Friday, May 6, 2011

National Online Teacher of the Year From Colorado

Kristin Kipp was recognized by the State Board of Education last year for being one of two Colorado Online Teacher of the Year. Now the 21st Century Virtual Academy (Jeffco) teacher is the National Online Teacher of the Year and will be recognized by the State Board again next Wednesday at their monthly meeting.

Kristin Kipp recently spent a day at the U.S. Department of Education shadowing the Director of the office of Educational Technology. In her blog, she talks about the unique discussions she was a part of during her day at ED. For example, "teacher heavy" programs that rely more heavily upon the teacher's role over the technology-based curriculum.

Congratulations to Kristin Kipp!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Robert Hammond Named Sole Finalist for Commissioner of Education

This afternoon in a unanimous vote, the Colorado Board of Education voted to name acting-Commissioner, Robert Hammond, as the sole finalist for the Commissioner's position. Hammond has been acting as Commissioner since December 2010 when former Commissioner Dwight Jones left to be the Superintendent for the Las Vegas School District.

Hammond has been at the CO Dept of Education for three years where he served as Deputy Commissioner before being named the Acting Commissioner. According to statutes regulating the hiring of public officials, the State Board is expected to name Hammond as Commissioner when it meets next Wednesday for its regular monthly meeting.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Trial and a Debate

Charter school students participated in a mock trial and a debate at the Charter School Day at the Capitol activities on Thursday.

Students from Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins presented an abbreviated mock trial with Secretary of Scott Gessler acting as judge. A typical mock trial last about two hours while this one only last about 45 minutes. Students from Ridgeview Classical earned state honors this year with their mock trial skills.

Following the mock trial, middle school students from Jefferson Academy and Woodrow Wilson Academy debated the funding of K-12 public education. Attorney General John Suthers judged the debate, which went to Jefferson Academy. The two teams were in the finals of the charter school debate league which ended a couple of months ago.

Charter School Day at the Capitol 2011

These pictures are from the rally on the west steps of the Capitol. The rally was hosted by the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Numerous legislators spoke to the crowd of students, parents, teachers, administrators and guests.

The choir from Belle Creek Charter School in Henderson performed several numbers. Students from Global Village Academy in Aurora danced to a Chinese song. Various charter school administrators and board members also addressed the crowd.

Students visiting the Capitol on Thursday took tours, visited meeting rooms, were guests in the House chamber and were surprised with an opportunity to meet and speak with Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Northeast Academy Students Up to the Challenge

The 7th and 8th grade students at Northeast Academy Charter School (NACS) in Denver had a challenging day. It was Challenge Day. Challenge Day is a program designed to break down cliques, prevent bullying and build positive relationships between students. Today's event was held at the Boys and Girls Club of Denver in Montbello.

Numerous activities had students and adults interacting with people they didn't know by talking and doing activities together. The picture is of students playing a game similar to volleyball. The adults around the perimeter had to keep the ball inside the circle and cheer on the students.

Students are taught to Notice, Change, Act. Later in the day students broke up into small groups to discuss ways they can make a difference in their school and community. The entire day was designed to take people outside their comfort zone. For the couple hours I participated, I was definitely outside of my comfort zone!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Parents Deserve to Know

The State Board of Education has adopted new rules that will require school districts to notify parents when an employee is charged with a felony or a misdemeanor sex crime. The board has been considering this change for quite some time. Chairman Bob Schaffer, Fort Collins, noted the Poudre School District failed to inform parents when two former employees were arrested for crimes involving children. The new rules also cover any adult who transports students when arrested for a DUI.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Administrator's Get Legislative Update from League of Charter Schools

Today at the Administrator's Mentoring Cohort (AMC) meeting, Vinny Badolato, from the League of Charter Schools, gave the following legislative update.

1. Win: HB 1089: Collaboratives. Allows charter schools to seek competitive grants within ESEA.

2. SB 188: Moral obligation program. Charter schools go through the State Treasurer’s office to get better bond financing ratings. The bill would have increased the $400 million cap, but that was removed. The bill removes application fees to enter the program. The manager will be the Treasurer’s office. In case of a default, the Treasurer will consult with a team of impacted entities to determine how to handle the potential default.

3. Loss: HB 1055: Improve charter school access to facilities. Passed the House, assigned to Senate State Affairs where it died. Will be reconsidered for next year.

