Friday, May 29, 2009

Cesar Chavez Academy Network: In the News

Yesterday was the Charter School Institute board hearing on Cesar Chavez Network's request to combine Cesar Chavez Academy-North and Cesar Chavez Academy-Central. The Network operates three charter schools. The two they're asking to combine are both in Colorado Springs. Lawrence Hernandez, the CEO of the Network, asked the CSI board to suspend the Central charter and allow the Network to combine the Central and North students on one campus, under the North charter.

CSI board members acknowledged there being a problem with the current contract being with the Network rather than the individual charter schools. Some of the lessons learned by CSI since it began in 2004 was that charter contracts should be with the individual charter school boards, not a management company.

After media reports that Lawrence Hernandez earned $261,732 last year, CSI board members asked for detailed financial reports from all three Network schools, the Cesar Chavez Academy Foundation and any other affiliated entities. Van Schoales, a CSI board member stated the salaries of senior leadership in the Network was inappropriate. Chief Financial Officer, Jason Guerrero, reportedly earned $247,797 last year and Lawrence Hernandez's wife and Chief Operating Officer, Annette Hernandez, made $134,826.

Lawrence Hernandez and Dennis Feuerstein, Network board President, also asked the CSI board for approval to change their bylaws and to allow each individual charter to have its own governing board, independent of the Network board. Hernandez said each charter school would have a parent representative on the Network board under the new plan.

At the end of the hearing, the CSI board asked the Network to put their plan into writing for consideration at the next regularly scheduled meeting. Hernandez stated they'd notify their Central parents that they should sign up for the lottery at North in the event the two schools are combined. There was consensus that the Central charter would be surrendered, rather than held in abeyance.

After Lawrence Hernandez said he didn't have any problem with providing financial information about salaries, he stated that he's used to being a target because he's "shaking up the system." Van Schoales responded that this wasn't about shaking things up, instead it was about "transparency and our undertanding of your finances."

Update: A Denver Post editorial is here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another Great Senior Prank

Students should get credit when it's due them. Doing senior pranks that don't harm anyone or property is certainly a sign of creativity and ingenuity. Earlier this week some San Diego seniors attempted to move desks and chairs onto the athletic field in an "09" configuration. Admittedly, they did get caught by the security system, but -- seriously -- why did the adults feel they needed to charge the students for tresspassing or curfew violation?

It's commendable, especially in today's society, to hear about students who think of senior pranks that cause no harm. Students dressed in banana costumes chasing a fellow student in a gorilla costume is just plain good, clean fun. Placing plastic forks in the soccer field spelling out their school year was great fun at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette a few years ago.

So, a word of encouragement to all the adults in school systems throughout the U.S.: let these graduating seniors enjoy their last few days at your school!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's an "Early College"?

One of the latest trends in education is the early college model. This is a high school that accelerates student learning so that each student graduates high school with an associate's degree.

The first of these schools in Colorado was Southwest Early College in southwest Denver. It's on the campus of Teikyo Loretto Heights University. The charter school, founded by Christopher Gerboth, opened in 2004. It has since replicated to include another campus: Early College High School of Arvada. In addition, Colorado Springs Early College and Southern College Early College have both opened new charter schools using a similar model.

Each of these schools has a partnership with an institution of higher education that allows their students to take college courses while also taking high school courses. The schools test students in each of the different subjects to ensure students are prepared for college-level coursework. A student may be taking college mathematics and science, but high school English and social studies.

Recently Gov. Ritter signed into law new legislation that clarifies students qualifying for public education funding while also taking college courses. This new law accentuates the Postsecondy Enrollment Act, which permits high school juniors and seniors to take college courses for dual credit. However, if a student fails the course, the parents must pay for the college tuition. If the student passes, the high school will reimburse the parent's for up to two courses per semester. The new law allows certain students in their freshman or sophmore year to take college courses and allows high school students to take more college courses.

Many of the students served by these early colleges are high-risk meaning they're students of poverty and/or would be the first in their families to attend college. For many, this model allows students to surmount the perceived hurdle of attending college -- feeling qualified and with the remedial support necessary to be successful.

We're sure to see research come out over the next few years on how this model is working in Colorado. To be sure, it's already had an effect on a significant number of families!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Charter School Teacher Joins Military

On this Memorial Day I'm honoring the son of Jonathan and Elizabeth Berg of Colorado Springs. I've never met their second son, Jeremy, but I recently learned he'd enlisted, joining his older brother in the military.

