Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Light Blogging Ahead

Blogging will be lighter than usual the next week or two while we're out of town for another family funeral. My mother-in-law passed away, just two months after my own Mom's death. In the past ten months we've had two sons get married and two funerals in our family. I'm sure some day I'll look back and wonder how we did it, but for right now it's just "one day at a time."

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch

Last week I got to visit the Imagine Classical Academy at Indigo Ranch while a couple colleagues presented a workshop on using data to drive instructional practices. The staff at this school are all at an advanced stage, so we skipped the first level of the training and did the second level. The principal, Tina Leone, has a wealth of experience in teaching, curriculum development, administering a school and -- hiring a top-notch staff for her new charter school.

It was a treat for me to get to see an old friend who teaches at Imagine. Nancy Anderson teaches third grade. She's also the daughter of long-time friends of mine from rural North Dakota. Nancy went to the same K-12 rural consolidated school that I attended. I knew several years ago that Nancy would be a great teacher and it's been fun to watch her expand her skills and professionalism.

Next year the school will double in size when it moves into a brand new facility just across the road. Tina Leone is a strong instructional leader and has laid a solid foundation in which to expand her staff. The school has already gone beyond the level of most first year charter schools.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Let's All Be Quick to Verify Capital Construction Amounts!

Today CDE released the figures for the 2008-09 Charter School Capital Construction funds. Every school district and the state Charter School Institute, must verify the funded count and award amount before the checks are cut. With the end of the school year--and the fiscal year--fast approaching, it benefits everyone if this is done as quickly as possible!

The total amount appropriated by the Legislature is $5 million. For a complete list of how this program has been funded historically follow this link.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Charter School Leaders Get Smart

Today two people, Bob and Jennifer, from the National Resource Center on Charter School Finance and Governance presented the first of a two-day workshop on charter school finances for school leaders. They were brought in as a part of the Get Smart Schools Initiative that is conducting twice monthly professional development for new charter school leaders.

One of the goals for the training was to provide a complete overview of the business side of a charter school. Charter schools operate like a business in addition to being a public school.

Many of those in attendance at the workshop are associated with an application in Denver for either or a charter school or a performance school (non-charter autonomous). Some are going to lead newly replicated schools, such as the new West Denver Prep-Harvey Park.

There are extra challenges in leading a brand new charter school. In addition to starting a new business, the leader needs to bring new staff members together to form a cohesive team, get to know all brand new students and parents, make sure the physical plant is sufficient and operational, and all while keeping the new charter school governing board happy! Leadership development is essential to increasing the success of new charter schools. The Get Smart Schools plan is to continue with a broad spectrum of support even after the new school opens.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Timing is Everything -- Especially When it Comes to Budget Preparation

I could have a nice steak and lobster dinner if I got a nickel every time someone asked me this spring how they're supposed to create a budget for the next school year before they get actual numbers from the state. All public school districts and charter schools must create and approve a budget for the 2009-2010 school year, which then gets submitted to CDE. After its been submitted and approved, it takes a formal process to amend it and that can't be done more than once or twice.

So what's the problem? It's the ripple effect. The General Assembly determines the figures for each of the categories of K-12 education through the annual School Finance Act bill. Their own rules require that bill to be introduced by the end of March. But they extended that deadline again this year. You see they were still working on the amount of cuts to make to last year's budget when the deadline loomed.

Before settling on a 2008-2009 rescission amount, the Legislature had to know how had the state's budget deficit really was. The figures were changing almost daily, but no one liked what they were seeing. After having already done the "easy" cuts in the past years (depleting cash funds and moving the state's June payday back to July 1) some serious budget cuts had to be made this year.

When I was asked by charter school leaders when they'd know the 2009-2010 budget amounts, my response was, "May 6th." That's the last day of this year's Legislative session. Now obviously, charter schools had to submit their approved budgets to their authorizer a month or two before May 6th, so they had to use their best judgment without actually knowing the actual numbers.

On top of not having actual revenue figures, charter schools (and all public school districts), don't know how much of what the Legislature approves will be rescinded next spring when House and Senate members return to hear about the budget deficit at that point in time. Given all the bills with fiscal notes being approved this session, it could be even worse than this year's deficit.

Another problem for charter school leaders this year has been the delay in getting Charter School Capital Construction funds. Typically charter schools get a check in January. This year they haven't gotten the money yet and that means it's still a few weeks off.

