Monday, October 11, 2010

The Greatest Generation Speaks with Charter School Students

Today sixteen World War II veterans spoke with charter school middle school students from different charter schools, at The Pinnacle Event Center. The event was hosted by The Greatest Generation Foundation and Woodrow Wilson Academy. As the veterans entered the event center, the approximately 650 students gave them a standing ovation and applauded until all the veterans had entered and were seated.

The program began with the documentary, "Iwo Jima: A Final Tour," produced by KMGH Channel 7. Last spring many of the veterans at today's event traveled to Iwo Jima to mark the 65th anniversary of the battle. TGGF founder and president, Tim Davis, received a check for $1275 from the charter schools and supportive sponsors.

After a veteran spoke about his experiences in the European theater and another spoke about the Pacific theater, students from the different charter schools posed questions of all the veterans. Many of the veterans had incredible stories of surviving the battle for Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor and other battles. One man bailed out of his plane 15 seconds before it exploded over Germany. He spent the next three weeks walking to the border where he could meet up with Americans. During that three week period he went from 185 pounds to 95 pounds, eating only bugs, grass and even a live chicken he came across.

After the program, veterans met with students in an area with numerous artifacts and memorabilia on display. Many of the students collected signatures of the veterans on the back of the photo card distributed by TGGF. The foundation also had two Army jeeps outside for students to climb in and experience.

I spoke with one veteran after most of the students had left and said, "How does it feel to be a celebrity today?" His response was, "I'm just a survivor." One of the veterans declined the Purple Heart after Iwo Jima stating, "...too many others had died for it."

The six charter schools participating in the event today were: Woodrow Wilson Academy, The Academy, Lincoln Academy, Excel Academy, Jefferson Academy and Crown Pointe Academy.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Charter School Board Presidents

Friday there will be a first-ever meeting of charter school board presidents. Charter school boards are where the buck stops and board presidents are the leaders of that group of visionaries who lead the charter school.

The board president has many responsibilities including leading meetings, being the primary communication hub between the administration and board, setting the meeting agenda, authorizing contracts, enforcing bylaws, and ensuring the rest of the board is adequately prepared. Until now, many board presidents have been without a resource in which to rely when those odd scenarios arise.

What should the board do about an administrator who is insubordinate? Does a group of employees all need to be invited into a board executive session if they will be discussed? What can be done about a board member who doesn't prepare for meetings? Who speaks with two board members who continue to cross the line in airing their differences during board meetings? The board wants to interview a prospective principal candidate, can they do that in executive session?

These and many more questions are answered in the newly written "Board President's Handbook" that will be released this Friday at the first Board President's Council meeting held at Vanguard Classical School in Aurora. The meeting will go from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

In addition to getting some higher level information for governing boards, attendees will be able to problem-solve sample scenarios with others who lead their charter school boards. This "second level" of charter school board governance focuses on all of the unique situations charter schools have faced. It allows charter school leaders the opportunity to think through how to handle a scenario before they're involved in it.

Many people don't know how to effectively handle a situation without the experience of living through it and either learning from mistakes made or else, hopefully, the situation working itself out correctly. The President's Council will offer the shared wisdom and experience of others who have already been faced with many of the dilemmas that crop up in charter schools.

The charter school board president often carries the weight of the school on his or her shoulders. This person inherently knows the vision for the school and is searching for others who can help implement that vision. It's often a lonely responsibility along with the school's administrator. Now these board presidents will have the support of others in their same role.

Friday, October 1, 2010

HB 1412 Committee Meets for First Time

On Wednesday, the HB 1412 Committee met in a hearing room in the basement of the state Capitol. Speaker of the House, Terrance Carroll convened the advisory committe meeting that resulted from a bill that he carried this past legislative session. The purpose of the committee is to make recommendation on charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards.