Jonathan is a founder of James Irwin Charter Schools and currently serves as its Executive Director. He originally served as the school's high school principal when the first school to open was the high school. Jonathan is a senior member of the Charter School Support Initiative team and has a great deal of experience in academics and finance. James Irwin Charter Schools, after starting with a high school, realized they needed a middle school and elementary school.

Elizabeth Berg is the principal of James Irwin Elementary. It's difficult to mention her work without also mentioning her Asst. Principal, Cindee Will. These two complement each other very well to lead a school very focused on improving student academic achievement. To say that both are over-achievers would be an understatement.

It's no wonder that Jonathan and Elizabeth Berg have raised exemplary children because that's the kind of people they are. They have two sons and a daughter. I've seen a picture of their adult children, but have never had the pleasure of meeting any of them.

If it weren't enough to assume that this is a "charter family," Jeremy Berg has his own connection to the charter school community. Presently he's teaching Latin at Rocky Mountain Classical Academy. He's giving up his teaching position to enlist. It's clear that the U.S. Army is getting one of our country's very best. Knowing Jeremy's family, he is a man with a great deal of integrity, love for his country, a sense of duty to do his very best at everything he does and a commitment to give of himself. In addition to being a "charter school hero," Jeremy Berg is truly an American hero. May God bless you and protect you in your service, Jeremy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rocky Mountain Deaf School

Check out this great piece by Ben over at Ed is Watching about the Rocky Mountain Deaf School, a Jeffco charter school.

It took RMDS several years to get approved because the school's concept was so innovative. I met the founders in 1994 when the Jeffco school board was hearing charter applications the first year after the Charter Schools Act was passed. Their legal counsel, Bill Bethke, has become a well-respected charter school attorney after beginning his charter school work by volunteering for RMDS.

The funding for RMDS is also very unique. In order to make their finances work, each student's "excess costs" (a term defined in statute) must be reimbursed by the student's district of residence. Consequently, paying for a facility, with unusually high operating costs, has been nearly impossible. In the 2008 School Finance Act, legislators designated a portion of the Charter School Capital Construction Fund, initiated in Amendment 23, for RMDS to use on capital construction costs.

About ten years ago RMDS leaders approached the legislature about money for transportation costs. I recall a mother testifying that if she drove her child to the School for the Deaf and the Blind in Colorado Springs, she'd get reimbursed for travel, but if she drove across the metro Denver area to a charter school, she wouldn't. This Mom was faced with the difficult choice of either placing her child in a residential facility, with limited involvement in her child's formative years, or bear the costs associated with a charter school that didn't have equal access to public funds for students with special needs.

While small and serving a unique population of students, RMDS has quietly gone about the business of providing a quality education to its students.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Charter School Boot Camp

Colorado is having its first "boot camp" for charter school developers. Previously the Schools of Choice Unit at CDE put on a two-day "application writer's seminar" but this year the League of Charter Schools and the Charter School Institute have joined with CDE in expanding the seminar.

Every element of a charter school application is addressed and topics such as literacy, performance management, Special Education, and grants are also covered. This year a special session for developers working with management companies will give information on contracting with a company, what authorizers look for in the charter school/management company relationship, and what types of provisions should be in the performance contract with the company.

The application process for new charter schools has become much more sophisticated over the years. Applications that were approved ten years ago would not be approved by most districts today. Many parent groups are still getting charter school applications approved, but they must first undergo a learning process. This boot camp is specifically designed for that purpose.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Polis Ensures Charter Schools Get Equitable Facility Funding

Last week the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill ensuring all public schools are safe, healthy learning environments. This includes charter schools due to an amendment by Colorado's U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. According to Nelson Smith, with the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:
This is a vitally important issue of equity for the 1.4 million students in 4,700 schools in 40 states that have charter schools. Nationally, only 13 states and the District of Columbia provide charter schools with facilities aid, forcing the charters to use operational dollars on facility support. We greatly appreciate Chairman George Miller (D-CA) for recognizing the importance of this critical issue, and for Rep. Polis’s leadership in ensuring that charters are treated fairly in this piece of legislation. We hope the Senate follows with this statement of equality for all eligible public schools."
In Colorado, Jared Polis is a founder of the New American Schools, which operates campuses in Thornton, Aurora, Lakewood and Gypsum. The charter school's educational model is designed to serve 15-21 year old new immigrants and English Language Learners by improving their English skills and qualifying students to earn a high school diploma. Polis previously served as an at-large member on the state Board of Education.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Everything You'll Ever Need is on the Web

The Schools of Choice Unit at CDE has a reputation for providing a LOT on the website to help charter school developers, new school operators, and charter school authorizers. Most of the technical assistance resources are in the "electronic guidebook of best practices." Anyone who's ever attended a workshop done by Schools of Choice Unit staff has heard "it's on the website" repeatedly during the presentation.

