Academy-Pueblo and Dolores Huerta Academy - the Network is little more than a defunct structure. The Network CFO, Jason Guerrero, is wrapping up business affairs in consultation with the Network's legal counsel. In negotiation is which entity will assume debts and where the assets will reside. Resolving these issues could take years.

NACSA Conference in Salt Lake City

I'm in Salt Lake City for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference. Today I'll be attending sessions on replication, closure and accountability. The hot topic in the charter authorizer community is hot to close unperforming charter schools. Another hot topic follows the trend in the past few years of replicating successful charter schools. Many of these replications use the same nonprofit charter management organization to oversee multiple schools.

I'll be twittering today @cocharters about the conference.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What's Going on in Denver?

Denver Public Schools has authorized more charter schools than any of the other 177 school districts in Colorado. Presently, 21 are operating and many more have been approved to open over the next few years.

Scoring #1 and #2 in the district according to the DPS School Performance Framework is Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) and W Denver Prep. Both of these existing charter schools have been approved to replicate their existing programs in other parts of the district. Clearly, everyone in Denver sees the benefit of having independently-operated, successful charter schools. Right?

Not according to at-large Board of Education candidate, Christopher Scott, who seems to liken public charter schools to the plague. Forget that parents are flocking to these schools across the state with more than an estimated 35,000 on waiting lists for the more than 160 charter schools operating this school year.

One could think that Mr. Scott doesn't like public charter schools because he's aligned with the teacher's union, but in Denver the teacher's union has started an innovation school called Math and Science Leadership Academy.

Instead it seems that Mr. Scott is a part of the old education bureaucracy whose philosophies drove us to needing charter schools in the first place. When educrats aren't responsive to parents, parents find a way to go around them. They certainly don't elect them to the school board and trust that they know better than the parents who are raising these children.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When Schools Compete

North of the metro Denver area there is a competition for elementary school students brewing and it could end up being a free-for-all.

The St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) has announced its plans to open a new elementary school in Erie and the school will offer the Core Knowledge curriculum, popular with many parents. There are presently two charter school applications in the process and all are targeting the same group of students.

To put this into context, a little history is important to note. Twin Peaks Academy opened in Longmont in 1997 after an extensive battle of appeal hearings to the State Board of Education and numerous application attempts. Then Peak to Peak opened in Lafayette after yet more struggles, which included delaying a year due to the lack of a facility. Peak to Peak was in such high demand about five years ago that only siblings of current students could get into the Kindergarten class. Disillusioned, parents who couldn't get their children into Peak to Peak formed to start Flagstaff Academy, which was originally intended to open in Erie, but had to locate in Longmont due to facility issues. In the meantime, Imagine Classical at Firestone was approved, again after appeals and delays, with the SVVSD.

With all of these charter schools offering the Core Knowledge curriculum, you'd think it would have reached a saturation point, but quite the opposite is true. Prospect Ridge and Foundations Academy have both applied to the Adams 12 School District and are attempting to locate in the Erie area. Again, both applicants are proposing schools that will use the Core Knowledge curriculum. Further, most of the charter schools already open have extensive waiting lists, some into the thousands.

The Erie area is close to borders of the Boulder Valley School District, the St. Vrain district, and the Adams 12 district. Therefore, it's likely that any school that opens could compete for students and draw them across district boundaries.

Now the St. Vrain district Superintendent, Don Haddad, announces a new elementary school in Erie. Not taking into consideration the controversy about the district's plans to open the new school in modules, when a few years ago they criticized Imagine Classical at Firestone for opening in modules that weren't "safe," the district has apparently heard loud and clear the call from parents for more Core Knowledge schools. The district is now in the game!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Developing Charter Schools

It's that time of year again when numerous developing charter schools have applications in and are undergoing public hearings. It's also the time for tier one of the Colorado Charter School Grant Program.

