Sunday, January 31, 2010

GLOBE Given One-Year Probationary Contract

After years of poor academic scores, the Colorado Springs 11 school board gave GLOBE Charter School a one-year probationary contract. In that year, the school must demonstrate improvements academically and financially. The school has already made some changes recently, but has several things to work on yet. The probationary resolution outlines objectives for the next year including increased reporting requirements.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jefferson Academy's Sharpley Recognized in Denver Post

A recent Denver Post article captures the essence of Jefferson Academy boys varsity basketball coach, Mark Sharpley. Mark Sharpley is a charter school hero. Sharpley cares more about what type of men the players develop into rather than if they win or lose a basketball game.

The JA team is 13-0 this season and is ranked third in 3A basketball. Last month I told you about JA beating Peak to Peak and then earlier this month they beat The Pinnacle.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Federal Stimulus Money Pushes South Dakota to Adopt Charter School Law

Until recently South Dakota was one of the remaining ten states without a charter school law. Now, in order to enhance their chance at federal stimulus money, the Race to the Top fund, the state legislature has adopted a law allowing for the establishment of at least one charter school. The new school will be a residential high school for Native American students and authorized by the state.

The charter school was the "centerpiece" of the South Dakota Race to the Top application. Due to additional interest from school districts, the bill's sponsor anticipates the law will be amended next session.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Annual Charter School Conference, Feb. 25 & 26

The annual charter school conference in Colorado will be Feb. 25 & 26 this year in downtown Denver. There will be a time for attendees to speak with their legislators at the Capitol. This year will also feature a strand for charter school authorizers.

The conference is a great time to network with people from other charter schools and pick up information important to leading a charter school. The workshop strands are designed for teachers, board members, business managers, administrators and even parents. Parents will be able to attend some of the sessions for free.

To register or for more information, go to coloradoleague.org

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

DSST Gets Grant to Expand

Media Release from DSST

DSST Public Schools Receives $1.8 Million to Fund Expansion

DENVER – DSST Public Schools received a $1.8 million investment commitment from the Charter School Growth Fund to help fund expansion of its network of schools to serve 4,000 students. The investment will support initiatives to build DSST’s capacity to open and manage new schools and school start up.

DSST Public Schools has announced plans to open four additional secondary schools (grades 6-12) focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) over the next five years. DSST Public Schools has created a charter management organization (CMO) which will manage all five schools. The CMO will be led by Bill Kurtz, CEO DSST Public Schools, who will continue to develop and implement DSST’s nationally renowned school culture and instructional approach throughout all its schools.

“DSST Public Schools has demonstrated an excellent track record of consistently delivering outstanding student achievement performance for its students and sending all of its graduates to college. The Charter School Growth Fund is excited to invest in the organization’s strong leadership team and compelling vision for growth,” said Kevin Hall, CEO of the Charter School Growth Fund.

The Charter School Growth Fund’s mission is to invest philanthropic venture capital in the nation’s highest performing charter school operators to dramatically expand their impact on underserved students. Each year, the Charter School Growth Fund invests in a select number of new charter school operators nationally and plays an active, hands-on role in accelerating the development of their networks.

“We are honored to be selected for an investment by the Charter School Growth Fund. Their support is critical to helping us accomplish our vision of doubling the number of four-year college ready graduates from Denver Public Schools. It represents a strong start to our fundraising campaign and is an important validation of our vision and capacity to accomplish that vision,” said Kurtz.

DSST Public Schools operates open-enrollment STEM Charter Schools and is part of the Denver Public School (DPS) system. DSST Public Schools has been approved to open four additional secondary schools (grades 6-12) with its second campus at Green Valley Ranch scheduled to open in August 2010. At full enrollment, DSST Public Schools will serve over 4,000 students, and will double the number of four year college-ready DPS graduates by 2020.