In light of all this, and the gloomy projections for the upcoming school year, charter schools aren't giving any salary increases and they're looking in every nook and cranny to make cuts. In addition to normal school operating costs, charter schools pay for their facilities with their per pupil revenue, unlike school districts that have access to tax funds with voter approval.

The good thing about charter schools is that they can make adjustments more easily and they tend to run entrepeneurial systems any way. But everyone is thinking creatively this year and having conversations unlike any they've had in the past.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Flagstaff Academy Art on Display

Guest Blog by Jen Dauzvardis, Flagstaff Academy parent

In the Core Knowledge sequence, second graders study Westward Expansion and the impact settling the west had on the Plains Indians and the American Bison population. At Flagstaff Academy, a Core Knowledge charter school in Longmont, Colorado, knowledge and understanding is further reinforced through the arts. Students create their own clay bison and cave drawings while expanding their knowledge of the first Americans and the American frontier. It is not only the second grade class with these opportunities for deeper understanding. Across the curriculum students are given opportunities to explore Native American art on a meaningful level. Kindergarteners weave textiles, fourth graders create dream-catchers, and middle school students thread beadwork similar to those worn by tribal warriors.

Throughout the school, the halls fill with a portfolio that beautifully reflects the rich content of the Core Knowledge curriculum. Art teacher Kyle Sumnicht includes a study of Ancient China during the school year. Each grade level project expands the students' knowledge of the culture and the importance of artistic expression. Projects mimic ancient practices including turtle shell carving, ancient bronze masks, the art of paper cutting, and even Cloisonné.

Whether studying the prehistoric tradition of rock and cave drawing, or exploring the art of ancient Greece, year-after-year the variety and quality of work the students produce is stunning. It is clear that students have developed appreciation and deeper knowledge through this kind of hands on study. It is also clear that Mr. Sumnicht has spent thoughtful time with the students; teaching them historical, cultural, and artistic perspective.

Student art work from Flagstaff Academy and other schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District is currently on display at the Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Charter School Capital Construction Funds Cut by the House Education Committee

This afternoon the House Education committee adopted an amendment to cut charter school capital construction money down to the $5 million base initially created with Amendment 23 funds almost a decade ago. The Senate had approved $7.5 million in charter capital construction.

After introducing the amendment, Rep. Pommer, one of the sponsor's of the bill, SB 265 - School Finance, said that this level was still higher than the $2.5 million recommended by the Governor. Rep. Middleton pointed out that there were federal matching funds available for charter school capital construction if the state was above the $5 million level. Rep. Scanlon, another of the bill's sponsors said they'd researched and found out that if the Governor uses federal stimulus (ARRA) funds to increase the $5 million, the charter school capital construction match (also federal funds) is still available.

Rep. Debbie Benefield was very upset with there being any funds for charter school capital construction. She said, "This frustrates me! Elevating one group of public schools isn't right. Know clearly that I am not OK with what's being done here." Rep. Scanlon affirmed Benefield's sentiments.

Rep. Middleton clarified that charter schools don't have access to school district bond revenues like districts do and so their operating budget also includes money for capital needs. Further, this capital construction fund went for things like leases and is not used for new buildings like school district capital construction money is.

SB 256 passed out of committee unanimously and now goes to House Appropriations.

Sen. Peter Groff: Charter School Hero

Last week Senator Peter Groff (D-Denver) accepted at job at the U.S. Department of Education directing Faith-Based Initiatives. Like everything Sen. Groff sets his mind to, I'm sure he'll do well in his new position and the US Dept of Education is lucky to get such a fine civil servant. I'd be doing a disservice to documenting the history of charter schools in Colorado without recognizing Sen. Groff's immense contribution to the movement.
Peter Groff supported charter schools since day one. He didn't change his mind due to any political pressures, in fact, he opposed his own party on numerous occasions in order to stand up for charter schools. Groff understands the nuances of charter school operating budgets, how they finance facilities and what makes them work. Moreover, he understands the importance of parental involvement in their child's education and believes people in his district should have the same opportunities others in the state have due to their financial stability. Many of Groff's constituents have been stigmatized with lower standards and expectations.
When Sen. Groff became President of the Senate, he seated members on the Senate Education committee that would respect his high regard for charter schools. He felt so strongly about education that he, himself, sat on the Education committee this year. Suburban Democrat Senators knew that the necessary votes would be there for Sen. Groff when he supported a charter school bill.
Many people, from both political parties, have acclaimed Sen. Groff's personal integrity. That's just who he is. He certainly demonstrated integrity as he worked for charter schools in Colorado. Charter school parents, administrators, governing board members and staff members will all miss Peter Groff in the Senate. But we wish him the very best in the future!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ryan Frazier: A Charter School Founder

Since Aurora City Councilman, Ryan Frazier, announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate earlier this week, people in Colorado have been wondering about his involvement in charter schools.

