Saturday, October 24, 2009

Jeffco Approves Two New Charter Schools

This week the Jeffco Board of Education voted to approve two new charter schools: Twin Roads High School and the Rocky Mountain Deaf High School.

Twin Roads is the high school to an existing home-based option the district has operated for many years. Many of the same families in the home school program will enroll full-time to attend the high school.

Rocky Mountain Deaf School opened as a K-8 and teaches American Sign Language. The newly approved high school portion will continue the existing program.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Who Holds the Charter?

States across America have different laws regarding who can hold the charter: a network board or the individual charter school board. In California, the authorizer contracts with a network for numerous boards. If a charter applicant is deemed a charter school with statewide impact the board can have ten separate schools via a streamlined process.

Other states, such as Florida and Michigan, don't allow an authorizer to contract for multiple charter schools. Every contract is with an individual charter school board.

This is a very big issue in Colorado now where the Charter School Institute recently changed from contracting with the Cesar Chavez Network board for individual contracts with GOAL Academy and Cesar Chavez Academy-North Colo. Springs (now called Scholars to Leaders Academy). Both of the CSI charter schools created their own governing boards under a Memorandum of Understanding between the CSI board and the Network. The two schools are now operating independent of the Network.

Now that the Network only has two charter schools -- Cesar Chavez Academy-Pueblo and Dolores Huerta Academy - the Network is little more than a defunct structure. The Network CFO, Jason Guerrero, is wrapping up business affairs in consultation with the Network's legal counsel. In negotiation is which entity will assume debts and where the assets will reside. Resolving these issues could take years.

NACSA Conference in Salt Lake City

I'm in Salt Lake City for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference. Today I'll be attending sessions on replication, closure and accountability. The hot topic in the charter authorizer community is hot to close unperforming charter schools. Another hot topic follows the trend in the past few years of replicating successful charter schools. Many of these replications use the same nonprofit charter management organization to oversee multiple schools.

I'll be twittering today @cocharters about the conference.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What's Going on in Denver?

Denver Public Schools has authorized more charter schools than any of the other 177 school districts in Colorado. Presently, 21 are operating and many more have been approved to open over the next few years.

Scoring #1 and #2 in the district according to the DPS School Performance Framework is Denver School of Science and Technology (DSST) and W Denver Prep. Both of these existing charter schools have been approved to replicate their existing programs in other parts of the district. Clearly, everyone in Denver sees the benefit of having independently-operated, successful charter schools. Right?

Not according to at-large Board of Education candidate, Christopher Scott, who seems to liken public charter schools to the plague. Forget that parents are flocking to these schools across the state with more than an estimated 35,000 on waiting lists for the more than 160 charter schools operating this school year.

One could think that Mr. Scott doesn't like public charter schools because he's aligned with the teacher's union, but in Denver the teacher's union has started an innovation school called Math and Science Leadership Academy.

Instead it seems that Mr. Scott is a part of the old education bureaucracy whose philosophies drove us to needing charter schools in the first place. When educrats aren't responsive to parents, parents find a way to go around them. They certainly don't elect them to the school board and trust that they know better than the parents who are raising these children.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

When Schools Compete

North of the metro Denver area there is a competition for elementary school students brewing and it could end up being a free-for-all.

The St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) has announced its plans to open a new elementary school in Erie and the school will offer the Core Knowledge curriculum, popular with many parents. There are presently two charter school applications in the process and all are targeting the same group of students.

To put this into context, a little history is important to note. Twin Peaks Academy opened in Longmont in 1997 after an extensive battle of appeal hearings to the State Board of Education and numerous application attempts. Then Peak to Peak opened in Lafayette after yet more struggles, which included delaying a year due to the lack of a facility. Peak to Peak was in such high demand about five years ago that only siblings of current students could get into the Kindergarten class. Disillusioned, parents who couldn't get their children into Peak to Peak formed to start Flagstaff Academy, which was originally intended to open in Erie, but had to locate in Longmont due to facility issues. In the meantime, Imagine Classical at Firestone was approved, again after appeals and delays, with the SVVSD.

With all of these charter schools offering the Core Knowledge curriculum, you'd think it would have reached a saturation point, but quite the opposite is true. Prospect Ridge and Foundations Academy have both applied to the Adams 12 School District and are attempting to locate in the Erie area. Again, both applicants are proposing schools that will use the Core Knowledge curriculum. Further, most of the charter schools already open have extensive waiting lists, some into the thousands.

The Erie area is close to borders of the Boulder Valley School District, the St. Vrain district, and the Adams 12 district. Therefore, it's likely that any school that opens could compete for students and draw them across district boundaries.

Now the St. Vrain district Superintendent, Don Haddad, announces a new elementary school in Erie. Not taking into consideration the controversy about the district's plans to open the new school in modules, when a few years ago they criticized Imagine Classical at Firestone for opening in modules that weren't "safe," the district has apparently heard loud and clear the call from parents for more Core Knowledge schools. The district is now in the game!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Developing Charter Schools

It's that time of year again when numerous developing charter schools have applications in and are undergoing public hearings. It's also the time for tier one of the Colorado Charter School Grant Program.