The founding campus, DSST Stapleton, serves students from all parts of Denver. Founded in 2004, DSST Stapleton is widely considered to be one of the leading open enrollment STEM schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the nation and has become a destination for educators nationwide. DSST Stapleton has consistently been the highest performing secondary school in DPS and in Colorado, based on growth and absolute performance. DSST Stapleton’s first three graduating classes earned 100% acceptances into four-year colleges. Fifty percent of DSST’s 2010 graduating class is first generation college bound.

Additional information about DSST Public Schools and the admission process is available on the school’s web site at www.scienceandtech.org.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Charter School Applicants From Adams 12 Appeal to the State Board of Education

After two years with only one charter school appeal hearing, the Colorado Board of Education has three scheduled for February and March. Lotus School for Excellence tried to replicate by opening a new site in the Jefferson County School District and were denied. That appeal hearing will be heard on February 10th.

Recently the two applicants in the Adams 12 Five Star School District decided to appeal to the state board. National Heritage Academies was behind the Capstone Academy application. NHA already operates Landmark Academy in the Reunion part of Commerce City. Landmark has almost 200 students on a waiting list and has already demonstrated success academically.

Prospect Ridge is the other denied application. Prospect Ridge was a proposed K-12 charter school wanting to use the Core Knowledge curriculum used by almost half of the state's charter schools. The applicants were a group of parents in the area who wanted a charter school that offers rich content and character education with a focus on science and math.

Both applications were for the same general area in northern Adams County. The area borders the St. Vrain Valley School District where a similar school, Aspen Ridge, was recently approved.

Capstone Academy and Prospect Ridge will be heard in March when the State Board of Education meets -- either March 10 or 11.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Kermit Goes to Peak to Peak and Makes the News

It's pretty hard to give the school leaders at Peak to Peak Charter School a pass on yesterday's big news as law enforcement surrounded the school while a news helicopter hovered above. A suspicious package was found in the high school parking lot and reported to law enforcement. Since this was about the time for morning drop-off, parents were directed to return home by law enforcement that had established a perimeter around the school.

Students had a day off school and Kermit the Frog made the news. The suspicious package turned out to be a teacher's beloved Kermit. Rumor has it that the student/s who had taken Kermit didn't know how to return him without identifying themselves as the "thief." It probably won't surprise anyone that these students didn't quite think through the ramifications of leaving the Kermit package unattended in the parking lot.

Hopefully Kermit made his way home to his rightful owner and all are happy. And surely, some students at Peak to Peak have a story to tell their grandchildren someday!

Update: The story was also covered by the Washington Post.
Update: The Boulder Daily Camera story.

Academy at High Point Expands to a New Facility

Litigation against the Charter School Institute has affected the charter schools they authorize in a variety of ways, but most notably in facility financing. Now that the case is closed because the Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear it, CSI charter schools are moving forward with new facilities.

Academy at High Point has been in modulars since they opened out on the prairie south of Denver International Airport. They're located in a brand-new subdivision where anticipated growth slowed considerably the last few years. Undeterred by facility constraints, the school serves over 400 students. Their new facility will be in the same area, at 64th & Tower Road. Another charter school, Omar D. Blair Edison School, is also in the same vicinity.

Monday, January 18, 2010

New York Following Colorado's Charter Schools

Last year the Colorado Department of Education, the state Charter Schools Institute, and the Colorado League of Charter Schools released a common application, checklist for completion and review rubric. Now New York has followed Colorado's lead and is releasing a common application.

The Colorado application is meant to embody everything there is to know about the application and review process. In an effort to bring transparency to chartering, the applicant sees the same information the authorizer uses to review their application.

Colorado's charter schools law requires the applicant to submit a "complete" application before it's reviewed by the potential authorizer. This is a gray area of the law and historically, districts have handled it differently. The common application contains a "checklist for completeness" that allows the authorizer to do a quick review of the application to make sure it's complete. If it's not, the applicant receives a letter from the authorizer and a chance to remedy the incomplete application within a certain time period. Incomplete applications are not reviewed and therefore, not able to appeal, if they are denied.

The review rubric gives the authorizer a standard means of reviewing an application. This is an instrument the State Board of Education asked for when a wide variety of denied applicants came to them on appeal. The Board was looking for standards for what was a "good" application. The common application contains specifics for what should be included and how it should be evaluated.

