Thursday, August 30, 2012

Online Charter School Application Now Available in Colorado!

Charter School Solutions has developed a web-based system to review charter school applications that is based on the Colorado Standard Application and Review Rubric. This is the first time charter school authorizers can use an online system to evaluate and summarize evaluations. The new system is called CHART: CHarter school Application Review Tool.

The online system allows both CSS experts or district staff to evaluate using the detailed rubric. Each line of the rubric is scored (a 4-part rubric) and there are text box sections for strengths, concerns and comments/questions. A district authorizer can contract with CSS either to have a CSS expert review the application and/or their own staff use the system.

CHART can be programmed to either generate a single report from an evaluator, or to summarize up to 5 evaluators. For example, a single charter school application could have three reports from evaluators: 1) a report from the CSS expert/s evaluation; 2) a summary report from district staff reviewing the entire application; and 3) a summary report from district staff reviewing only certain components of the application.

Each summary report shows how each evaluator scored each line of the rubric and then quantifies the score and provides an average. At the end of each evaluation, the evaluator is prompted to give a whole number evaluation score to the charter school application. For example, the quantified score of the evaluation could be 2.45 and it would up to the evaluator's discretion to either assign an overall score of 2 or 3.

The State Board of Education's rules for charter school authorizers stipulate authorizers should use external experts for charter school application review. In fact, for years State Board members have asked how the application process could be standardized and provide more objective information for appeal purposes. The new CHART system provides that objective review.

Contact Charter School Solutions for more information on CHART or to see what it looks like.


Friday, August 24, 2012

COVA Seeks to Transfer Charter

The Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA), operated by K12 Inc., has submitted an application to the state Charter School Institute to transfer its charter beginning in 2013.

COVA began in Colorado as a program of The Academy Charter School in Westminster. It later obtained its own charter through the Adams 12 School District.

The charter school serves more than 5,000 students virtually across the state. Currently the school is a K-12, but in the transfer application the school requests two separate charters, one for K-8 and a second for the high school.

The Charter School Institute board will have a hearing on the transfer application in October before making a decision on the COVA transfer application at its Nov. 20th board meeting.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Should Management Companies Take Over Failing Schools?

The answer is YES! Management companies have the systems in place to start a new charter schools with most of the burden borne by the central office and a proven educational program that has already been known to demonstrate success with particular student populations.

There are a few key elements in that statement above about management companies. For example, a "proven educational program" is an essential component to predicting success in a failing school takeover. The management company should have already demonstrated that they can take a particular student demographic and significantly raise student achievement scores. Takeovers or turnarounds are exponentially more difficult than a regular charter school and shouldn't be attempted by any but the most hardy of people and organizations. It certainly isn't the time to experiment.

Management companies typically have gone through all the growth phases of a new company and know what works and what doesn't work. This means they're less likely to compromise on their values, even under intense pressure from the authorizer. If a company values student/teacher ratios as a key component of why their model is successful, they're not going to increase that ratio simply to make the budget easier to work with.

Management companies also typically have the financial resources to pad some of the impact associated with opening a new charter school. They can temporarily cover the initial startup costs and even make the initial myriad of purchases less burdensome. New charter school Principals should be concerned about purchasing desks when they have an entirely new staff to hire and a curriculum to implement.

Charter management organizations (CMO) tend to have ties to the local community that provide the human element. A CMO is going to make sure the endeavor is successful because they feel a responsibility to the students and families in the area. It's not just about turning a profit or developing a takeover/turnover reputation. It's about improving the future for students in their schools because they are their neighbors.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dealing with Bad Board Behavior: Advice, Part 7

Most everyone who joins a charter school board either has an ego or an agenda. OK, maybe I'm being a little bit cynical, but it's rare to find the board member who just wants what is best for the students and has an attitude of servitude. However, I have met many of those board members in Colorado!

But what can be done if board members are doing their own thing or simply crossing the line into management instead of maintaining a governance role?

First, every board should have a Board Agreement that they have adopted and sign annually. This serves as the foundation when problems arise. The agreement details expected behaviors and outlines the values the board uses to govern. An errant board member should be addressed by the Board President using this agreement. Ensuring signatures each year increases the likelihood the board members will review the document again and try to adhere to its principles.

Of course, not everyone will readily admit to mistakes and became an effective team member after a conversation with the President. But it is the first step. There's no provision in the Open Meetings law to allow a board to discuss their differences in Executive Session. That means that unless the behavior warrants a discussion at the board table (in public), the matter must be addressed outside the board room. This implies no more than two board members can be present since having three board members requires a posted meeting notice.

If the errant behavior continues, the board President should document the matter whenever possible. Sometimes putting things in writing is more clear. The board President should take the time to refer to founding documents (e.g., board agreement, bylaws, board policies) that have been accepted by previous boards.

Another potential strategy is to use the Governing Board Administrator Roles worksheet. The worksheet is a discussion tool for a board workshop. By using this, the board, as a whole, can have a discussion about what is the proper role of the board without it being focused on one individual. If only one board member disagrees during these discussions, it becomes apparent that the norm is quite different.

During a time of board member misbehavior, it's especially important for the Board President to repeatedly draw a very strong line for what is right and wrong. The rest of the board is looking to the President for this type of leadership. Moreover, the staff needs this type of leadership to ensure stability and job satisfaction. The degree that the organization is impacted by an individual board member's misbehavior is directly related to the leadership of the Board President.

Sequentially, if the above strategies haven't worked, another idea is to plan a meeting with additional people. Ideally, others would include respected individuals in the charter school community or from the school. This might include a former administrator, the school's founder or a consultant. It should be someone with objectivity and experience. This allows the situation to become more objective and more focused on what's best for the school as a whole, rather than the individual. This meeting should be focused on solutions and commitments to better behavior. The meeting should be memorialized, in writing, and any commitments agreed to included.

Knowing that even after all these attempts to deal with a rogue board member, there still could be a need for further intervention, the next step is probably a discussion with the full board. This should be placed on the meeting agenda under something like "Discussion on the proper role of board members." All board members should be willing to engage the errant board member in expectations for proper behavior. At this point it's no longer just the role of the Board President to intervene.

As a last resort, some state nonprofit corporation law permits board members to be voted off by a majority of the remaining board members. Consult an attorney before attempting this. In this scenario, the board would vote on a written resolution that details specific behaviors, written documents (emails), statements, and actions. The resolution should be fact-based and objective. Take the high road. This includes noting the previous attempts to deal with the board member in other settings.

The importance of regular board training cannot be stressed enough when it comes to dealing with bad behavior. Most people get caught up in something when they don't fully understand what's expected of them. A gentle nudge to get back in line is much easier to deal with than addressing a situation that's hurting others within the school system. Colorado's charter schools can use the online board training modules at: boardtrainingmodules.org to provide fundamental training. The website also includes discussion questions for boards to use. Take advantage of this beneficial free resource!

Note: The online board training modules are beneficial for anyone on a charter school board, not just in Colorado. Although pieces of the training content are Colorado-specific, the vast majority is not. Further, most states have comparable laws for things such as Open Meetings.