Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hanging on by a Thread

After more than 1700 emails and phone calls from charter school supporters, the Governor's office is recommending only half of the $5 million previously slated for budget cuts stay in the budget as Charter School Capital Construction money. A total of $10 million was to have gone out to charter schools by now, but with the state's budget deficit, these capital construction dollars have been on the chopping block.

This pool of funds, which was originally created with Amendment 23 funds, has a base amount of $5 million. After wiping out the fund to the base just two years ago, last year the General Assembly voted to add an additional $5 million for distribution. The 2008-09 money hasn't been distributed yet, although all the paperwork has been completed and the money is ready.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Light Blogging Ahead

Blogging will be light in the next week and a half as I'm out of town for a family emergency.

Work Hard. Be Nice.

Jay Mathews has written a new book about KIPP titled "Work Hard. Be Nice." The story is about Mike Feinberg and David Levin who started the KIPP schools. Both were teachers in a middle school in Houston who started out with a very challenging student population with little demonstrated academic achievement. After turning around their school they began training other teachers and eventually new school leaders. There are presently 66 KIPP schools operating in the United States.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Global Village Academy

I visited Global Village Academy last week and was reminded of how great a school they are. GVA has a unique mission to teach students in two languages. Students must be proficient in at least one of the languages. Currently they offer Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. They will be adding French in the future. Content delivery is about 50/50 in the primary grades, but raises to about 80% in the foreign language by fourth grade.

Part of the school's philosophy is to offer diversity to the students. Students who don't speak English are the same as English speaking students learning another language. It's a difficult program and families simply wanting something "different" may not be prepared for the school's level of rigor.

GVA is in its second year of operation and on the far east side of Aurora near Alameda and Airport Road.

Picture: L to R, Kirk Loadman, GVA Board President; Doug Hering, CFO-The Classical Academy and CSSI team member; Merlin Holmes, Consultant-National Heritage Academies and CSSI team member; and Bill Bethke, Kutz & Bethke, LLC.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Flagstaff Academy Awarded with John Irwin School of Excellence Award

Flagstaff Academy in Longmont received its first John J. Irwin School of Excellence this year. The charter school hosted a celebration today for all five of the public schools in the St.Vrain Valley School District earning this state award.

John J. Irwin's oldest child, Elizabeth, spoke about her father at the ceremony. She said that after he retired from the Eastman Kodak plant in Windsor, at age 60, he served three terms in the state House of Representatives. Elizabeth said her father had always encouraged his five children to get a good education and read to them often, especially on family trips. John Irwin served on the state accountability committee, the House Education committee and was the 1992 sponsor of a charter school bill that did not become law. It was carried the next year by then-Senator Bill Owens, after the death of John Irwin.
Flagstaff Academy's principal is Jere Pearcy and the assistant principal is Bess Kuzma. Both of these incredible women have taught my children and I have a very high regard for their capabilities. Mrs. Pearcy was the original third grade teacher at Jefferson Academy in 1994. She later became the principal at Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen before moving to Flagstaff. She also led RMAE to its first School of Excellence award. Mrs. Kuzma taught junior high humanities at Jefferson Academy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My 500th Blog Post

For my 500th blog post, I thought I'd deviate from the normal and reflect on what it's like to write 500 posts. I can honestly say that the amount of time it takes to write nearly every day wasn't something I thought about when I started this blog in March of 2007. But for every minute I spent writing, I spent at least that amount of time gazing around my office in hopes of being inspired.

I subscribe to the RSS feed of over eighty blogs. The vast majority of these are related to education. I lean toward reading about national education policy and don't read any teacher blogs. Between the blogs and the news feed we get at work, I'd be surprised if I miss any information written about Colorado charter schools.

When I first started my job, my boss gave me a stack of "reading material" that was about 10 inches deep. At that moment, I knew I'd love my job! Everything I could possibly read or learn about regarding charter schools! Does it get any better than that?

I admit that I'm a "charter school junkie." I've always pointed out charter schools we drive by to anyone else in the car (whether they're interested or not). I've helped start four charter schools and applied for a fifth, that never opened. I think the people who start charter schools or work in charter schools are the best people in the world. I learn from them every day.

Before my current job, I was a volunteer charter school lobbyist. It didn't take long to realize parents had little or no say in education policy. Over time, I've watched committee chairs treat charter school parents horribly by either making them wait until the end of a long list of people testifying or else make them wait and then limit them to 1 or 2 minutes (while giving paid lobbyists unlimited time). Likewise, I've attended countless local school board meetings where charter school application hearings were after staff reports on topics such as "how much charter schools cost the district" or other topics parents and small children painfully endured.