Some of the new charter applicants include:
1. Manny Martinez, an Edison Learning school in Denver Public Schools
2. W Denver Prep #3 and #4, both will be in northwest Denver
3. Colorado Springs Vocational Academy has applied in Colorado Springs 11
4. Provost Academy is an online Edison Learning School authorized by the Charter School Institute
5. Rocky Mountain Deaf High School, Jeffco, an extension to the already operating K-8 ASL charter
6. Foundations Academy, a National Heritage Academies school applying in Adams 12 Five Star
7. North Star Academy-West, a replication in Highlands Ranch of the existing school in Parker
8. Mountain Middle School, applying to CSI and located in Durango
9. Denver Language School, DPS, a Mandarin Chinese and Spanish language school
10. Prospect Ridge, Adams 12, Core Knowledge K-8 in Erie
11. Mountain Career Online, applying to CSI from Pagosa Springs
12. Global Village Academy #2, applying in Denver and already operating a K-8 in Aurora

Jeffco's Board of Education votes on their four charter school applications next Thursday, the 22nd. Douglas County is going to wait until after the Nov. election results. Within the next two months numerous new charter school applications will be approved. It's that time of year again!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Teaching from Where?

A North Dakota State University economics professor is teaching from her post in Iraq. The professor is with the Minnesota Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq last August. Cheryl Wachenheim, continues to teach using her personal laptop after having chipped in on a satellite dish to make Internet connection possible.

Personally being a native of North Dakota, I find Cheryl Wachenheim's work ethic understandable. But her mentioning it was a really big deal when she found out the base had Diet Mountain Dew shows she's a typical Nodak. Mountain Dew is very popular in North Dakota!

Cheryl's legacy will be that she served her country admirably and for that I give her a huge "thank you!" It's this kind of person every parent would be proud to have teach their child. Knowing Cheryl is so passionate about teaching and interacting with students puts her on another pedestool as far as I'm concerned. Thank you, Cheryl Wachenheim!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The John Adams HBO Series

I own the John Adams HBO series on DVD and so enjoyed reading Greg Forster's summary of the movie here.

News Release from the Charter School Institute

Charter School Institute Statement on Cesar Chavez Network

Lee Barratt, interim executive director of the Charter School Institute, today issued the following statement regarding the Cesar Chavez Network:

“The Charter School Institute welcomes the recent actions by the Cesar Chavez School Network (CCSN) to transfer the charters for Cesar Chavez North and Goal Online Academy to new independent boards, a direction set in motion with an agreement signed in August by both the institute and the CCSN boards.

“This agreement was designed to create strong, independent governance of the two schools operated by the network and authorized by the institute. The goal of the institute is to ensure quality education and continuity in the education of the students served at all CSI schools.

“The institute has no role in the decisions about individual staff and managers of the Cesar Chavez School Network. Our concerns with CCSN have centered on governance, management, finances and operations.

“The activities by the CCSN at these schools—such as repeated firings of school principals, mass firings of teachers and closing down online education services to students—raised questions about the ability of the network to continue to provide quality education to its students.

“As the CCSN leadership and board repeatedly failed to comply with our agreement, the institute prepared to initiate the process to revoke the charters from CCSN and to issue new charters for each school to the new boards, created in accordance with the August agreement.

“The goal of the CSI will be the continued operation of the schools under the oversight of newly-constituted boards at each school. Each school will have a new charter to operate that is separate from the original charter with the network.

“It remains the position of the institute that these new boards will determine whether a continuing relationship between each school and the CCSN is in the best interests of students.

“The specifics of those agreements, if they are negotiated between the schools' boards and the CCSN, will be subject to approval by the CSI.”

For more information about the Charter School Institute, contact interim director Lee Barratt at 303-866-3275 or CSI Board of Directors president Alex Medler at 720-635-8329.

Monday, October 5, 2009

CSI Wins Again!

The Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal from the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) against the Charter School Institute (CSI). A lower court had already ruled in favor of CSI, but the law firm of Caplan and Ernest told BVSD they'd do the appeal to the state pro bono and so BVSD took them up on the offer.

The lawsuit alleged CSI was unconstitional as it impeded on the local district's "local control" provision of the state constitution. Because the CSI law, part 5 of the Charter Schools Act, allows a district to retain exclusive chartering authority if they meet certain criteria, the lower court determined it was up to the local district if they retained exclusive chartering authority and it wasn't a condition imposed by the state.

