Last year Denver Public Schools put Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) on their turnaround list. It was one of three charter schools in Denver designated in the bottom 5% of the district. However, NACS was the only charter school on the list to undergo a significant turnaround under the direction of a management company instead of facing closure.
NACS is a K-8 charter school in the Montbello area of Denver (far northeast). The school uses the Core Knowledge curriculum.
The NACS board contracted with Ridgeview Classical Institute (a nonprofit in association with Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins) to take over the school in January. RCI made formal recommendations for changes in early February and April. These changes included school leadership, instructional practices, staffing, operations, board governance and curriculum.
The school's families had been led to believe that everything was going well for the school. Thus, the school community was shocked to learn of its poor CSAP scores and many were in denial. Several tumultuous meetings took place last spring as the families and staff struggled to comprehend the drastic changes that needed to occur at their school. The principal was terminated in mid-February and the majority of staff members were notified they wouldn't be asked to return the following school year.
Now the school is on the verge of a new start with a new princpal, assistant principal and the vast majority of the staff. There's also been turnover on the board as original school founders came back on the board to reignite the school's original vision.
The NACS board recently hired Troy Wathen to lead their school. Troy comes from Houston where he started and led a private school for the past ten years. Before that he taught and was an administrator in southern California.
Several of the new teachers at NACS come from the Teach for America program. Further, at least one teacher is returning after having left the school a couple of years ago. About eight teachers are returning from last year's staff. Many of the former and new staff spent two weeks in an academy in Fort Collins at Ridgeview Classical Schools in early June.
The classroom instructional approach to the Core Knowledge curriculum will be infused with the Classical approach, which embodies the Socratic method and discussion to drive deeper understanding. Mr. Wathen's previous school was a Classical school and as a teacher, he understands how to monitor student progress with this approach to ensure student academic achievement.
There's an enthusiasm building at Northeast Academy for the new opportunity for students to learn more and to become a quality school. The change hasn't been easy, however.