Committee members and their designated position to the committe include:
*Rod Schmidt, St. Vrain Valley Schl District board of education, BOCES board member
*Bill Kurtz, Denver School of Science & Technology, charter school founder
*Carol Meininger, The Pinnacle Charter School, charter school business manager
*Stephanie Garcia, Pueblo 60 board of education, local board member with exclusive chartering authority
*April Wilkins, Peak to Peak, charter school teacher
*Alex Medler, Natl Assn of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), NACSA rep
*Francine Thompson, Douglas County Schl Dist, parent of a public school student who is also on the school advisory council
*Mike Nelson, Northstar & Skyview, parent of a district or CSI charter school student
* Al Loma, Colo Springs 11 board of education, local board member that shares chartering authority with CSI
* Kevin Stalker, Harrison 2 CFO, district administrator with financial expertise authorizing charters
* Mark Hyatt, Exec Dir-CSI, CSI representative
* Don Haddad, Supt. St. Vrain Valley Schl Dist, district administrator with expertise authorizing charters
* Denise Mund, CDE Schools of Choice Unit, CDE staff member

Over the next year and a half, the committee will make recommendation on charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards in addition to any possible recommendations for legislative changes or rule changes.

Initially, the committee decided to meet monthly, on the first Wednesday of each month, at various locations. Meeting agendas will be posted on the CDE website. The first meeting will be Nov. 3rd at the CO Assn of School Boards (pending confirmation of location). Each meeting will have a time for Public Comment.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Frontier Academy in Greeley

I visited Frontier Academy's secondary school yesterday and met with principal, Mary Meersman. Frontier Academy operates on two campuses in Greeley. The elementary school is located in a former greenhouse and carpet store. The secondary school, grades 6-12, is in a new block building on the west side of Greeley. The secondary school shares a campus with University Schools. They combine for many sports and share a performing arts center.

Frontier Academy requires 56 credits for high school graduation. Their district, Greeley 6, requires 44. In the spring, it's anticipated that 50 Seniors will graduate. There are 1118 students in grades K-12.

Mary explained that they offer many AP courses including Chemistry, Calculus, English Lit, US History, Biology, Music Theory, and US Government. Additionally, they offer concurrent enrollment classes by staff also licensed through UCD and Aims.

Mary and her leadership team had already completed the Unified Improvement Plan now required as a part of the annual Accreditation process. The Frontier HS received the top ranking, Performance, and the junior high received the second highest ranking (out of four total), Improvement. Greeley 6 required schools to submit their UIP's no later than the end of September. Mary said her team really dug into the data, using multiple sources, and were able to uncover some important information that will guide them in their plan. In fact, they've already incorporated many of these strategies.

Charter School Students to Hear the Greatest Generation Speakers

From the press release:


Denver, CO – The Greatest Generations Foundation (TGGF) in collaboration with Woodrow Wilson Academy will hold their first American Hero Day for more than 650 middle-school students from six Colorado charter schools on October 11 at the Pinnacle Event Center.

Thirty American WWII Veterans will attend the event to speak about their own experiences of war, answer questions, and bring to life the history that students read about in books. Students will be able to interact one-on-one with veterans to learn their stories of heroism, bravery, and sacrifice.

In addition, TGGF will provide WWII memorabilia such as retired weapons, uniforms, and vehicles to give the students a hands-on approach to learning.

"The educational opportunity for our students to meet face to face with our American Heroes is exceptional," said Teri Oates, Founder, and former Board President of Woodrow Wilson Academy. "They can learn more from talking to those who fought for our freedoms than text books can ever provide."

TGGF is an IRS 501(C)(3) non-profit, tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to serving war veterans. Their mission is to promote recognition and respect for U.S. and allied war veterans while enhancing historical education for today’s youth. TGGF works to ensure that the dedication and bravery of each veteran is never forgotten, nor the value of their deeds be allowed to disappear.

"We want to make sure that the stories and lessons of World War II are not forgotten, even when there is no one left to tell them," said TGGF Founder and President Timothy Davis. "Preserving the legacy of these heroic men and women will happen most effectively through education and the retelling of stories to younger generations."