4. HB 1277: Massey’s omnibus bill. Removes unnecessary reporting requirements including

a. Access to data. Designed to eliminate district’s not providing data to their charter schools in a timely manner.

b. Additional criteria for high risk student definition. Adds “over age and under credit” to the definition. This definition is used to define Alternative Education Campuses (AECs)

c. Grant collaborative. The State Board would be able to promulgate rules to allow collaboratives to be designated as the LEA.

d. School Food Authority. Adds charter schools to the entities permitted to be School Food Authorities. Currently charter schools must access the program through one lead school and that school carries all the liability. There are 18 charter schools under one SFA this year.

e. Online reporting requirements. Eliminates annual report to CDE, which has been replaced by requirements in the Financial Transparency Act and the Education Accountability Act.

5. Budget cuts. Cut proposed now is $22.5 million less. Plus a planned mid-year distribution if the June forecast is better. There will definitely be a cut in K-12 funding again next year.

6. New bill by Senator Keith King to be introduced next week. Proposes mill levy matching funds at a quarter of a percent (CVote). Requires districts to include charter schools if they run a mill levy ballot question.

Monday, April 11, 2011

More on SchoolView

The state's SchoolView website has new information again. Now there's a Data Lab feature that allows the user to choose various filters in order to do unique comparisons and reports.

Using the Colorado Growth Model (CGM), it's possible to determine the range a student would need to score in order to be in the "Catch Up, Keep Up and Move Up" categories. These are three categories for students' proposed achievement trajectories. The Catch Up category is for students scoring Unsatisfactory or Partially Proficient on the CSAP. Their proposed trajectory would take them into the Proficient range of scores. Likewise, students in the Keep Up category would be Proficient or Advanced and need to at least keep making a year's progress in order to move forward rather than backward. Move Up is for students in the Proficient category that move into the Advanced.

The Data Center allows for all kinds of exploration and comparisons. There's information on the number of students enrolled, the type of Accreditation ranking districts received, the percentage of Highly Qualified staff, and profiles on individual schools. New information is being added all the time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Denver is Choice Friendly

Fifty-three percent of Denver Public Schools students don't attend the school they would normally attend based on where they live. In 2004 this number was 34%. What's changed? DPS has instituted "choice friendly" policies designed to increase the number of students who attend a school based on the type of educational program it offers instead of its locality. These policies cover a broad array of issues, including:

  • Offering Innovation schools that operate with waivers from things such as the district's collective bargaining agreement and offer a mission-focused, unique type of school.

  • Marketing to inform parents about quality choice options available to them.

  • Conducting parent and community meetings designed to explain the school district's vision for reform and better equip parents to make decisions for their child's education.

  • Closing schools that are not performing academically.

  • Signing the "Denver Compact," an agreement between the charter schools and the district designed to improve communications and reinforce commitments to each other.

  • Ensuring each of the zones in the district (geographical regions) have a complete array of choice offerings and that certain zones don't have the vast majority of choice options.

  • Opening an Office of School Reform and Innovation (OSRI) with a mission to increase choice options and ensure these options are all top-quality.

  • Commiting to offer all DPS students a quality education.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Paradox Valley Charter School

There's an incredible charter school in the state that's also probably the most unique. Paradox Valley School (PVS) is at the end of a 25 mile long canyon. The school is chartered by the West End School District. PVS sits right at the edge of the Utah border. The town sits below a series of switch-backs that take you up the side of a mountain and into Utah. Moab, Utah isn't far from Paradox.

The community school had been closed by the district for a couple of years when the town began to lose it's vital link with each other, which often happens through the school in small towns. Renee Owen was a mother who didn't want to have her children ride the school bus to Naturita, about a half-hour drive away. She did her research and wrote a charter school application. The charter school opened in the original school building, but soon afterwards they added a number of classrooms. The old part of the facility was the lunch room and gymnasium. Renee also worked it out for the school to house a local branch of the Montrose Public Library system.

Now PVS has applied for a BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant and plan to add new space and also renovate their current space. The new build includes a multi-purpose area, library/office and kitchen. In order to qualify for the grant, PVS needs to raise $305,000 by mid-June. If approved for the BEST grant, they'll get $9 for every dollar raised.

I visited the school years ago and was very impressed with the support from the community; especially community members who had no children at the school. The school publishes a newsletter, Paradox Paragraphs, that I read from front to back every time. It's often got a corner for thank you's to people who have donated to the school. I smile as I read about someone donating garden produce for student lunches.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Charter School Business Manager's Network Meeting

Charter school business managers from across Colorado met to discuss a number of pressing issues, including how they would deal with impending budget cuts. Here's a summary of the day's meeting.

* The stimulus money (federal ARRA and EduJobs) goes away this year.

