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: 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 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.