Ryan Frazier was a founding board member at Academy at High Point, a charter school authorized by the Colorado Charter School Institute and located just south of DIA. The charter school was created via a partnership with the builder. Having the charter school finance its own facility meant the district didn't have to build another new school in that area, which was experiencing exponential growth.

Academy at High Point serves grades K-8 and uses the Core Knowledge Curriculum. Ryan Frazier is a parent at the school. The school is finishing its third year of operation.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Benefield Can't Bring Herself to Vote for Charter Schools

One lone member of the Colorado House of Representatives just couldn't bring herself to vote for a charter school bill: Rep. Debbie Benefield (D-Westminster). Even with three charter schools operating in her district (Jefferson Academy, Woodrow Wilson Academy and Excel Academy), Rep. Benefield voted against SB 176. SB 176, sponsored by Sen. Spence and Rep. Casso, Charter School Participation in School District Bond Elections passed the House on a vote of 64 to 1 (pg. 1197 of the Journal).

Last year several charter schools either were told by the authorizing school district that they couldn't participate in the district's bond question on the ballot or else were given the information so late in the process that deadlines were impossible to meet. SB 176 was watered down in the Senate in order for it to pass. The bill now goes to the Senate for approval of amendments made in the House.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Animas HS Gets a Building

Animas High School, in Durango, just signed a lease for a new facility. The charter high school, authorized by the Charter School Institute, will begin operation this fall with a ninth grade class.
Of the site, Gisele Pansze, Board of Directors, said, “This space is ideally suited for Animas High School. There are windows along the entire front and back sides of the building, allowing natural light to enter. The interior, which is two stories, can be easily modified to be compatible with the school’s teaching methods and curriculum. We’ll be able to design teacher office space that is adjacent to large classrooms, facilitating collaboration on interdisciplinary projects. We’ll have seminar rooms for smaller discussion classes, and a spacious commons area for daily all-school gatherings. And the school’s proximity to open spaces will allow the teachers to easily incorporate studies of the natural world – like the biodiversity of the Animas River – into their classes. It’s a space that will enhance student’s learning.”

The charter school will use state of the art technology as it implements its "21st century" curriculum through academic rigor and a practical-application methodology. The school is modeled after the High Tech High in San Diego.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Atlas Prep Opening this Fall in Colorado Springs

There's a new charter school opening this fall in Colorado Springs called Atlas Prep. Founder, Zach McComsey, is leading the effort. Zach has gone through the Building Excellent Schools program and is partnering with several community organizations, including the El Pomar Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Daniels Fund.

Atlas Prep is targeting middle school students with an intensive college-prep model. The school is hoping to enroll low-income students who may be the first in their family to go to college.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Charter School Institute

The Charter School Institute (CSI) began operating in 2004 when the General Assembly passed Part 5 of the Charter School Act, entitled "Charter School Institute Act." This allowed for the creation of an "alternative authorizer" for charter school applicants who hadn't been able to get a school open through their local school district. Prior to the CSI Act, some school districts either refused to accept applications, had a moratorium on the number of charter schools that could operate within their boundaries or simply didn't acknowledge a direct order from the State Board of Education to open a charter school after two successful appeals.

CSI now charters 16 schools and two more are approved but not yet open. Animas HS will open in Durango in the fall and is modeled after San Diego's High Tech High. Provost Academy will be an online program of Edison Learning, Inc.

SB 089, State Charter School Institute, is sponsored by Sen. Keith King and would allow CSI to authorize charter schools of "statewide interest" regardless of the geographical location. Sen. King was formerly on the CSI board where there's been talk of creating various types of charter schools that would generate students from all across the state. SB 089 was probably approved on third reading today and now heads to the House for hearing.

Friday, April 10, 2009

When a Lottery Impacts a Child's Life

A Brooklyn charter school had 420 applications for 27 Kindergarten openings. Wow! Imagine the disappointed parents who cannot afford a private education for their child and the neighboring public schools are abysmal.