* The teacher salary results (63 of ~160 responding):
a. Highest range of full-time teacher salaries was in the $25,000 to $43,999 category.
b. Lowest full-time teacher mean was $30,000. Lowest range from $13,650 to $40,000.
c. Highest full-time teacher $47,000 mean. Lowest range from $30,000 to $76,688.
d. There were no trends for more mature charter schools or for charter school size.
e. Next teacher salary survey should be percentage of district salary. Plus, survey what benefits schools do pay for.
f. The salary survey will be open through the end of next week (April 1).

* School Fees
a. Should be on fee sheet if the fee is mandatory or optional and if it is optional, what the student will not receive if the fee is not paid.
b. No fees are required (may opt out of any) and the student will not be penalized or not able to graduate or advance to the next grade level.

* Security Systems
a. Some volunteer security systems include instant background checks that identify people with restrictions from accessing a school building.
b. A couple of the schools presenting cover the cost of background checks on their volunteers. Some schools have the parents/volunteers.

* Legislative Update

a. HB 1055: Charter school access to available school property. Will be heard in State Affairs on Wednesday.
b. HB 1089: Grant Opportunities. Headed to the Governor’s desk for signature. Allows charter schools to use the collaborative law to apply for federal competitive grants.
c. School Food Authorities. Will be added to Rep. Massey’s omnibus bill (HB 1277).
d. Timely Access to School Data. Will also be added to Massey’s bill. Data should be distributed to charter schools within two weeks of the district receiving it.
e. HB 1253: Charter School and At-risk Funding. Bill was killed.
f. Change BEST formula. Change the matching fund formula for charter schools.
g. Next year’s charter school capital construction will be around $83 per student (as projected by the JBC).
h. SB 188: Moral obligation bill. Previous version died in the Senate (SB 132), but was reintroduced.
i. HB 1277: Massey’s omnibus bill, which includes changes to online school reporting, overage and under credit student funding changes and School Food Authorities.
j. Senator Bacon is holding a public hearing on public education issues with a goal of generating media attention. Representatives from charter schools are invited to speak at the hearing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Jefferson Academy at State Basketball Tournament

Congratulations to the Jefferson Academy Jaguars boys basketball team for getting second at the state 3A tournament. JA lost to the Faith Christian Academy team 49-41.

The Lady Jags won their game by beating the Pagosa Springs team 41 to 36.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Job Fair Ideal for Brand New Charter Schools

Imagine opening a brand new charter school and having to hire everyone from the maintenance person to a full slate of classroom teachers. Daunting? Yes!

Charter schools opening this fall, including Prospect Ridge Academy (Adams 12) , Loveland Classical School (Thompson) and Ben Franklin Academy (Douglas County), had tables at the Charter School Job Fair to minimize the time and effort needed to tackle the daunting task of hiring an entirely new staff. Reports from school leaders were that they were meeting some very serious candidates and were optimistic that several people would be hired.

Charter School Job Fair

Over 500 teachers showed up for the chance to submit their resumes and hopefully interview with more than 43 charter schools today. The job fair, hosted by Peak to Peak Charter School in Lafayette, allowed for a great networking opportunity for both teachers and charter school leaders in need of staff.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

DSST and W Denver Prep Awarded Federal Grant

The Denver School of Science and Technology Middle School and W Denver Prep - Federal Campus have been awarded a federal EPIC (Effective Practice Incentive Community) grant. The grant is for charter schools that have improved student academic achievement.

DSST will get $72,500 and W Denver Prep $58,000 from this grant, which will be used distribute their best practices to other urban charter school leaders.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

YAFA Wins Remand from State Board

The Youth and Family Academy (YAFA), of Pueblo, won an appeal heard by the State Board of Education this afternoon. The decision remands the matter back to the Pueblo 60 School District for further consideration. The vote was 6-1 with Elaine Berman being the sole dissenter.

Much of the debate centered on the charter school's contention that their growth data showed them doing as well or better than the other 60 Alternative Education Campuses (AECs) in the state. The school, which has been open since 1996 has consistently scored at the very bottom of achievement measures throughout its history. The related concern about student attendance was another area receiving a fair amount of discussion. The district stated the charter school doesn't send any students to truancy hearings even though the service provided by the district, doesn't have any cost for the school.

The board's discussion after both sides presented their cases was about there being an alternative that was a credible place for the students to attend if it weren't for the charter school. Currently the district has an administrator at the charter school and the charter school is operating without a contract or waivers. The district stated they were prepared to take over the school and even pay rent to the charter school's leaders in order to continue to use the facility.

Lotus Loses Appeal to State Board

On a 6-1 vote, the State Board of Education upheld the district's decision to deny the Lotus School of Excellence-Longmont charter school application.