It's nice that New York's charter school community will now have a means to more fairly evaluate charter school applications. It's especially nice that they've seen fit to follow Colorado's lead.

Friday, January 15, 2010

What Does the Future Hold for Charter Schools in Denver Public Schools?

If this recent Westword article is any indication, getting a new charter school application approved in Denver will be harder than ever.

Currently Denver Public Schools has more charter schools than any other school district in the state. Moreover, additional charter schools are already approved to open over the next several years. But the brakes may be applied by new DPS board members who don't like charter schools. Further, the role charter schools will play in turning around Denver's lowest performing public schools may be limited.

Smartboard Grant for Schools

Today at the Business Manager's Network meeting, Carolyn Flyer from the Morgridge Foundation talked about the Smartboard grant. The website, for more information is: smarttech.com

This grant is primarily focused on Colorado schools--public and private. The grant includes 45 hours of professional development on the technology. Teams of teachers write the grant application and awards are given three times a year.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Jefferson Academy Beats The Pinnacle in Boys Basketball

In one of the best games I've seen in a long time, the two charter schools had a very competitive, back-and-forth game of boys basketball tonight at The Pinnacle. The Pinnacle team came out strong and led almost the entire first half, at one point by ten points. Then with three minutes left in the half, Jefferson Academy took over. The score at half-time was JA 35 and Pinnacle 34.
It was still close at the end of the third quarter with JA at 52 and Pinnacle 49.

The Pinnacle has a new head coach this year and it showedin the team's performance. The JA team had more height than Pinnacle, but the teams were equally matched for much of the game. In the first half Pinnacle had a high percentage of shots completed, but then the inverse seemed true in the second half when JA took over. The game had numerous turnovers in the second half.
The final score was Jefferson Academy 81 and The Pinnacle 71.

Earlier in the week Jefferson Academy beat another charter school: Denver School of Science & Technology. Next Tuesday JA plays The Academy in their gym.

P.S. 1 Charter School in Denver to Close in 2011

Denver Public Schools' Board of Education voted to close their longest-running charter school next year. P.S. 1 opened in 1995 under the leadership of Rex Brown.

The school has suffered low academic performance its entire history. The school serves at-risk youth in downtown Denver at 10th and Delaware. The facility is a beautiful brick, historic building.

At the time P.S. 1's charter school application was being considered by DPS, the district had already denied an application for Thurgood Marshall Middle School. Cordia Booth, an African-American teacher, wanted to open a middle school for troubled youth in northwest Denver. The case ultimately went to the Colorado Supreme Court and a final opinion was released in 1999.

Under pressure from community members and policy makers, the DPS board appeared to respond to a need to approve at least one charter school. After P.S. 1 was approved, it took several more years before another charter school was approved in Denver. During that time, Denver became known as the "last frontier" for charter schools as the board gained a reputation for being anti-charter. It was also during this time period that the DPS board was continuing litigation against the Thurgood Marshall school.

P.S. 1 is one of the three charter schools DPS has targeted for closure or turnaround. Skyland Community is slated to close at the end of the current school year. Northeast Academy has been instructed to use a management company for turnaround.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Charter School Waivers

The hot topic in my world lately has been charter school waivers. Waivers are the technical means by which charter schools operate. For example, a charter school may request waiver from using only licensed teachers. Charter schools, with this waiver, have the flexibility to hire someone who is new to the state or doesn't hold a valid license.

There are two types of waivers for charter schools: delegatory and substantive. Delegatory waivers are the statutes written for local boards of education and the charter school wants to assume the power or authority at their level instead. A good example of this is the authority to set the school calendar. The charter school board determines their calendar, but still meet the minimum number of hours requirement in the statute. So they're doing the same thing a local board of education would do, just at the charter school level.

The other type of waiver is substantive. This is when the charter school does something completely different. In these situations, the charter school must clearly define their replacement plan, why they need this particular waiver and how it will be evaluated. Because charter schools employ their own staff, many of the state laws pertaining to employment don't suit the charter school model. In fact, the teacher employment act is a good example of this and many of these statutes are on the list of waivers that can be automatically waived by the State Board of Education.