This final decision is huge for the 17 CSI charter schools who want to finance their facilities and have been in limbo until now. Financial institutions were hesitant to enter into an obligation if the CSI law were determined unconstitional. It was never clear what would have happened with the existing charter schools authorized by CSI if the lawsuit would have gone the other way.

Update: Here is a press release from CSI.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Writing in Stone

The vision and mission of a charter school rest with the founders and first governing board. Charter school leaders in Colorado have had an ongoing discussion for years about how to make sure that key features of the charter school remain consistent over time and are not changed by future boards.

In the first draft of a common charter contract there is a section for "unique featuers," which should be written by the charter school's founders. This essentially "writes in stone" what matters most to the charter school's design. Examples include the use of uniforms, a longer school day and school year, a college prep curriculum, or project-based learning. Because these features are listed in the contract, changing them would constitute a "material change" and require approval by the authorizer's board.

Charter school leaders like knowing there is a way to identify unique characteristics of the school that founders advocated for when they were applying for the new charter school. In the past, some boards have written these features into their bylaws, board policies, or charter application in the hopes that they would have staying power. No one, however, had confidence in trusting the adherence to the original vision and mission to future board members without some level of accuntability to ensure the vision would remain as established.

It should be noted that some charter school applicants have difficulty in identifying what the school's key features are. In situations like this, the authorizer may need to help guide the thoughts of the founders into something that's clearly communicated and consistent with the vision and mission.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What's the Solution for Underperforming Charter Schools?

This morning about 80 people were at the Carriage House adjacent to the Governor's Mansion to discuss underperforming charter schools. The event, hosted by the Donnell-Kay Foundation, featured two speakers from the California Charter School Association, Greg Richmond from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and a host of other local presenters.

Converting to a charter school is one of the turnaround options available to failing public schools. But what happens when the school that isn't performing is a charter school already? Many agreed that a charter school should be closed, but Teresa Pena, the chair of the Denver Public Schools board noted that it's harder to close a charter school than a regular district school. She pointed out that parents are more invested in a charter school and thus attend school board meetings and are more vocal. Ms. Pena also noted, "We should focus on high performing options: period."

Numerous legislators and State Board of Education members attended this morning's seminar. They voiced questions about how charter schools impact other public schools and other state policies. A concern was raised about the appeal process and the belief that the State Board often supports the charter school. Randy DeHoff, CD 7 State Board member, stated there were 13 appeals in 2007, only one in 2008 and none this year. He noted that various changes in technical assistance and policy has changed the environment so that charter applicants are not appealing anymore.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

GOAL Academy Board Meets and Moves Forward

Yesterday the new GOAL Academy charter school board met and took steps forward with their own independence from the Cesar Chavez School Network (CCSN). The new board adopted bylaws and re-hired two administrators who had been fired earlier in the week by Lawrence Hernandez for refusing to turn over school records. Ken Crowell and Kris Enright lead the Pueblo and Colorado Springs branches of GOAL Academy, respectively.

GOAL Academy and CCA-North Colo. Springs are both operating under a transition MOU with the Charter School Institute. The current charter contract for both charter schools is with the Cesar Chavez School Network, however CSI has stated they want to contract with individual charter school governing boards instead of a network.

The legal structure for the network is unclear and it appears the nonprofit established for CCA-Pueblo may actually be the legal entity holding multiple charters. Legal experts are trying to determine if the network has its own independent legal status.

The Latest on Cesar Chavez School Network

It's hard to hear or read media reports in Pueblo or Colorado Springs without hearing about the latest in the Cesar Chavez School Network (CCSN) saga. It's been a tumultuous week for people associated with any of the five operating CCSN schools.

The week began with a CCSN takeover of GOAL Academy, located at the Pueblo mall. Individuals reported school records being shredded, teachers locked out of the technology needed to work with their online students, and the top two administrators were fired. GOAL Academy, operating under a transition Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Charter School Institute, their authorizer, seated nine charter school board members. Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, CEO of CCSN claimed the GOAL board had no authority and told the 26 GOAL employees they either had to sign a loyalty oath or they wouldn't have a job. About half signed under duress and then all 26 employees wrote a letter to the GOAL board asking for help.