The Lotus board operates a school in the Aurora School District and planned to replicate its program in Longmont. The St. Vrain Valley School District denied the application due to concerns about conflicts of interest, comingling of funds, governance not being local, projected enrollment, facility issues, and it not being a unique choice within the district. The district hit hard on what it considered inappropriate financial transactions by the Lotus board in Aurora, which was that board members secured personal loans to cover facility costs. Loans from two former board members are still outstanding.

The charter school developers explained their intentions for board governance that included parent representation on the board and a School Accountability Committee at each location.

After little discussion the State Board voted for a motion brought by Marcia Neal to uphold the local school district. State Board Chair, Bob Schaffer, was the lone nay vote for the motion. Both Paul Lundeen and Marcia Neal expressed their desire to support charter schools, but were uncomfortable in supporting this particular charter school given concerns that had been raised during the hearing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Frontier Academy Students Win State Academic Competition

Frontier Academy students not only won a state academic competition, they did it by competing against larger schools! Students on Mr. Royle-Grimes' Academic Decathlon team should have competed at the 2A level, but instead chose to participate at the 4A/5A level in order to have more competition.

The team is now eligible to compete in North Carolina in April at the national competition. The team of nine students, all of different academic achievement levels, compete against the intellects of comparable students from other schools in ten categories.

Frontier Academy serves grades K-12 on two campuses in Greeley.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Loveland Classical School Approved to Open

The Thompson School District Board of Education approved Loveland Classical School (LCS) to open in the fall and to serve grades K-9. The charter school application proposed with opening K-11.

The charter school founders met with Thompson School District staff and board members in a workshop session prior to the regular board meeting. During the workshop many of the possible contingencies were discussed. School district board members conveyed the belief that they would have to approve the charter because of pressure from the State Board of Education. LCS appealed the board's earlier decision to deny the charter school application and the applicants were supported by the board in a remand order to the Thompson board. The two parties now have 90 days to work out contract terms.

After being approved, LCS founders announced that their new principal will be David Yu, a teacher at Ridgeview Classical School in Fort Collins and a Thompson high school graduate.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

And the Winner is....Jefferson Academy Jr High

Tonight was the final in the debate league for northwest metro charter schools: Jefferson Academy elementary and junior high, Excel Academy, Woodrow Wilson Academy, Crown Pointe Academy, Twin Peaks Academy and Flagstaff Academy. The league competition began last November. Sixth, seventh and eighth grade students compete against each other in teams of 3-7.

Tonight the championship round was between a team from Woodrow Wilson Academy (affirmative) and Jefferson Academy Jr High (negative) in a resolution stating that the United States should be involved in the United Nations.

Both teams were exceptional with a 7 pt win going to JAJH. Students even brought up recent events in Libya to make some of their arguments.

Congratulations to the league champions and to all the students who participated this year and quite obviously honed their debating skills over the course of the competition!

Cyber School Day at the Capitol

Cyber school families from all over Colorado gathered to celebrate Cyber School Day at the Capitol. The opening session was led by Independence Institute Education Policy Analyst, Ben DeGrow, who talked about the prevalence of online education in the state and the choice options available to families. Later, there was a rally on the west steps of the Capitol.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Charter Friends 2011

Randy Zimmerman (left) and Dr. Rod Blunck (right) received 2011 Charter Friends awards at this year's Charter School Conference.

Randy Zimmerman, is the director of the CIVA Charter School in Colorado Springs 11. He received the Charter Friend for School Leaders award.

Rod Blunck, Supt. of the Brighton 27-J School District, received the Charter Friend for District Leaders award. Dr. Blunck also received this award when he was the Superintendent of the Elizabeth School District.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bob Schaffer Addresses Charter School Conference

State Board of Education chair, Bob Schaffer, addressed the League of Charter Schools' 17th annual conference. In his remarks, Mr. Schaffer spoke about the struggles he and his wife, Maureen, encountered with enrolling their own children in public school before helping to start Liberty Common School.

Mr. Schaffer also told about the origins of the charter school movement in the state, when he was a State Senator. In 1992 Rep. John J. Irwin, of Loveland, introduced a charter school bill that died in the House. The following year, in 1993, then-State Senator Bill Owens (R-Aurora) introduced the Charter School Act, which was co-sponsored by Rep. Peggy Kerns (D-Denver). The bill ultimately passed by a narrow margin in the Senate and went on to be signed by then-Gov. Roy Romer. Mr. Schaffer reminded everyone that initially charter schools were viewed as an experiment and that only 50 charter schools were permitted in the first legislation. In 1998 when the sunset provision was lifted, the cap on the number of charter school was lifted.

