Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crown Pointe Academy Celebrates Opening of New Building

After twelve years of having a building on a small piece of land without an opportunity for expansion, Crown Pointe Academy celebrated this afternoon the move into their brand new facility at 86th & Federal in Westminster. The building is named after Bill Christopher, former City Manager for the City of Westminster.

Crown Pointe Academy, a K-8 Core Knowledge Charter School opened its doors in 1997 and remains today as the only district charter school in the Westminster 50 School District.

The school's Building Corp President, Cheryl Olivo-Neil, presented a plaque to Russ Caldwell, one of the school's former governing board members and a key player on the financial team that created the opportunity to fund the new facility. The school's new library is named after Russ Caldwell.

Crown Pointe's founder, Kay May, returned for today's celebration and provided remarks about the formation of the school and why various components were selected for its program design. May now lives in New Hampshire.

The Crown Pointe Academy principal, Barbara Ridenour, has been with the charter school since it first opened. She was originally a teacher at the school before assuming a leadership position.

The school was built by JHL Construction and designed by Slaterpaull Architects.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rounding up the Little Doggies

My friend, Nora Flood, Vice President of the League of Charter Schools donned western chaps and cowboy hat the other day for her all-staff meeting. I was there for a meeting and couldn't resist capturing her picture!

Friday, August 27, 2010

SkyView Academy Opens in Highlands Ranch

Last night over a thousand people showed up to celebrate the grand opening of SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch near C470 and Quebec. The school is located in what was formerly a Home Depot building. Currently they're only using about half of the building. The other half is being rented out every afternoon and evening because it's an indoor sports facility. The school's building has four volleyball/basketball courts, three soccer courts, a batting cage and speed development court.

SkyView Academy will use the Core Knowledge curriculum and will begin with serving the elementary school grades. They've already been approved for a high school to open next fall. The board plans on converting the athletic center into two stories of classrooms for the junior high and senior high.

SkyView's principal is well-known in the charter school community: Merlin Holmes. Merlin is a well-respected former high school science teacher, high school principal, K-12 principal, consultant for the Colo. Dept of Education and consultant for the National Heritage Academies, Inc management company. Merlin had an overabundance of applicants for his new staff and was very selective in developing a high quality team.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall spoke at the grand opening ceremony. He said he's been a long-time supporter of charter schools and commended the school's founders for their work and dedication to improving the community's students. He noted that today's students are tomorrow's leaders.

Founding board president, Jennifer Larson, addressed the crowd by acknowledging the work of several parents in addition to the founding board. She said the building has over 100,000 sf of space and sits on 14 acres. Their plans are to add on to the building since they won't need the 800+ parking spaces currently available.

Daughters of founders Jen Larson and Lorrie Grove introduced their new Executive Director, Merlin Holmes, and gave him several gifts that he would need for the school year. These gifts included a magic wand (because anyone named Merlin should have a magic wand), oversized clown glasses so he could continue to see to implement the grand vision, and a whoopee cushion so that he could be excused from some of the many meetings he's required to attend.

JHL was the contractor for the project, which was designed by SlaterPaul. The design is industrial with concrete floors and open areas above the classrooms. In its previous use, there were no windows. There are now large windows and the west side features a great view of the Colorado's mountain range. For the first time in the state's history, the charter school's authorizing school district -- the Douglas County School District -- floated Certificates of Occupancy for the charter school, essentially cutting the cost in almost half.

The founders of SkyView started NorthStar Academy six years ago. They originally intended to locate that school in Highlands Ranch, but couldn't find a facility. Once an existing charter school facility became available in Parker, they decided to locate their new charter school there. But many Highlands Ranch continued to drive a considerable distance to Parker. The founders voiced appreciation for the Parker site's principal, Cynthia Haws, and Dean of Curriculum, Kendra Sheffield, for their help with the SkyView application.

Update: Highlands Ranch Herald News article.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Charter School Board Discussion in the St. Vrain Valley School District

There's a controversy brewing in the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) over a proposed change to district policy that would require charter school board members to live within school district boundaries. This would be the first time a district will have imposed such a requirement.

According to a Longmont Times-Call editorial, this district policy provision is not warranted because the district's charter schools are doing well and the editorial questions why this change is proposed after a proposed charter school application last year had out-of-district founders.

Last year the Lotus School for Excellence proposed a new charter school using a model similar to the school they already operate in Aurora. The application was denied, in part due to their founders -- and proposed board members -- being from outside the school district. In the Lotus proposal they intended to use their existing governing board to also oversee the new school in Longmont.

It's apparent that the vital issue with this whole debate is where should the line be drawn in charter school authorizing responsibilities. This subject came up in the last legislative session when certain lawmakers wanted to see "something done about" schools like the Cesar Chavez School Network. The top three administrators of the Network were eventually terminated, but it was disclosed that they had extraordinarily high salaries and little accountability. Several lawmakers questioned who had the responsibility to ensure things like that didn't happen.

There are differing viewpoints on where the line should be drawn between charter school accountability and "regulation creep." The charter school philosophy embodies the right of a charter school to operate independently, in exchange for increased results. Leaders in the charter school community have expressed concerns over the years that gradually charter school autonomy has been eroded. In fact, this was an issue in the most recent charter school appeal hearing before the State Board of Education.

This debate about autonomy is likely to be a hot topic at the committee hearings established as a result of HB10-1412, which creates a committee to review charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards. The committee will meet this fall and ultimately, have recommendations for the State Board by August 1, 2011.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Wealth of Information for Parents: SchoolView

CDE has a wealth of information for parents through the SchoolView portal. The Colorado Growth Model provides information on achievement and growth. There are videos and powerpoint presentations to explain terms, how to use the tools and stakeholder roles.

To begin, watch the tutorial. If you don't understand why the state uses the growth model to examine student achievement, watch this video.

Not along ago each school district in the state received their data for the District Performance Framework and each individual public school's School Performance Framework. The data in these reports generate different levels of Accreditation. The State Board of Education accredits each school district in the state. In the past the Accreditation process could be a bit subjective. By using the District Performance Framework (DPF), the Accreditation level is based strictly on data.

The type of data used to determine Accreditation level is different for elementary, middle and high schools. By October 15th, districts must assign an Accreditation category to each of their public schools. By November 15th the State Board and Commissioner of Education will approve the school Accreditation categories and the related plans associated with underperforming schools.

There are four key indicators for School Performance Frameworks (SPFs). These are:

1. Academic achievement: the percent proficient or advanced
2. Academic growth: the median student growth
3. Gaps in academic growth: median growth for subgroups
4. Postsecondary & workforce readiness: graduation rate, drop-out rate, and the ACT composite

High schools are accredited on all four indicators while elementary and middle schools are only accredited on the first three indicators.

The School Accountability Reports are obsolete and the state is now using SchoolView to provide information to parents about their child's school. Parents can compare a variety of schools, using the Growth Model, and get specific information about each school through the School Performance Framework.

Many educators have been learning about the Growth Model and SPF at their trainings conducted before school began this month. Schools will have individual student achievement data to use in making decisions on the types of interventions each student may need. Parents should ask to see this information either at Parent/Teacher conferences or by visiting the school office.