A charter school requests waiver from state statutes and rules via their authorizer (school district or the Charter School Institute). The State Board grants waivers to the district on behalf of the charter school. It is the responsibility of the authorizer to ensure the charter school is in compliance with the laws, even if they waive some of them. Often this is done through the contract, but accountability is also through periodic renewal of the charter, annual Accreditation, onsite visits and other means.

In Colorado, there are currently 13 statutes that the State Board will automatically waive, upon request. The CDE keeps track of which waivers are requested and granted and that information is available online.

Charter school applications, and renewal applications, are required to include a request for waivers, which includes a rationale, replacement plan and expected outcome. In addition to requesting waiver from state law and state board rules, the charter school may request waiver from school district policies. Again, some of the district policies aren't suited to charter schools and instead pertain only to the school district. This would include policies related to the teacher collective bargaining agreement.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Humanities Day at Ridgeview Classical Schools

Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins hosted their first Humanities Day on Saturday. I attended, along with my college-age daughter. Incidentally, my daughter plans to be a high school English someday, so it was interesting to get her perspective on the day's sessions.

First, to understand Ridgeview Classical's approach to education, you should read Dr. Florian Hild's, "Doing Literature" article in the school's newspaper, The Conversation. Students at RCS are familiar with discussion as a way to better understand the text and there is an emphasis on understanding why the author wrote the piece.

The format for the two sessions at Humanities Day was the presenter reading an original work for 20-30 minutes and then a discussion on it. This format modeled the RCS philosophy. The piece that was read built a case with arguments, research findings, citations and quotes. In the sessions I attended, much of the piece was focused on the actual quotes used by people present at the time. For example, the quotes of people who were alive and somehow associated with the French Revolution. RCS believes in using original texts to study and formulate beliefs.

Parents, students, alumni and community members attended Humanities Day. My daughter was impressed with the types of questions posed by current RCS students and the depth of knowledge they expressed. Moreover, I thought it was an excellent way to demonstrate to parents what RCS believes about education rather than simply expressing beliefs in writing. There were several mentions of continuing to hold an annual Humanities Day at Ridgeview Classical Schools. It'd be well worth your time to participate next year!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Colorado Charter School Job Fair, March 13, 2010

The only teacher job fair in Colorado that is exclusively for charter schools will be held at Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, on March 13, 2010.

Last year’s event was the first of its kind and was attended by thirty charter schools and over 350 teacher candidates. Despite a major snow storm that hit the same weekend as the job fair, schools from Arizona and New Mexico also attended.

This year, the Charter School Teacher Job Fair is being advertised to over 200 universities in Colorado and nine surrounding states, in order to draw a wide range of teacher candidates. Event organizers will be reaching out to charter schools across Colorado and in all of the surrounding states to encourage participation.

The job fair provides an excellent opportunity for schools to conduct face-to-face interviews with multiple teaching candidates, all in one day, and in a single setting. For new schools opening in the fall of 2010 that need to hire a full staff, this is an extremely valuable opportunity to meet numerous qualified candidates.

For more information about the job fair, visit the Peak to Peak Charter School website, or email charterjobfair@peaktopeak.org

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Blurry Line in Charter Schools: Are They Public or Private?

For years the legal community has debated the legal status of charter schools and its employees. Charter schools have both public and private aspects, especially when a management company is involved. Here are some of the issues:

1. If the administrator is an employee of the management company and a portion of that position's salary is invested in a private retirement account, is that person still a public school employee and therefore eligible for governmental immunity?

2. Regardless of an employees funding source, is he/she a "public employee" if 100% of the time works in a public charter school?

3. Are charter schools that do not apply for and receive nonprofit status with the state or federal government a charter school? Is it necessary for charter schools to seek nonprofit status since they're already a governmental entity under the authorizing school district?