Mr. Schaffer also spoke about proposed budget cuts for K-12 public education. He said that because of charter schools having control over their own budgets, their nimbleness and flexibility to respond to budget cuts will afford charter schools a better opportunity for creativity. He noted that the State Board of Education grants waivers to public schools, in addition to charter schools, and suggested that more districts may look at the waiver process as a way to handle drastic budget cuts. Schaffer noted that the Governor's proposed budget cuts meant about $470 per student in the Poudre School District, where he's the Principal of a charter school.

Schaffer also talked about national assessments and their impact on public school choice, especially in regard to academics. He noted that standards drive assessments and then those assessments can become the only measure to determine if a charter school is successful. Instead, Schaffer said that the success of a charter school should be determined by the cash flow generated because parents choose the school for their children.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Gov. Hickenlooper's Budget Projections Hit Hard

This afternoon Governor John Hickenlooper presented his budget to the Joint Budget Committee of the Legislature. Amongst a number of cuts, the Hickenlooper budget includes closing a state prison, a drug treatment program and a residential health care program, repurposing four State parks, reducinglocal grants and the restoration of a 4% budget reserve.

The Governor's letter explaining the budget is here. The letter states that 41% of the state budget is spent on K-12 education. The total reduction for Total Program Funding will be at $836 million.

Vody Herrmann, the Asst. Commissioner and Director of Public School Finance, followed the Hickenlooper budget presentation with an email explaining the Governor's budget and providing additional detail for school districts here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Loveland Classical Schools Supported by State Board of Ed

In a 6-1 vote, the State Board of Education voted to remand the Loveland Classical School charter school appeal back to the Thompson School District for further consideration.

Thompson has only one charter school -- New Vision Charter School - and it also had to appeal before being approved by the local district. The district has less than 2% of its students enrolled in the charter school. The state average is 8.97%.

The district used the new charter school application review rubric and pointed out deficiencies in the application based on that review. Attorney for the charter school, Barry Arrington, pointed out that no charter school application is perfect and with a 1,000 page application, the charter applicants had certainly provided everything necessary to be approved to open a new charter school.

A couple of State Board members raised concerns about the short timeline in which to open a new school and Chairman Bob Schaffer pointed out that Liberty Common School in Fort Collins (which he helped start) was approved in June and opened two and a half months later. He also noted that most of the charter school either have just as short a timeline, or even shorter.

Loveland Classical School plans to open with grades K-11 in the fall. They already have almost 1,000 students already expressing an interest in attending.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

SB11-132, Charter School Capital Construction

Senator Keith King introduced a bill pertaining to charter school capital construction, SB 132. The bill shores up the moral obligation fund in the State Treasurer's office. When the Cesar Chavez Academy and Dolores Huerta Prep in Pueblo nearly went under, it became apparent that the state taxpayer would be fulfilling the school's obligation on the charter school facility should they default on their bond. Bond issuers became concerned about the moral ob fund and thus, this bill is meant to address those concerns.

The bill also increases the amount available in the fund from $400 million to up to $500 million. Additionally, the bill would allow the County and Municipality Development Revenue Bond Act to allow bonding for public education facilities. Currently, only the Colorado Educational & Cultural Facilities Authority can issue bonds on behalf of charter schools.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

HB 11-1089, Charter School Institute as LEA for Grants

For many federal grants, only an LEA, or Local Education Agency, can apply. LEAs are typically school districts. A new bill has just been introduced into the Colorado General Assembly that would permit the state Charter School Institute to act as an LEA for the purposes of applying for federal grants. The bill, HB 1089, sponsored by Rep. Conti and Sen. K King, was heard in House Ed on Monday afternoon.

The committee amended the bill to require charter schools to notify their school district if they intend to apply for a grant through CSI. The committee approved the amended bill on a 10-3 vote and sent it to the floor of the House for second reading.

Monday, January 31, 2011

SB11-069, Charter Educational Management Organizations

SB11-069 has been introduced by Sen. Hudak (D-Arvada, Westminster). The title is "Educational Management Organizations," which in the bill, has a very broad definition to include nonprofits that replicate existing successful schools.

The bill establishes a fee-based certification process through CDE that is similar to the online certification process enacted in 2007, SB 215. The process requires CDE to evaluate an application and then provide continuing monitoring and oversight. The bill also limits the terms of contracts with EMOs to two years subject to annual review. It requires a charter school using an EMO to review the EMO's performance at least annually.

SB 69 also requires the HB 1412, charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards advisory committee, to make recommendations on EMOs. On Jan. 5th the committee held a hearing on management company issues.

In Colorado, the term Education Service Provider (ESP) is generally used for all sorts of management companies. EMOs are generally for-profit management companies and Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) are nonprofit. CMOs may include one-off replications. Hudak's bill defines EMOs to mean all types of management companies and doesn't clearly differentiate for vendors contracting with districts for specific services such as operating an online school.