The Community Roots Charter School boasts two teachers in every classroom, high expectations for all students, an integrated curriculum heavy on social studies, and increased communication with school families. In other words, getting in to this charter school in Brooklyn will actually change the lives of the fortunate few.

For the others? One can only hope that the local public school district starts to understand the importance of providing a quality education to the future of their city's children and therefore, the future of their city.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Stone Creek Academy

Stone Creek Academy in Avon is in its third year of operation. It's a K-8 Core Knowledge school authorized by the Charter School Institute.

The walls in the school exhibit student artwork associated with the Core Knowledge curriculum. This artwork captures the visitor's attention due to its high caliber for elementary school students.

Stone Creek Academy raises considerable funding from its school families and the community through fundraisers. All parents are encouraged to volunteer at last 40 hours of time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Liberty Common School Students Head to National Robotics Competition

Students of Liberty Common School's robotics team have earned the right to represent Colorado at the world robotics championship in Atlanta, Georgia. The fourth, sixth and seventh graders on the team, GeoStorm, earned this distinction by creating a climate-based, robotic and research project. For their research project, the students suggest changing the chemical substance used by beetles to find friendly habitats.

Liberty Common School in Fort Collins is a Core Knowledge K-9 charter school, which has won numerous national and state honors over the years due to its academic success.

Exclusive Chartering Authority Districts for 2009-2010

Today the State Board of Education acknowledged certain districts had exclusive chartering authority for the 2009-2010 school year. The state Charter School Institute law allows districts, that meet certain criteria, to have exclusive chartering authority or the right to not have state Charter School Institute schools within their geographical boundaries.

A list of all the districts, with and without exclusive authority, is on the board's meeting agenda from today. Three district requests for exclusive chartering authority are still pending and are slated to be heard next month. These districts are Colorado Springs 11, Westminster 50 and Montezuma-Cortez.

Charter school applicants in districts without exclusive chartering authority can apply to the CSI or both CSI and the local district simultaneously.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting for Federal Stimulus Funds

Much has been made about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) giving money to public education. But charter school leaders shouldn't be holding their breath, waiting for these funds!

Eleven billion dollars is in the ARRA for both the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years. This money is allocated for "public schools" and of course, charter schools are public schools. But they're also subject to state level policy makers who will make certain conditions for using these stimulus dollars. Further, federal wage rules will apply, which will increase the cost of construction. In other words, this money will be more for construction companies than for K-12 public education.

The Title I (high poverty) and IDEA (special education) money Colorado received last week will all go to districts with qualifying plans. In other words, the federal restrictions for not supplanting, etc. Districts should use the money for new activities designed to increase academic achievement. The problem is, no one knows if the funding will be eliminated in 2011 and so any new activities will likely end as quickly as they were created. The money will be accounted for separately and reported on separately (this is equivalent to "more work").

That leaves the pool of money each state can access from the ARRA. In Colorado, that leaves charter schools competing for a limited pool of resources against large, urban school districts. The money is slated to be used to replace funds that had previously been cut. A reasonable person could believe that would mean the Charter School Capital Construction money cut this year would be replaced. But don't hold your breath waiting!

Governor Ritter has control over how these funds will be used. That's why a theme during last week's charter school rally at the Capitol was about charter school students being equal to their noncharter public school peers. Further, the League of Charter Schools has been encouraging charter school families to contact the Governor's office and ask for a portion of the state's stimulus money to be used for charter schools.

There will be numerous meetings before anything is finally determined on how federal stimulus money will be used in Colorado. In the meantime, charter school leaders should create budgets without Charter School Capital Construction funds included.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Public School Finance Legislation & its Impact on Charters

The full Senate gave approval to SB 256, the School Finance Act bill, on Friday. The bill now goes to the House Education committee for hearing. Numerous provisions in the bill pertain to charter schools in general and also specifically to state Charter School Institute schools.

The bill is online and the Assistant Commissioner for Public School Finance has a summary.