The people from charter schools, and their perseverence, are my motivation to write about heroes in the charter school movement. Most of the people I've written about are rather embarrassed by what I write because of the recognition it brings to them. They just have a heart to serve unconditionally.

I steer away from writing about controversial charter school issues that will reflect back on my day job. I'm careful to write on "my own time."

If you've read my blog for any length of time you know that I'm passionate about charter school governance. I believe that most charter school board members are good people who simply got in over their heads. I am a strong advocate for board training. My dream in life is to become a member of the "charter school governing board police." This is a fictitious group of state charter school leaders who would have magical powers to tell board members what to do, or not do. Of course I'm kidding, but some days...

My blog analytic program tells me how many visitors hit this blog every day, where they're from, what words they searched on and if they used a link. The post I wrote about senior pranks has received more hits from searches than any other topic. It's actually quite entertaining to see the number of the school districts and state departments of education computers that search on "senior pranks." I suspect they're trying to keep ahead of the students! Good luck with that!

Thank you for reading my blog! I'm always so impressed when someone tells me they read something I wrote! You are the reason I write. Oh, and I love receiving suggestions for topics to write about!

Merrifield Aims at Cesar Chavez Academy

Rep. Mike Merrifield, chair of the House Education committee and author of the infamous "charterizers deserve a special place in hell" email, has introduced a bill targeting the successful Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo.

HB 1125, sponsored by Merrifield, would limit charter schools, school districts or the state Charter School Institute from offering any incentives to students to participate in their educational programs. This comes after Cesar Chavez Academy, and its high school: Dolores Huerta Academy, offered $100 gift certificates last fall for students who enrolled in their charter school.

In addition to the two charter schools in Pueblo, authorized by the Pueblo 60 School District, the Cesar Chavez Academy network has two schools in Colorado Springs, an online high school, and recently got a charter approved in Denver. The schools have all consistently demonstrated outstanding academic achievement with its high percentage of at-risk students population.

Falcon School District Fires Superintendent

The Board of Education from the Falcon 49 School District has voted to fire Superintendent Grant Schmidt. Rumors have been circulating about the Superintendent for quite some time.

Falcon, one of the fastest growing school districts in the state, has utilized the charter school option to serve many of its new residential developments on the east side of Colorado Springs. The district has approved two Imagine Classical charter schools, the Banning Lewis Ranch charter school, and Rocky Mountain Classical Academy. In addition, several years ago the district accepted the transfer of Pikes Peak School of Expeditionary Learning.

Due to the nationwide consolidation of military bases and the planned future growth of Fort Carson, the east side of Colorado Springs is expected to experience exponential growth in the next few years. Presently, Imagine Classical at Indigo Ranch, Imagine Classical at Fountain Meadows and Banning Lewis Ranch are all within a mile of each other in brand new developments. Developers have been cordial with charter school founders who want to locate in these new residential areas because having a good charter school is a draw for many prospective home buyers.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Frontier Academy and Collegiate Academy Named Tops in Business Week

Businessweek named Frontier Academy in Greeley the number one "parent's choice" for public schools in Colorado. Collegiate Academy in Littleton was named "best improved."

These rankings were collected by GreatSchools for Business Week. Great Schools is a website with parent reviews and rankings.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Jefferson Academy 65 - The Pinnacle 46

Tonight the Jefferson Academy boys basketball team beat The Pinnacle 65 to 46. It was a great game that was within 10 points until the very end. Both charter schools have excellent coaches and some great players! The two teams meet again on Feb. 11th at the Broomfield Event Center.

Charter School Business Tips

Today's Charter School Business Manager's Networking meeting yielded numerous tips and ideas for the state's charter schools. Here are a few:

1. Most of the charter school employee's file is not subject to Open Records laws, but the contract and salary are. Evaluations are not. Teacher emails are subject to Open Records laws.
2. The League of Charter Schools, the Charter School Institute and CDE are collaborating on several projects including a common application and review rubric that will allow applicants and authorizers to see what is expected in each component of the application and it will also define a standard for good applications.
3. The Charter School Support Initiative process will soon include an eleventh standard, which will define indicators of financial health.
4. Several business managers are beginning their budgeting process for next year and are factoring a zero percent increase in revenue (PPR).
5. Regarding charter school capital construction dollars: the $5 million on top of the base isn't expected to survive budget cuts; the $5 million base (originated with Amendment 23 funds) is up for a potential cut. This refers to the current year's capital construction.
6. The League has established a health insurance pool. Presently five charter schools are participating.