It started years ago when people were asking about how to write a charter school application. There was such a variety of both good and bad in circulation that it became important to define what was a "best practice." Then new schools were asking for similar types of documents such as employee handbooks and parent/student handbooks. Charter school boards wanted to know about Open Meetings and Open Records. Further, people were asking what was needed to start a business office in a charter school. And it keeps growing...

There are online board training modules still in development for charter school governing boards, but 7 of the expected 30+ modules are online right now for beta testing. Each module includes a pre-test, the presentation and a post-test. Successfully passing the pre-test eliminates the need to take the rest of the module. Upon completion of all modules, the board member will receive a "certificate of completion." This work has been done with the collaboration of CDE, the League of Charte Schools and the Charter School Institute. The curriculum for all the modules is in the board training handbook.

There is also an administrator's handbook in development with an expected fall 2009 release. This resource will only be online. It features links to more information, sample forms and tips. The target audience is for new administrators in the first three years of a charter school's operation. However, there is information for more experienced administrators, also.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Business Manager's Network Meeting Today

Today business managers from across the state met for their regular Network meeting. Today's meeting was at Early College High School at Arvada. Here's a few things that were said today:

· The recent rescission changed the Per Pupil Revenue amount for the 2008-09 school year, which means many schools will have to readjust their budgets.
· CBI sends out updates when something is added to an individual’s record. Many charter schools periodically conduct another background check.
· An eleventh standard for the Charter School Support Initiative is being developed. Team members reviewed what they look for during a site visit and what is considered exemplary practices. The standard is still under development and the group provided feedback to the evaluators.
· An employee who would have been eligible to receive COBRA, gets a second opportunity through the new stimulus plan (ARRA). Schools should go back to Sept. 1, 2008 and notify former employees of their second opportunity. Dept of Labor recommends notifying everyone, even if they voluntarily left employment. for model notices (COBRA ARRA model notices link).
· Students at least 14 years of age may be hired by the school to do janitorial services. At Ridgeview Classical Schools students earn minimum wage to vacuum 30 to 60 minutes each evening. Students rotate through the work schedule and must keep their grades up in a manner the same as for athletic eligibility.
· A school can withhold diplomas, transcripts or student records for a student that has not paid fines, but cannot require any student to pay voluntary fees. Further, the school must designate which fees are mandatory and which are optional and what the student won’t receive if the fee isn’t paid. Some charters use check collection companies.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Westminster 50 and Colorado Springs 11 Get Exclusive Chartering Authority

Today the Colorado Board of Education voted unanimously to grant exclusive chartering authority to Westminster 50 and Colorado Springs 11.

Westminster 50 asked for exclusive chartering authority the first year of the law, in 2004, but they were denied because they had violated an order of the state board and had a moratorium on the number of charter schools in their district. In 2000 the district heard an application from Despain Academy and denied it. The charter applicant then took it to the state board on appeal and were successful two times. The second time the state board ordered the district to open the charter school and the district refused. The district has one charter school, Crown Pointe Academy, that serves grades K-8. Adjacent to Crown Pointe is a charter school authorized by the state Charter School Institute: Ricardo Flores Magon Academy. Although this charter school's charter is K-8, it started two years ago as a K-2 school.

The other district to receive exclusive chartering authority was Colorado Springs 11. This district serves the heart of Colorado Springs. It has 6 of its own charter schools and 7 CSI schools operate within its boundaries. The district has a reputation of treating its charters very fairly by including them in bond questions and assisting them in identifying facilities.

Randy DeHoff, who represents the 6th Congressional District on the state board recused himself from today's votes on exclusive chartering authority because he also works as Executive Director of the Charter School Institute. Randy helped start Collegiate Academy in 1994.

State Charter School Capital Construction Money Released

Checks are in the mail to school districts to flow through funds to their charter schools for capital construction. This after the state legislature put a hold on the money back in January when it was decided this pot of funds would be a good place to make up the state's budget deficit.

Charter schools will be receiving $107.47 for each qualifying student. The fund was cut in half this year by the legislature. Last year available funds were $10 million and this year it's $5 million.