Lawrence Hernandez, and his wife Annette who is the CCSN COO, have come under fire in the past few months due to their extremely high salaries. The Colo. Department of Education is investigating the CSAP scores and the network's financials after allegations brought by the Pueblo 60 school district superintendent. Two of the charter schools in the network are authorized by Pueblo 60: Dolores Huerta Prep HS and Cesar Chavez Academy-Pueblo. CSI authorized GOAL Academy and Cesar Chavez Academy-North Colo. Springs. The fifth school is chartered by Denver Public Schools. CCA-North recently organized a governing board and gained independence through a transition MOU with CSI.

Yesterday, for the second time this week, the CSI board met via the telephone to get an update on the GOAL Academy situation and hear from their legal counsel, Tony Dyl, with the Attorney General's office. Seven CSI board members gave up a portion of their Saturday to hear a synopsis of the Friday afternoon meeting at Dolores Huerta HS with network leaders, the network board and Tony Dyl.

Tony reported the following motions were unanimously adopted by the network board:
1. Terminate the legal services of Dolores Atencio.
2. CCSN will cooperate with CSI on revocation of GOAL Academy.
3. Accept the resignation of Lawrence Hernandez and Annette Hernandez from the CCSN; however, Lawrence will remain as Executive Director of CCA-Pueblo and DHPH and Annette Hernandez will have some administrative position with the schools.
4. Accept the resignation of Jason Guerrero, CFO of CCSN, with an understanding that Jason will continue to assist CDE in the financial audit. Additionally, Jason Guerrero will now report to the board instead of Dr. Hernandez.
5. All salaries will be reviewed.

CSI board members also learned the GOAL Academy student count dropped this week by about 140 students. Next week is the official, annual Oct. 1 count to determine funding. CSI board member Joyce Shuck noted she'd visited CCA-North on Friday and the principal, Mona Contreas, was sending a letter home to parents explaining that CCA-North would probably be changing its name, but that the school would stay essentially the same with different governance.

The CSI board then moved into Executive Session to hear from their legal counsel and discuss contracts. In media reports, CSI board chair Alex Medler stated the CSI board is prepared to revoke the charters granted to CCSN, if necessary, and grant new charters to GOAL Academy's board and CCA-North's board, respectively and independently. Currently, the two CSI charters operated under a contract with the CCSN board.

The situation has been contentious for many months. This week things changed when many of Lawrence's long-time friends and supporters withdrew their support. It can be assumed the change came about from either Lawrence's highly irregular actions such as threatening staff, lacking emotional decorum in public meetings and demonstrating the need to completing control people or else the supporters have learned new evidence that has raised questions in their minds. Either way, there appears to be consensus amongst school and state leaders that Lawrence and Annette Hernandez should not remain a part of school operations.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Twin Peaks Academy Enjoys New Facility

Today I attended a meeting held at Twin Peaks Academy in Longmont. The charter school is in its 14th year of operation and just this year moved into a newly renovated facility on Sunset in Longmont. The new facility is in an industrial area. The building is brightly colored, has spacious classrooms and wide hallways. There's a wood-floor gym, cafeteria, and library for the K-8 students.

The Twin Peaks Academy board is considering expanding into high school in the future. They have unused space in the back of their facility for future expansion. Principal BJ Buchmann says the school currently has three classes per grade level and has expanded in the past few years.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Charter Schools DO Make a Difference!

Stanford University's Caroline Hoxby just released, "How New York City's Charter Schools Affect Achievement," a project funded by the national Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Dept. of Education.

A few highlights of the report:
* A charter school student who attends grades K-8 will close 86% of the achievement gap in math and 66% of the achievement gap in English.
* Compared to lotteried-out students, a student who attends a charter high school has Regents examination scores that are about 3 pts higher for each year he spends in the charter school before taking the test.
* A student who attends a charter high school is about 7% more likely to earn a Regents diploma by age 20 for each year he spends in that school.

Unlike the CREDO study released earlier this summer, this Hoxby study uses the 'gold standard' of research, comparing students who made it into a charter school via a lottery and those who did not.

Of course just being in a charter school isn't a guarantee for increased student achievement. However, being in a charter school plus key features such as a longer school day, college prep mission, higher expectations and school culture do make a difference.