Here's a list of some of the charter school provisions:
* Eliminates the Instructional Supplies and Materials and the Capital/Insurance Reserve minimums.
* Gives CSI schools at-risk funding, centers of excellence funding and online funding on a per student basis calculated on their district of residence's funding.
* Changes the formula for distributing Charter School Capital Construction from a set pool of funds divided by the number of eligible charter school students to $140 per pupil in FY 2009-10 and $160 per pupil in FY 2010-11. This equates to $7.2 million in the next fiscal year.
* Requires charter schools to report students qualifying for at-risk funding and requires certain minimum levels of funding for at-risk student strategies.
* Requires students enrolled in 6th grade, on the day of enrollment, to be registered in College in Colorado, but stipulates communication with the student cannot occur until the student enrolls in 9th grade.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Parent's Voice

Charter mom, Donnell Rosenberg, has started a new website for parents like her who want to get more involved on behalf of his/her charter school. A Parent's Voice is a site with information on what a charter school is, how to get involved and the latest news.

In addition to having her children in a charter school, Donnell is working on a new charter high school for several of the Core Knowledge K-8 schools in Douglas County.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Northeast Academy Students Speak Out at Charter School Rally

Assistant Principal, Vickie Collins, brought a group of Northeast Academy students to today's charter school rally at the Capitol. Northeast Academy is a K-8 Core Knowledge charter school located in the Montbello area of Denver. Dr. Thomas Bouknight is the Principal.
Eighth grade student JQuan Howard said, "Charter schools rule!" when asked what he thought of today's rally. Fellow student Raudel Tena elaborated for his friend saying, "All students should be treated equal." Several of the rally speakers talked about how charter schools get less money for their facilities. Whereas local school districts can get taxpayer-generated bond funds, charter schools must use their state per pupil revenue to finance their facilities. Sen. Peter Groff, the Senator for the area where Northeast Academy is located, noted he expected the legislature to treat charter school students equal with other public school students.
The students of Northeast Academy recited their school's mission and proudly noted their mascot is the Eagle. The school stresses the importance of going on to college and has created several partnerships with the community to assist students in succeeding in high school and college.

Charter Schools Rally at the Capitol Today

Charter school students, parents and advocates rallied on the west steps of the state Capitol today over the lunch hour. Numerous legislators addressed the crowd, including: Rep. Frank McNulty, Sen. Scott Renfroe, Sen. Mike Kopp, Rep. Cory Gardner, Rep. Amy Stephens, Rep. Ken Summers, Rep. Joe Rice, Rep. Kent Lambert, Sen. Chris Romer, Rep. Cindy Acree, Rep. Karen Middleton and Senate President Peter Groff.
Charter schools with representation at the rally included CIVA, The Classical Academy, Dolores Huerta Prep, Boulder Prep, Flagstaff Academy, KIPP Denver Charter High School, Omar D. Blair, and Northeast Academy.
Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien announced the winners of the charter school essay contest. Winners were from Banning Lewis Ranch Academy, Parker Core Knowledge, North Star Academy, Compass Montessori HS, The Classical Academy and Peak to Peak. The top three winners each received a check for College Invest's 529 college fund.
In remarks to the crowd, Sen. Kopp encouraged attendees to ask Gov. Ritter to include charter schools in the federal stimulus fund available to the state. Sen. Groff said he wants charter schools to have an equal opportunity in the School Finance Act bill, which was heard this afternoon by the House Education committee. Rep. Lambert noted that his daughter currently attends Colorado Springs Charter Academy and will attend Colorado Springs Early College next fall; both are charter schools. Rep. Gardner led the charter school students in a "charter schools matter!" chant with the intention of getting the attention of legislators in the Capitol.
Deborah Mintor, the Principal of Omar D. Blair Charter School in Montbello, said she'd been told by DPS that she'd have to return $27.43 per student before the end of the fiscal year. This rescission was recently approved by the legislature.
Many of the charter school students had tours of the Capitol prior to the rally. This is Colorado Charter Schools Week.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Community Prep Charter School

Community Prep Charter School is a high school authorized by the Colorado Springs 11 school district. It's located on the north side of downtown Colorado Springs. Community Prep is an alternative school for students who don't function well in the traditional high school.

I spent the morning at Community Prep. The school is located in a beautiful facility with lots of history in its walls and beautiful woodwork. The school is in its fourteenth year of operation. Some of the original teachers are still at the school.
The director, Vicki Leaf, and staff truly care about the students and offer one-on-one assistance if the student doesn't understand a concept. Rather than demeaning the student, these staff members devote time to reteaching until the student clearly understands. For many students, this school is their last opportunity to get a high school diploma.