The sample contract language has an attachment dealing with ESP provisions that should be considered by charter school governing boards and charter school authorizers. Further, the contract has an attachment for board members to disclose a number of things including a conflict of interest with the management company. These types of examples provide increased awareness about the issues of greatest concern for quality relationships.

Update: SB 69 will be heard in Senate Education on Thursday, Feb. 10th.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Charter School Time Capsules

A couple of weeks ago I was at a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new charter school and they mentioned having a time capsule that will be unveiled in 50 years. It reminded me of the one we did at Jefferson Academy almost ten years ago when the new high school facility was built.

Students from each grade wrote a paper and various objects were contributed such as an old cell phone, a JA yearbook and a newspaper. I remember one of the students talking about hearing the heavy equipment preparing the ground as he wrote. Several of the founding board members wrote about the beginning years and what it meant to them.

Later when the steel was erected, we took a picture of the entire school body (at the time) and that now hangs in the high school building. It's quite large, probably 40 in by 40 in and every time I've seen it, it's got numerous smudge marks where students point to themselves in the picture. It's a great way to remember the struggles we went through creating the 13th charter school in the state.

The time capsule is in a large PVC pipe, similar to this photo, with caps at both ends. It's anchored to the southwest corner of the building in what is now the Principal's office. My daughter has the responsibility of digging it out in 2051.

In its sixteenth year of operation, Jefferson Academy has numerous students who are younger siblings of previous students. In fact, my son teaches in the junior high and teaches younger siblings of his former peers. Soon it will be the children of JA graduates that enroll at the charter school.

Everyone who goes through all the work to start a charter school, especially those who labor to finance and build a new facility, should consider putting together a time capsule!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Number of Charter School Students in the State Almost Matches Denver's Enrollment

Just a couple hundred more students enrolled in charter schools and the total would surpass Denver's enrollment. The funded count of charter school students, using Oct 2010 data, is 69,951.5 and Denver's enrollment is 70,160.5. This means charter school students, collectively, represent the third largest school district in the state, right behind Denver and Jefferson County.

Last year the Adams 12 school district had the largest percentage of charter school students, but this year they slipped to third place. Brighton rose to the top again with 18.71% of their students enrolled in charter schools and Falcon 49 was second with 18.37% enrolled in charter schools. Adams 12 had 16.72% in charter schools.

Jefferson County, the largest school district in the state with 80,044 students ranked 19th in the list of districts with charter school students. Jeffco charter schools enroll 5,307 students for 6.63% of the total enrollment.

One of the eligibility criteria for a school district to qualify for exclusive chartering authority is having more than 3% of charter school students than the state average. This year that state average grew to 8.97%, up from 8.20% last year. Nine districts have enrollments above 3% over the state average: in addition to the three districts already mentioned, Cheyenne Mountain has 16.03%, Greeley 15.32%, Harrison 14.36%, Academy 14.04%, Lewis-Palmer 13.21% and Douglas 11.99%.

Taking these comparisons to the national perspective (using 2009 data) Adams 12 ties for twelfth place in school district market share (Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, A Growing Movement: America's Largest Charter School Communities, 2010).

In the same report Brighton ties for 13th place, Falcon ranks 15th, and Pueblo 60 ranks 17th. Colorado has a total of ten districts with more than 10% market share according to the report. Denver Public Schools has 10% in this report. Now that DPS has exceeded 30 charter schools their percentage is sure to increase in the future.

The top two school districts with the highest market share of charter school students are 1) New Orleans Public School System and 2) District of Columbia Public Schools. New Orleans has 61% of their students enrolled in charter schools. After Hurricane Katrina many of the region's schools were replaced with public charter schools in an effort to use the restructuring required due to hurricane damage to also reform the school system. The District of Columbia has 38% of its students in charter schools.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Charter School Appeal History in Colorado

It's widely believed throughout the state that "the State Board of Education always supports charter schools" in appeal hearings. The facts say different. Of the 155 appeal cases that have been filed, 100 have been heard. Of those 100 hearings, the State Board backed the district 57 times on first appeal. The other 43 times the State Board remanded the matter back for further reconsideration, thereby supporting the charter school applicants.

Supporting the school district the majority of the time was also true in the early years of charter schools in Colorado. Before 2000 there were 53 charter appeal hearings and 32 times the State Board supported the district's decision to deny the charter application.

From 2004 to 2007 there were 44 appeal hearings filed. It was during this period that the State Board members began searching for another way to conduct appeal hearings. Members Randy DeHoff and Karen Middleton convened a couple of meetings to discuss alternatives which included expert reviewers, a rubric for reviewing charter applications and as different type of hearing process.