In the public discourse on 'turnaround' schools, converting the underperforming public school to charter status is one of the four options. Becoming a charter school is not a panacea. But charter schools have the freedom to design their own educational program and school culture. Under the pressure to perform or lose students, charter schools have often honed their curriculum to align with state standards and place an emphasis on student achievement--for every student. In urban areas, a longer school day and longer school year ensure students without a strong family background to support a quality education has the opportunity to increase learning.

Pundits are quick to rush to judgment about charter schools with each bit of research that comes out. It's important to remember the type of study that's being used when forming opinions. Data can be used to say anything. Quality studies use well-respected methodologies to ensure the outcome isn't biased. Further, research funded by the Institute for Education Sciences, for example, carries more credibility than individual institution research.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

American Academy Opens New School Building


American Academy showed off its new facility on Friday with an all-day carnival and afternoon grand opening celebration. Board members Adil Khan, Erin Kane, Jackie Santos, Denese Gardner, Chad King and David Romero and principal Roberta Harrell all put many hours into the creation of this new facility, designed to serve more than 800 students. American Academy is entering its fourth year of operation.

The project began last December when the first dirt was turned. The school will open for students on Monday. It's located in Castle Pines North, just off I-25 and Castle Pines Parkway.
The three-story structure was built for $135 per square foot; considerably less than the average $220 per square foot for other Douglas County Schools. The new charter school faciltiy has wide hallways, large classrooms, a contemporary design, and gymnasium/cafeteria/stage area. The school will increase its enrollment this year with about one-third of the student population new to the charter school.
At Friday's celebration, hundreds of families were on hand to celebrate the ribbon cutting and release balloons. Uniform-clad students sang a medley of patriotic songs. Many students brought their new school supplies to leave in their new classroom or locker. The excitement was palpable as both parents and students marveled at the new building.

Jeffco Board Hears Two Charter Applications

Jeffco received four charter school applications this year. Last Thursday night the school board heard two of the applications: Global Outreach Charter Academy (GOCA) and Twin Roads High School.

The Russian language school, GOCA, was denied last year in Jeffco and then applied last spring in Denver. They're back in Jeffco now since that's where the majority of their students live. The school plans to model after the Spanish language full immersion program already operating in the districgt. They plan to open K-6, but would begin full immersion in grades K-3 and then grow until all students are in the full immersion program. Voicing the same concern expressed last year, Jeffco school board president Sue Marinelli, stated she had concerns about the proposed school being predominantly of one ethnic minority population with little diversity.

The school would be located in the Arvada-Lakewood area and serve about 344 students. Founders said their school would be the second in the nation because the only other Russian language school is operating in Anchorage, Alaska.

The second charter school proposal heard was Twin Roads HS. Founders are associated with the Home Options Program in Jeffco. Currently there are 450 students in the Home Option Program: 150 HS and 100 MS. Terry Johns and Ronda Norma noted that most of the growth in the homeschool program is in the high school. They project managed growth and presented a conservative budget proposal. There were very few questions for the applicants as board members noted that it was a very solid application and answered many of the questions they would have otherwise had. Both charter schools will get a decision on October 22nd.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nelson Smith on Charter Schools, Part 3

The District Administration article interviewing Nelson Smith goes on to talk about U.S. Secretary of Education's Arne Duncan's address at the June 2009 National Charter Schools Conference in Washington, DC. At the conference, Arne Duncan encouraged charter school leaders to help in turning around the bottom 5,000 public schools in the nation.

Duncan said that charter schools can help by:

1) taking away the ability of noncharter public school leaders to make excuses that "their" kids can't learn the same as "other" kids.
2) competing for students through offering high quality public charter schools in urban areas where the district-operated schools are not performing.


Across American school leaders are gearing up to Duncan's challenge to "turnaround" underperforming schools. At this time, the role of the charter school community in this endeavor isn't clear at the national or state level.


According to Nelson Smith:

The question is whether you can take a successful charter model and open it in an existing school with the conditions that will foster success. Simply taking the educational program of a successful charter and plopping it down in a school where the rules stay the same, and nothing changes in terms of the dynamics of the school is not going to work. We have to make sure that the charter folks who take on this challenge can start their programs at the new site with integrity, that they will have control over staffing, that they will have control over how money is spent and how long the day is and what the calendar looks like and all these other factors that have led to the success of their own models.