There were about 40 people at today's Network meeting. This group meets every other month to discuss issues pertinent to their jobs.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bob Schaffer the New State Board of Ed Chair

Today Bob Schaffer was elected the Chair of the State Board of Education, replacing term-limited Pamela Jo Suckla. Bob Schaffer was the Vice Chair and now Randy DeHoff will assume those duties.

The State Board of Education is a seven member board that is currently comprised of four Republicans and three Democrats. Each of the seven members are elected to represent a Congressional District. The board meets monthly and their meetings are audio-streamed on the Internet.

In related news, the charter appeal filed by The Nature School out of Fort Collins, and previously scheduled for February, has been withdrawn.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

State Board of Education Members Sworn in Today

Today returning and new State Board of Education members were sworn in during a reception in the lobby of the Dept of Education. Elaine Gantz Berman, 1st CD, won re-election for her second term. Jane Goff, 7th CD, was re-elected to the position she filled for resigning Karen Middleton last March. Middleton was selected to fill a vacancy in the State House of Representatives.

New board members being sworn in this afternoon were Angelika Schroeder, 2nd CD, replacing Evie Hudak who won election to the State Senate and Marcia Neal, 3rd CD, who won an election to replace term-limited Pamela Jo Suckla. Marcia Neal is a former teacher who also served on a local board of education. In her remarks, Mrs. Neal noted that she ran her campaign on the right of parents to have educational choices for their children.

Vice Chair Bob Schaffer was the Master of Ceremonies. Numerous current and former legislators attended the ceremony and numerous partners, such as CASE, CASB and the CEA, also attended. Both chairs of the House and Senate Education committees addressed the crowd: Sen. Bob Bacon and Rep. Mike Merrifield.

Cheyenne Mountain School District has the Highest Percentage of Charter School Students in the State

For the first time, the Cheyenne Mountain School District has reached the top in percentage of charter school students, or the saturation rate of charter school students. The Brighton School District has held this distinction for a number of years, but this year was second with 15.89%. Cheyenne Mountain SD had 16.32%.

This saturation rate is calculated annually by CDE (using the funded count) to determine which districts meet the exclusive chartering authority criteria of reaching at least 3% above the statewide average of charter school students. This year the rate of charter school students fell slightly, from 6.62% last year to 6.55% this year.

Districts over 3,000 students and reaching this qualifying threshold include:
Cheyenne Mountain 16.32%
Brighton 15.89%
Adams 12 15.76%
Greeley 6 14.00%
Academy 20 13.15%
Pueblo City 12.74%
Falcon 12.39%
Harrison 11.03%
Windsor 9.99%
Lewis-Palmer 9.96%

Districts below 3,000 students with notable saturation rates include: Elizabeth, Park and Calhan. All three of these districts hovered around a 14% saturation rate of charter schools.

Monday, January 12, 2009

This is Why Somebody Needs to Care

Research on school culture cites the importance of a caring adult making a connection with each student. Students need that connection to have the incentive to do well in school and make wise decisions.

The Grand Junction Free Press has an article about the Partner program in Denver that recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. The program has 130 active partnerships in Mesa County with a wait list of almost two years for young men.
Omni Research in Denver shows kids who participate in the Partners program have more self-confidence, decreased delinquency, are less inclined to use drugs or alcohol, and have better attitudes regarding their futures.

Good high schools have professional development for staff members that teaches them to make meaningful connections with students. It could be giving a kind word of praise or asking a caring question about the student's social life. But everybody needs somebody.

What Does a High School Diploma Mean for Graduates?

Alarming news today for Denver Public Schools high school graduates: at least half will need to take remedial courses in college. In addition to the extra time needed to take these remedial courses, the students will also be paying college tuition rates for remedial courses. It's easy to make the argument that these students should have been adequately prepared in high school for college courses, but what does a high school diploma mean, anyway?

I've written before about districts that set their high school graduation requirements below minimum college entrance requirements, but isn't giving a diploma to a student who can't enter college without taking (and paying for) remedial courses considered "educational malpractice"?

What does it mean to give a high school diploma to a student? Especially, in a school like DPS's North HS where 71% of the students need remedial courses, does their diploma mean that the students have satisfied "seat time" requirements over a four-year period? What about the students and families who thought they were working towards a diploma that meant they had learned everything they needed to in high school?

Not long ago, ACT's "Forgotten Middle" report found that students who are not on target in eighth grade do not attend and succeed at college. This means that before North HS even gets these students, they're not ready to succeed in high school. So again, the question begs to be asked, "What does a high school diploma mean?"

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Check's NOT in the Mail!