This discussion led to the creation of the standard charter school application, checklist for completion and review rubric in 2008 and then charter school appeal hearings dropped dramatically. In 2007 there were 10 appeal hearings and that dropped to one in 2008 and none in 2009.

The development of the standard applcation by the CDE, Colorado League of Charter Schools and the Charter School Institute was revolutionary in that it was the first time the "three C's" collaborated on a project. And it was only the beginning.

Following the standard application, charter school authorizers asked for sample contract language. That was developed in 2009 and just recently revised. The sample contract has something for everyone to love or hate. Some of the provisions are tougher than districts currently use. The contract delineates the responsibilities of both the charter school and the charter school authorizer; a first for many Colorado charter school authorizers to consider.

There has been eleven times that the State Board of Education ordered a district to open a charter school. However, that has only resulted in one charter school actually opening (Imagine Charter School at Firestone).

The first time the State Board took this type of action, the case was taken to the state Supreme Court. Thurgood Marshall Charter Middle School was proposed by an African-American teacher in Denver -- Cordia Booth. The Supreme Court ruling declared that while the State Board did have authority to order a district to open a charter school, it could not dictate the provisions of the contract.

When the Charter Schools Act was adopted in 1993 it was a pilot program with a sunset of 1998. When the sunset provision was lifted, almost half of the charter schools in the state were open due to the appeal process.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Online Education Enrollment Increases Again

According to the Colorado Department of Education there are 15,249 students in online schools or programs. This is a 14% increase from last year. The total percent of public school students in online programs is 1.8 a jump from 2002-03 when it was just .25% of enrollment.

There are 22 certified multi-district online schools operating in Colorado. Only four of those are charter schools, which means that the bulk of them are operated by school districts in an effort to keep students that don't fit in a regular classroom model.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Janus International School Appeal Fails with State Board

The State Board of Education voted unanimously to support Denver Public Schools' decision to not approve Janus International Charter School's application. Charter applicants had difficulty communicating their vision. Moreover, probably the most damaging fact was the applicant's acknowledgement that they had no students at all.

Testifying for DPS staff, a member of the Application Review Team (ART), noted that the entire application lacked coherency. For example, the school said they'd be implementing the IB curriculum, but that wasn't reflected in their budget.

New board members Paul Lundeen (5th CD) and Dr. Debbe Scheffel (6th CDE) both asked questions during the hearing and voiced their support for high quality charter schools. Ultimately, all seven State Board of Ed members voted against the charter school applicant.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Management Company Issues Discussed at Today's HB 1412 State Advisory Committee Meeting

Today the HB 1412 State Advisory Committee for quality standards for charter schools and charter school authorizers met at the Colorado Association of School Boards meeting room. The morning began with representatives from the charter school management company community providing public testimony and participating in a general discussion about key issues.

EMOs, or education management organizations, are generally for-profit. CMOs, or Charter Management Companies, are generally nonprofit and include schools that replicate, oftentimes under a single governing board. The discussion included both types of management companies.

Since Colorado has more grassroots startup charter schools and fewer management company operated schools than other states, there has been some negative perceptions created over the years. Many of those issues were raised today with very little consensus, if any, on what could be done to mitigate the misperceptions in the future.

Some of the issues were:
* How to prevent a charter school from getting into a contract with a management company that has a "poison pill" that makes it nearly impossible to "fire" the management company and still maintain a charter school.
* Which entity should hold the assets?
* Both the charter school governing board and the management company should have separate legal counsel and negotiate an "arms length" agreement.
* There needs to be more training information available for new charter school boards and charter school authorizers so that people are aware of what needs to be discussed because oftentimes people don't even know what questions to ask.
* Relationships are important and not just for the charter school and the management company, but also the authorizer and the management company.
* A certain level of academic achievement is required by the charter school contract and it implies that the management company is responsible for producing a certain level of academic results or else it's the company's responsibility to make necessary changes.
* Transparency is vital, especially as it relates to financial arrangements.

The next committee meeting will be on Feb. 2nd and there will be a public hearing on online education issues. Today's committee also established a timeline for its work, which primarily is a report to the legislature with recommended legislation or state board of education rule changes. The committee report will also outline a proposed implementation plan for the recommendations.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is Normal?

I was just at a charter school where we had a discussion about "what is normal"? Oftentimes, charter school leaders and board members don't know what it's like at another charter school so they don't have a perspective of what "normal" is. They don't know if what they're doing is routine or extraordinary.

The best way to cure this problem is to get out and visit other charter schools! This applies to governing board members, principals, business managers, curriculum directors, teachers, and simply: everyone!