So I think the bottom line is a lot depends on what local administrators and district administrators do and whether they’re willing to provide the space and the conditions for this terrific charter schools to succeed in these school buildings that have not seen success before.


Smith goes on to talk about the problem in finding enough qualified leaders for these new schools and the professional development and support to sustain new leaders. Smith projects an additional 14,000 to 16,000 new teachers will be needed in the next decade.


With Race to the Top funds tied to states with a robust charter school system, many states are wondering how the charter school model can apply to noncharter, district-operated school systems. In other words, how to look like a charter without actually being a charter. Therein lies Nelson Smith's fundamental point about whether school districts will be willing to provide the essentials for school success.



Many charter schools have defined their mission-critical, key essentials as: 1) control over staff; 2) control over the budget; and 3) unique features such as uniforms, instructional hours and curriculum. Compromising on even one of the key essentials will adversely affect a school's performance.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nelson Smith on Charter Schools, Part 2

In the Nelson Smith interview in District Administration, Nelson talks about funding inequities charter schools face. He quantifies it by saying that charter schools get 22% less funding than non-charter public schools. He goes on to explain the challenges charter schools face in financing their facilities.
The largest single component of that is facilities financing. Charter schools, in almost all cases, are incorporated as nonprofits, and are not part of the government, if you will. So they don’t typically have access to state capital budgets for facilities needs. That means that they have to depend either on dedicated facilities financing from the state, or private lenders, or as is most typical, simply going into their operating budgets and taking money that should go into the classroom or other uses and dedicating it to bricks and mortar.
Through Amendment 23 funds, Colorado designates a minimum of $5 million in charter school capital construction money. As the number of eligible charter school students has risen exponentially, the per pupil amount has decreased. In addition, the legislature has cut the funding back to the base amount in recent years. Charter school leaders know that this is not a stable fund to include in their budgets as it's at the whim of the legislature each year.

In Colorado, charter schools receive 100% of the per pupil funding, less up to 5% retained for administrative costs, given to all public school students. However, many school districts have access to additional grants, gifts, mill levies and bonds that the charter schools do not receive. Last year's election revealed a discrepancy with several school districts refusing to include their charter schools in ballot mill levy and bond questions. The 2009 General Assembly addressed this problem, but the bill was soon watered down and nothing of significance was accomplished.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If in Doubt: Litigate

When long-time public education leaders don't like something, their best course of action is often to litigate. In Georgia, the Gwinnett County School District is suing the Georgia Charter School Commission saying it's unconstitutional.

This is the exact same strategy used in Colorado by the Boulder Valley School District who has brought litigation, lost, appealed, lost and now is appealing to the Colorado Supreme Court. Colorado's Charter School Institute is a "virtual" school district in less than nine school districts that do not have exclusive chartering authority. BVSD contends the legislature didn't have the authority to establish CSI because it violates the "local control" provision of the Colorado Constitution.

The Poudre and Westminster 50 school districts were originally part of the suit, but dropped out after receiving exclusive chartering authority from the State Board of Education. BVSD also subsequently gained exclusive chartering authority, but their legal counsel stated they'd take the second appeal on a pro bono basis.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Atlas Prep Visit


Yesterday I visited the new Atlas Prep in the south part of Colorado Springs. The charter school is authorized by the Harrison 2 School District and will serve middle school students. This year the school has enrolled 82 fifth grade students and will grow through eighth grade. There are twice as many boys as girls enrolled this year.

School leaders, Zach McComsey and Julian Flores, have established numerous partnerships in order to best serve the targeted at-risk student population. The school focuses on preparing all students for college and as you can see by the photo, college banners line the hallways. Each of the classrooms are designated by the homeroom teacher's college banner.
Atlas Prep began school on Aug. 3rd. The school's students wear uniforms and the school is designed to focus intensely on raising student achievement in the core subject areas. The school offers a longer school day and a longer school year.
In the school's materials the question is asked, "Did you know the highest average ACT score of any high school in our area that serves more than 30% low-income students is a 17? You need, on average, a 24 to get into a four-year state school."
A previous blog about Atlas Prep is here. Ed is Watching blogged on Atlas Prep here.