Students from Woodrow Wilson Academy, Jefferson Academy, Lincoln Academy, Crown Pointe Academy, The Academy, and Excel Academy will be attending American Hero Day.

"We are excited to see charter schools joining together for such an important and historic event – we applaud and support this joint effort," said Jim Griffin, President of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. "Each and every one of the charter schools involved in this event is focused on rich and meaningful education, and the more we can offer our students in terms of learning, opportunities, and life experiences, the better they will succeed."

"My hope is that the students walk away from this program with a greater understanding of our rich history of fighting for our freedoms, to be impacted by the men and women who serve our country, and to always remember that what we learn today will be forever embedded in their future," said Oates.

For more information about the event, contact Alicia Harms at or for information about The Greatest Generations Foundation, visit

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Denver's SOAR I Campus Visit

Today I visited the first SOAR campus in Denver Public Schools, which is located at the Evie G. Dennis facility on Green Valley Ranch Blvd off Pena Blvd. The facility has three buildings, one for the elementary school (SOAR), another for the DSST middle school and the third will be used by the DSST high school. There's also a student union, which houses a cafeteria, performance center and full-sized hard wood floor gymnasium. Additionally, there are three athletic fields on the property. A community center/preschool will also be on the site when it is completely built out.

SOAR I has 236 students in grades K-2 and just opened this year. The school will eventually serve students through fifth grade. SOAR II is planned for the Montbello area of DPS.

The Evie G. Dennis facility is the newest built by DPS through bond moneys. It's meant to be a community center in addition to the neighborhood school. The design is multi-functional and although the elementary school currently houses young students, it could also be used for high school students. It's a green facility with pipes under the athletic fields to heat or cool the buildings.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Denver School of Science & Technology Receives $1 Million From Oprah's Angel Network

Here's the press release from DSST:

DENVER – DSST Public Schools (DSST) announced today that it has received a $1 million grant from Oprah’s Angel Network to support DSST’s expansion to serve more students in Denver. Oprah announced the gift to DSST on today’s episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” The show features the documentary film Waiting for Superman, which will be released this coming Friday. The movie focuses on the state of public education in the U.S. The documentary focuses on the staggering signs that American children are falling way behind their counterparts in other countries, even as school spending increases.

“DSST Public Schools is thrilled by this national recognition of our work to help more than 1,000 Denver students get a college preparatory education,” said Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST Public Schools. “Waiting for Superman does an outstanding job of outlining our country’s crisis in public education and the urgency with which we need to act on behalf of students nationwide. DSST is very grateful for the support of Oprah’s Angel Network to help us expand in order to double the number of four year college-ready graduates from Denver Public Schools. “

DSST was one of six high-performing charter networks from around the country featured on the show as examples of public schools that are serving students well. The money received by each school network from Oprah’s Angel Network will be used to expand and open more schools to provide more students with a high-quality college preparatory education.

Oprah’s Angel Network is the foundation launched in 1997 on an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Through support from Oprah’s viewers, the Angel Network has awarded funds to hundreds of organizations throughout the United States and in more than 30 countries around the world, helping numerous individuals by improving access to education, protecting basic rights and more.

About DSST Public Schools
DSST Public Schools (DSST) operates open-enrollment STEM charter schools and is part of the Denver Public Schools (DPS) system. DSST Public Schools currently serves over 1,000 students on two campuses. DSST Public Schools has been approved to open three additional secondary school campuses (grades 6-12) in 2011, 2012 and 2013. At full enrollment, DSST Public Schools will serve over 4,200 students, and will double the number of four year college-ready DPS graduates by 2020.

DSST Public Schools was founded as the Denver School of Science and Technology in 2004 with the founding campus at Stapleton. DSST: Stapleton serves students from all parts of Denver with a student population of 65% minority and 45% low income. DSST: GVR’s student population is 83% minority and 55% low income.

DSST: Stapleton is widely considered to be one of the leading open enrollment STEM schools (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in the U.S. 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