One of the best parts of my job is that I have been to almost every charter school in the state and get to see the incredible things happening at these schools. A lot of what I do is spread the word to others who may be struggling in a particular area or need an idea for how to handle a situation. Many of these best practices are on the CDE website: either in the eguidebook of best practices, the administrator's handbook, or the governing board training modules. The charter school community is very open to sharing, without reservation, and so there is an ideal climate for gaining from each other's experiences.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Jefferson Academy Beats Peak to Peak at Pepsi Center

In a game that was dominated by the Jefferson Academy Jaguars the entire time, JA beat Peak to Peak 77 to 48. Most of the game the Jaguars' score was double that of P2P, but in the last quarter the JA Junior Varsity allowed Peak to Peak to pick up a few additional points.

Both teams clearly enjoyed playing at the Pepsi Center. Jason Propst, JA's forward and 6'5" dunked the ball just before the half.

Head Coach Mark Sharpley's son, Bryson, played much of the game although he didn't start. Bryson is 6'6" and just a freshman.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

What's Wrong with the Turnaround Model

U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been very vocal about the need to turnaround the bottom 5% of the nation's public schools.

Without delving into this subject from a national policy perspective or commenting on the likelihood of the initiative's success (or cost!), one of the proposed remedies given to chronically underperforming public schools is to become a public charter school. This means "being a charter school" is both the punishment and theoretically, the remedy.

Colorado already went through this years ago when the management of Cole Middle School was put up for bid and eventually KIPP took over the failing school. This sanction was imposed under state law that preceeded No Child Left Behind's comparable provisions. KIPP Cole was open for two years, plagued by numerous problems and then closed with everyone admitting it was a mistake.

First, the KIPP philosophy requires that the student (and family) are totally committed. It's a rigorous model of extended day, extended year and about half of the Saturdays during the school year. It's tough. Many KIPP Cole families weren't prepared for just how tough it would be and balked during the implementation.

KIPP Cole's first principal resigned before the new charter school even opened the doors. Eventually Rich Harrison became the princpal. Rich started as a teacher at KIPP Cole but moved up when there really weren't too many options for leadership in the building.

Many of the Cole neighborhood families chose other educational options for their students. The first year at KIPP Cole there were only about 60 students. It was very difficult to establish a KIPP culture in that type of environment. KIPP Cole was upstairs in the 3-story, 100 yr old Cole building. The district put an alternative high school in the lower level of the building. Students chose KIPP Cole simply because they couldn't figure out another place to go or because they had a delusional view of what the school would be like.

The research I've read says that for the first two to three years, a turnaround school looks worse than it did before turnaround. Further, the cost for turnaround is significantly higher for the first few years (Mass Insight estimates the cost as $250,000 to $1 million per school, per year).

Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel of Public Impact, writing in Education Next in the Winter of 2009, stated their researched identified six strategies for turnaround:

1. Focus on a few early wins.
2. Break organization norms.
3. Push rapid-fire experimentation.
4. Get the right stuff, right the remainder.
5. Drive decisions with open-air data.
6. Lead a turnaround campaign.

A public charter school, operating under a three-year contract term, has a great deal of pressure to show increased academic achievement right away. There is little flexibility for changes in administration, inexperienced teachers and the need for an entirely new school culture. And yet that's what is expected -- right away!

Colorado's first turnaround effort showed that turnaround is extremely difficult. The Hassels estimate about 70% of turnarounds won't be successful. So what can Colorado do differently this time around for new charter schools attempting to turn around low performing communities?

Have patience and provide support. Charter school authorizers need to realize that there will be many mis-steps along the way. Rather than shoot the turnaround leaders, authorizers should provide support to identify different strategies or provide technical assistance. Policy makers and school district leaders should be careful to not continually put the turnaround school in the spotlight (like was done with KIPP Cole). Being in the spotlight highlights every mis-step that's made. Whereas other neighborhood schools would get the opportunity to make mistakes outside of the media's attention, a turnaround school doesn't get the same luxury.

The vast majority of schools identified as needing turnaround are choosing to be reconstituted rather than convert to charter school status. Being reconstituted means a new principal and the majority of teachers are replaced, but the school stays under the district's leadership and teachers may continue to operate under the district's collective bargaining agreement with the teacher's union. In other words, flexibility is limited.

In the state, eyes are on Denver as its approach is to put high performing charter school replications in neighborhoods where the schools are chronically not performing. W Denver Prep, DSST and SOAR are all starting new schools in neighborhoods that are struggling academically.

Let's all hope these new schools get patience and support from Denver Public Schools in their new venture. And most importantly, let's all hope the students in these neighborhoods have the opportunity for a better education -- and life -- as a result of these efforts!