Today charter school operators learned the check's NOT in the mail. Many schools were expecting charter school capital construction checks, but today learned the money is being held by the Joint Budget Committee due to the state's budget deficit.

This fund of capital construction money specifically for charter schools was created after the passage of Amendment 23 under the direction of then-Gov. Bill Owens, who was also an original sponsor of the Charter Schools Act back in 1993. Five million dollars of Amendment 23 funds were set aside for charter school capital construction. The fund is distributed on a qualifying per student basis. In 2001 the per student amount was over $300. Last year the amount fell to an all-time low of about $120.

Charter schools use these designated funds to pay their bond payments. For several schools, not receiving the funds this year will affect their bond rating and future financing.

Last year the Colorado League of Charter Schools released a facilities report that noted several inequities for charter schools. Charter schools spend anywhere from 15% to 33% of their operating funds on facility costs. Unlike districts, charters do not have access to the taxpayer for facility bonds.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Florida's State Authorizer Shot Down by the FL Supreme Court

Florida's Supreme Court has ruled the state's alternative authorizer, the Florida Schools of Excellence Commission, is unconstitutional. This means only local school districts have chartering authority in Florida. Governor Crist could have appealed the Supreme Court decision, but let the deadline pass without any action.

States with only one authorizer, particularly when the sole authorizer is local school districts, are considered to have weak charter school laws. Across the country nonprofits, mayoral offices, universities, and in many states the State Board of Education authorizes charter schools. States with multiple authorizers have more operating charter schools than states with only one authorizer.

When Colorado's Charter Schools Act was first adopted in 1993 only local school districts were permitted chartering authority. After numerous attempts to get an alternative authorizer, the General Assembly authorized the Charter School Institute in 2004. The bill was sponsored by the current Speaker of the House, Rep. Terrance Carroll and Senate President Peter Groff.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

DATA Board Votes to Close Charter School

The Denver Arts and Technology Academy's (DATA) Board of Directors voted to close the charter school at the end of this school year. Last February the Denver Public School's Board of Education voted to deny renewing DATA. They later allowed DATA to operate this year under a provisional contract.

The charter school has been on probation for academic reasons for several years and has been struggling with Mosaica Education, Inc.'s contract provisions. When DPS allowed DATA to operate this school year, the contract contained a provision that DPS would only deal with the charter governing board and not the management company. DATA pays Mosaica more than 16% of its operating budget for management services.

This year enrollment dropped precipitously after last spring's turmoil and tenuous future existence. This associated lack of funding caused financial problems for the charter school that apparently the governing board were insurmountable.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Liberty Common School Considering Expansion

Liberty Common School in Fort Collins is considering an expansion through twelth grade. Currently the school serves grades K-9 under a grade level configuration model used in the Poudre School District when the charter school opened in 1997. Now the district is moving ninth grade to its high schools, which has had an impact on Liberty Common School's keeping students through ninth grade.

Liberty Common School has won numerous academic achievement awards including the prestigious National Blue Ribbon and the state's top award, the John J. Irwin School of Excellence.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How Will Charter Schools Fare in the Upcoming Legislative Session?

Charter school founder and Senator-elect, Keith King, recently expressed his thoughts on charter school issues that will come before the General Assembly this year:

The Colorado Charter School Institute has begun to expand meaningful opportunities for quality charter schools in the state and one of their challenges is a way to finance Institute charter school facilities. I will be introducing a new concept for the Institute charter schools to pool one percent of their PPR to a common goal of accessing the BEST program or imitating new bonding for the schools that need facilities. This concept will allow the Institute to continue to expand quality charter school options in the state.

Senator-elect King is a founder of Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy, James Irwin Charter Schools and Colorado Springs Early Colleges. He served eight years in the House of Representatives and repeatedly carried or championed charter school legislation and the School Finance Act bill. Sen.-elect King will be sitting on the Senate Education Committee this term.

Other issues that are likely to affect charter schools in this year's legislative session include a requirement for school districts to equitably share mill levy override and bond funds with their charter schools and some clean-up legislation for the Charter School Institute Act.

Anyone interested in monitoring legislation this year should bookmark the General Assembly's website and watch the House and Senate calendars and read newly introduced legislation. Also the League of Charter Schools provides legislative updates.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

National Charter School Conference 2009

This year's National Charter School Conference will be June 21-24 in Washington, DC. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools puts together the program.

I was at the first National Charter School conference held in Washington back in 1997. There were about 250 people who attended. Now about 2,000 attend each year. Further, there are now over 4,000 charter schools operating in the nation. California, Arizona and Florida are the states with the most charter schools; Colorado typially ranks about sixth on the list.