Now the Ninth Circuit of Appeals has issued a ruling based on a case out of Arizona that further blurs the lines for charter schools and their employees. The ruling states that while charter schools are public schools, they are not bound by all public school laws the same as noncharter schools. In the ruling, the court said charter school employees are not "state actors," a legal term associated with federal civil rights law.

In Colorado, charter schools authorized by the state Charter School Institute must also file for nonprofit status. It's a condition of the charter contract because the CSI is a "state agency" in statute and not a school district the same as the 178 school districts in Colorado. CSI functions as a school district in regard to Special Education law, but doesn't have the same governmental entity status as school districts. This makes it necessary for CSI-authorized charter schools to have their own nonprofit status.

Some charter schools don't file for nonprofit status. Especially charter schools closely associated with their school district, don't apply for separate nonprofit status.

The Ninth Circuit ruling appears to apply to a school that is a separate nonprofit and/or operated by a management company. Since every state's charter schools law is a little bit different, it's hard to say how Colorado's charter schools would fare.

It's important for charter school board members to know and understand the school's legal status and make sure it's in policy and other primary documents. If the school is associated with a management company, employee contracts and service provider contracts should explicitly designate employee positions of the management company and their legal status. Board members new to a charter school that's already in a management company (service provider) contract should understand these peculiarities of administrative positions and ramifications of that designation.

Because there are varied legal opinions on this issue, each charter school governing board should consult their school's legal counsel for direction and to ensure adequate documentation.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Irony in Federal Stimulus Money for Education

It's been widely reported that the federal stimulus money for education, including Race to the Top, will go to states favorable to charter school policies. States without a cap on the number of charter schools that can operate and states considered "charter friendly" will benefit from federal stimulus money. Most would think that the federal stimulus money would be shared equitably with charter schools already operating in the state. In Colorado, that's a wrong assumption.

Last spring Gov. Ritter had the opportunity to use the federal stimulus money that came through his office, ARRA or American Recovery and Restoration Act, to backfill the millions cut from charter school capital construction by the General Assembly. Gov. Ritter, never a strong supporter of charter schools, chose not to do that. Having the funds would have allowed the state to apply for federal matching funds for charter school capital construction.

Now the state will be applying for the federal Race to the Top funds. There are no requirements in grant competition guidelines for states to share stimulus money with charter schools. In Colorado, that means most charter schools won't see any of the money they helped bring to the state.

In early December, 14 charter schools in a metro Denver school district that wouldn't disclose how stimulus money had been used, joined together to ask the district's Superintendent to provide detailed information. Charter school leaders knew ARRA money had been used to provide instructional coaches for each of the neighborhood public schools, but when the charter school liaison for the district was asked if charter schools would get either an instructional coach or in some way benefit from the ARRA funds, there was no response. Eventually the district Superintendent responded to a letter by stating the charter schools were not eligible for the stimulus money and the district had no responsibility to consult with or provide an equitable share of the funds to charter schools. While true, the charter schools primarily wanted transparency on how the federal stimulus funds were spent.

Nothing in Race to the Top requires states to ensure stimulus money is shared with charter schools. Even states, like Colorado, with a robust charter school environment and charter schools that generally tend to outperform neighborhood public schools on academic measures, can completely ignore the inclusion of public charter schools in how the funds are appropriated.

Some Colorado school districts have either given a lump sum amount to the charter schools they have authorized or a per student amount. Without any federal or state requirement, these districts have decided all the public schools in the district should share equally.

Update: Colorado Independent article interviewing Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Liberty Common School Expands Through High School

Currently Liberty Common School in Fort Collins serves students through grade nine. That will change in the fall when the school expands to include high school. The authorizing district, Poudre School District, has changed the configuration of their schools by moving ninth grade to the high school. This necessitated the expansion for LCS.

Headmaster Russ Spicer said that the high school will use a liberal arts program with an emphasis on math and science. The school will encourage all students to attend college. Bob Schaffer, chair of the State Board of Education and project manager for the LCS expansion, said that the lower grades will add an additional class in the fall in order to support the new high school. The high school will compete at the 2A level in sports.