Some of the new charter applicants include:
1. Manny Martinez, an Edison Learning school in Denver Public Schools
2. W Denver Prep #3 and #4, both will be in northwest Denver
3. Colorado Springs Vocational Academy has applied in Colorado Springs 11
4. Provost Academy is an online Edison Learning School authorized by the Charter School Institute
5. Rocky Mountain Deaf High School, Jeffco, an extension to the already operating K-8 ASL charter
6. Foundations Academy, a National Heritage Academies school applying in Adams 12 Five Star
7. North Star Academy-West, a replication in Highlands Ranch of the existing school in Parker
8. Mountain Middle School, applying to CSI and located in Durango
9. Denver Language School, DPS, a Mandarin Chinese and Spanish language school
10. Prospect Ridge, Adams 12, Core Knowledge K-8 in Erie
11. Mountain Career Online, applying to CSI from Pagosa Springs
12. Global Village Academy #2, applying in Denver and already operating a K-8 in Aurora

Jeffco's Board of Education votes on their four charter school applications next Thursday, the 22nd. Douglas County is going to wait until after the Nov. election results. Within the next two months numerous new charter school applications will be approved. It's that time of year again!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Teaching from Where?

A North Dakota State University economics professor is teaching from her post in Iraq. The professor is with the Minnesota Army National Guard and was deployed to Iraq last August. Cheryl Wachenheim, continues to teach using her personal laptop after having chipped in on a satellite dish to make Internet connection possible.

Personally being a native of North Dakota, I find Cheryl Wachenheim's work ethic understandable. But her mentioning it was a really big deal when she found out the base had Diet Mountain Dew shows she's a typical Nodak. Mountain Dew is very popular in North Dakota!

Cheryl's legacy will be that she served her country admirably and for that I give her a huge "thank you!" It's this kind of person every parent would be proud to have teach their child. Knowing Cheryl is so passionate about teaching and interacting with students puts her on another pedestool as far as I'm concerned. Thank you, Cheryl Wachenheim!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The John Adams HBO Series

I own the John Adams HBO series on DVD and so enjoyed reading Greg Forster's summary of the movie here.

News Release from the Charter School Institute

Charter School Institute Statement on Cesar Chavez Network

Lee Barratt, interim executive director of the Charter School Institute, today issued the following statement regarding the Cesar Chavez Network:

“The Charter School Institute welcomes the recent actions by the Cesar Chavez School Network (CCSN) to transfer the charters for Cesar Chavez North and Goal Online Academy to new independent boards, a direction set in motion with an agreement signed in August by both the institute and the CCSN boards.

“This agreement was designed to create strong, independent governance of the two schools operated by the network and authorized by the institute. The goal of the institute is to ensure quality education and continuity in the education of the students served at all CSI schools.

“The institute has no role in the decisions about individual staff and managers of the Cesar Chavez School Network. Our concerns with CCSN have centered on governance, management, finances and operations.

“The activities by the CCSN at these schools—such as repeated firings of school principals, mass firings of teachers and closing down online education services to students—raised questions about the ability of the network to continue to provide quality education to its students.

“As the CCSN leadership and board repeatedly failed to comply with our agreement, the institute prepared to initiate the process to revoke the charters from CCSN and to issue new charters for each school to the new boards, created in accordance with the August agreement.

“The goal of the CSI will be the continued operation of the schools under the oversight of newly-constituted boards at each school. Each school will have a new charter to operate that is separate from the original charter with the network.

“It remains the position of the institute that these new boards will determine whether a continuing relationship between each school and the CCSN is in the best interests of students.

“The specifics of those agreements, if they are negotiated between the schools' boards and the CCSN, will be subject to approval by the CSI.”

For more information about the Charter School Institute, contact interim director Lee Barratt at 303-866-3275 or CSI Board of Directors president Alex Medler at 720-635-8329.

Monday, October 5, 2009

CSI Wins Again!

The Colorado Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal from the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) against the Charter School Institute (CSI). A lower court had already ruled in favor of CSI, but the law firm of Caplan and Ernest told BVSD they'd do the appeal to the state pro bono and so BVSD took them up on the offer.

The lawsuit alleged CSI was unconstitional as it impeded on the local district's "local control" provision of the state constitution. Because the CSI law, part 5 of the Charter Schools Act, allows a district to retain exclusive chartering authority if they meet certain criteria, the lower court determined it was up to the local district if they retained exclusive chartering authority and it wasn't a condition imposed by the state.

This final decision is huge for the 17 CSI charter schools who want to finance their facilities and have been in limbo until now. Financial institutions were hesitant to enter into an obligation if the CSI law were determined unconstitional. It was never clear what would have happened with the existing charter schools authorized by CSI if the lawsuit would have gone the other way.

Update: Here is a press release from CSI.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Writing in Stone

The vision and mission of a charter school rest with the founders and first governing board. Charter school leaders in Colorado have had an ongoing discussion for years about how to make sure that key features of the charter school remain consistent over time and are not changed by future boards.

In the first draft of a common charter contract there is a section for "unique featuers," which should be written by the charter school's founders. This essentially "writes in stone" what matters most to the charter school's design. Examples include the use of uniforms, a longer school day and school year, a college prep curriculum, or project-based learning. Because these features are listed in the contract, changing them would constitute a "material change" and require approval by the authorizer's board.

Charter school leaders like knowing there is a way to identify unique characteristics of the school that founders advocated for when they were applying for the new charter school. In the past, some boards have written these features into their bylaws, board policies, or charter application in the hopes that they would have staying power. No one, however, had confidence in trusting the adherence to the original vision and mission to future board members without some level of accuntability to ensure the vision would remain as established.

It should be noted that some charter school applicants have difficulty in identifying what the school's key features are. In situations like this, the authorizer may need to help guide the thoughts of the founders into something that's clearly communicated and consistent with the vision and mission.