According to the 2008 Colorado League of Charter Schools' Shortchanged Charters: How Funding Disparities Hurt Colorado's Charter Schools, charter schools are forced to use their operating funds for capital needs. Further, an additional 41,000 students are on wait lists at the state's charter schools hoping for an opportunity to attend.

Nationally, securing and funding adequate facilities remains the largest obstacle for new public charter schools. The challenge to provide equal resources and options is often a topic at conferences and workshops. A portion of the Charter School Program in No Child Left Behind is devoted to credit enhancement and facility funding.

If Colorado Governor Ritter decides to allocate $5 million to charter school capital construction, the state is eligible to apply for matching funds from the federal Charter School Program grant.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Exclusive Chartering Authority Requests Heard Today

Today the state Board of Education heard exclusive chartering authority requests from Colorado Springs 11 and Westminster 50. The board will vote on both during their regular meeting tomorrow. Listen to the board meeting here.

MESA Not a Charter School!

At the risk of sounding like the guardian of what a charter school is and what it is not, there's another inaccurate labeling of the MESA School in Thornton at Colorado Pols. Mike Johnston, who has recently been selected to replace Sen. Peter Groff (who is headed to Washington to work for the Obama administration), is the principal at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts.

MESA is a choice school within the Mapleton Public School District. It is not, and never has been, a charter school. A charter school is defined by the existence of an executed contract that details the school's operations, legal status and performance objectives.

Congratulations to Mike Johnston for being selected as the next state Senator from District 33. I hope his school choice beliefs are evident once he's sworn in.

Update: Another blog, on EdWeek, also incorrectly stated MESA was a charter school but then corrected the information! Kudos to the authors for making the correction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

$52 Million More for Charter Schools According to Obama's Proposed Budget

President Obama may be, at least partially, fulfilling his campaign promise to give more money to charter schools. But there's more than meets the eye for this money before any existing Colorado charter schools get additional funding.

An additional $52 million would be added to the Charter School Program, in Title V of No Child Left Behind. This money is used for startup/implementation grants for new charter schools, facility enhancement programs and state facility enhancement programs. With this federal money comes a requirement for the charter school to use a lottery system for enrollment that meets federal guidelines. Many of the state's charter schools don't use a lottery program that would allow them to receive this federal money.

It's quite obvious that the proposed increase is needed because the amount has been capped at $200 million for the past several years. During this time the number of new charter schools getting approved has continued to grow exponentially. The money is distributed to state department's of education through a three-year competitive grant cycle and in a handful of states, directly to new charter schools.

In order for Colorado to qualify to apply for state facilities money, Gov. Ritter would have to devote more than the $5 million base currently designated for charter school capital construction. The charter school community has been asking him to designate a portion of the state's stimulus money for this purpose. We're still waiting to hear.

Monday, May 11, 2009

But it's NOT a Charter School

The Denver Post editorial, "Charter school needs to close" was correct in stating that the former Challenges, Choices and Images Charter School, now the Amandla Academy in Denver needs to close. It was incorrect to say that Amandla is a charter school. It's not. It's a contract school.

Last year, pressured by bond holders to address financial and governance issues, CCI gave up its charter and reconstituted as a contract school through DPS. Administration and governing board members changed in an attempt to eliminate problems with nepotism, the hiring of staff with felony records and mismanagement of funds. DPS gave the low-performing school a chance to rectify its problems.

Last week DPS decided not to award a charter to Amandla's founding group. Further, the DPS board decided the one-year plan to operate as a contract school was done at the end of the school year.

This 100% African-American school is very close knit. That was actually part of the problem: many staff members were related and it appeared, received their jobs due to their relationship with school leaders. The school has always been low-performing academically. The educational program wasn't really unique.

The Denver Post editorial was accurate in its assessment of the DPS Board of Education's decision to close Amandla. It just didn't have the school's legal status correct.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Challenges, Choices & Images/Amandla Closes

Denver Public Schools' Board of Education decided not to allow Amandla Charter School remain open after the end of the school year. Amandla was organized as a contract school after Challenges, Choices and Images was closed last summer as a charter school. The charter school had numerous issues. Read more about it at the Ed is Watching blog.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Excel Academy in Arvada Closes Due to H1N1 Flu

Excel Academy, a K-8 charter school in Arvada, will be closed all this week due to a confirmed case of the H1N1 virus (swine flu). The school was closed due to a regularly scheduled spring break last week and will be closed this week as a precaution. The situation will be reassessed at the end of the week. Area schools are encouraging extra precautions such as additional handwashing and santizing items students commonly touch.