Monday, May 31, 2010

And Then There Was One

Denver Venture School and Envision Leadership Prep decided to merge after both schools suffered from a lack of enrollment. The Denver Public Schools board voted unanimously to allow the two charter schools to merge beginning in August. Currently each school serves about 100 students and leases DPS facility space. The schools are anticipating an exponential increase in students with the merged school, which will be called Venture Prep.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Money to Replicate

Today the U.S. Department of Education's Charter School Program released a new competitive grant program notice. This one is for charter schools that want to replicate and serve turnaround schools.

This grant program, in Title V of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (f.k.a. No Child Left Behind), is a new program in support of high quality charter schools with demonstrated records of success. Priority will be given to charter schools assisting turnaround schools in poverty areas.

Each applicant for this grant needs to demonstrate that they have strong academic results and there are no significant issues in the areas of student safety, financial management, or statutory or regulatory compliance in order to be competitive against the other applicants.

The anticipated average award will be $7 million for a five-year period. An estimated 5-8 awards will be given this fall.

Monday, May 24, 2010

For Principals

I just got done reading Michael Fullan's, "What's Worth Fighting for in the Principalship." I highly recommend it for any new administrator or for someone contemplating a profession in administration. In fact, we'll probably use it in next year's administrator's meetings.

The book is in a format that would be easy to use for staff development because there are priority lists of what to focus on and what makes the greatest impact. The entire book appears to be "the bottom line" of what's essential rather than long, drawn-out explanations. It's concise and to the point.

Fullan talks about specific issues that may arise for principals and suggests solutions. He says that when a school needs drastic reform measures, the focus should be on early wins and improvement in the areas that need it the most. But he doesn't suggest being a principal is ever easy. In fact, quite the opposite. At the conclusion of the book I was glad I wasn't a principal because there are so many different responsibilities to juggle. This is especially true for a charter school principal who also acts like a district superintendent in many ways.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Business Manager's Network Meeting Update

Last week the Colorado Business Manager's Network meeting revealed a LOT of new information for charter schools! Here's a synopsis:

· SB 10-001, Eliminate PERA’s Unfunded Liabilities, increases the employer’s contribution from 13.85% this year to 14.75% next year. The bill moves COLA benefit increase from March to July. It also puts a 12-month waiting period on contributors being eligible to get the benefit. In 2010 the COLA is calculated by 20% of the CPI for wage earners (-.6%). This resulted in about 90 million extra money for PERA to invest for the next year. PERA pensions are compounded annually. Highest average salary calculation remained over 3 years (5 yrs was originally proposed in the legislation). Minimum age for retirement will increase to 60 yrs of age, but is age 58 for schools if the wage earner has worked in schools for at least 10 yrs (affects people hired after Jan. 1, 2011).

· Legislative Update, Vincent Badolato, CLCS: 6.3% cut for FY 10-11. Statutory 5 million for charter school capital construction remained intact. The capital construction will now be paid monthly, instead of in one lump sum.

· HB 1036: Financial Transparency Act. Annual budgets, quarterly financials and general financial information must be posted online this coming school year. Next year additional information will be required. May be in a PDF format.

· HB 1345, Emergency Powers over Charter Schools: Commissioner has authority to intervene in an emergency situation. State board rule will define what can be an emergency. This impacts CMOs that have schools in a variety of districts.

· HB 1412, Charter School & Authorizer Standards Review Cmte. A 13-member advisory committee to make recommendation to the state board for quality standards. Authorizer standards would probably be modeled after the NACSA Principles & Standards. Appointments to the committee will be made by October 2010.

· SB 111, CSI Clean-up. Establishes a study group to consider letting charter schools develop a cooperative to become an LEA. Creates a school food authority account in the CSI fund to receive any moneys received operating as a SFA.

· SB 161, Charter School Collaboratives. Allows charter schools to apply for competitive federal and state grants without needing the consent of a charter school’s current authorizer. CSI may function as the LEA and fiscal agent for collaborative that choose to apply for grants.

· FMLA is applied to schools with more than 50 employees within a radius of 75 miles. Schools with less than that may not be covered by FMLA, but they should act as if they are covered since they wouldn’t want to be a test case. Employees who have physically worked 1250 hours are covered. Employees must be given 12 wks of leave (may be unpaid or take vacation time). Upon return must be able to resume job or comparable job. Intermittent use of the 12 wks is permitted. Notified 30 days in advance is required if the employee knows about the illness. A doctor’s note can be required if the employee is out more than 3 days. If the employee has benefits before FMLA the employer must pay the employer portion of benefits, but the employee must pay their portion.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Connect Students Go the Distance

Connect Charter School in Pueblo will be sending 22 students to the National Science Olympiad in Champagne, Illinois later this month. The students will be competing in earth science, biology, physics, technology and chemistry.

Connect was the first charter school in the state to get approved back in 1993. They're authorized by Pueblo 70 School District. The school's students have consistently scored in the top middle schools in the state.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Roman New COO of Cesar Chavez School Network

The board of the Cesar Chavez School Network announced they've hired Dr. Henry Roman as their new COO. The position has been vacant since last October when Dr. Lawrence Hernandez, the school's founder, was terminated. Dr. Roman was formerly the Superintendent of Pueblo 60 City Schools, the charter school's authorizer.

Yesterday the CCSN board also met with Cary Kennedy, the state Treasurer, regarding their bond payments. The high school bond is held by the elementary school and there is question as to whether or not the school will be able to make bond payments in the future.

The Cesar Chavez Academy-Denver school operates autonomously with their own governing board and currently only purchases business services from the Network. As noted by the CCA-Denver principal, Ryan Lucas, the fairness of this year's charges and services is being questioned by the CCA-Denver charter school governing board.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rocky Mountain Classical Academy

The Falcon 49 Board of Education gave the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy a one-year probationary contract last week. The troubled charter school has been in a financial bind since it failed to set aside its TABOR reserve. Charter school board members now say they've trimmed non-teaching staff positions by six and have gaine expert financial advice that is more encouraging for next year.

Rocky Mounain Classical Academy is a K-12 school ending its fourth year of operation and is located along the east side of Colorado Springs, just north of the airport. Last spring the charter school released its executive director and school founder after information about the financial situation were uncovered.

Battle Rock Charter School

One of the neatest charter schools in the state is in the four corners area of southwestern Colorado. Battle Rock Charter School is a on-room school in the McElmo Canyon west of Cortez.

In 2002, William Celis wrote a book about the charter school called, "Battle Rock." The book provides extensive information about the school's founder, Stephen Hanson and his wife, Susan. I visited the school many years ago and was actually a guest at Stephen and Susan's home. Stephen poured himself into getting that school open and established.

Recently some renovations were made to the building and the school's leaders sent a thank you to the local paper recognizing those who helped them. This is small town Colorado-goodness at its best!

Monday, May 10, 2010

More Senior Pranks

It's that time of year where I write about some of the more entertaining senior pranks that I've learned about. A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with three high school principals and took the opportunity to hear some of their best stories.

At one high school the seniors scaled the school building and entered via the roof access where they proceeded to remove all the light bulbs in the entire facility. They neatly packaged the light bulbs and labeled them as to where they were taken from and stored them all in a very "safe" place. Then they wrote a scavenger hunt for administrators to use to find out where the light bulbs were located. Doing the scavenger hunt took almost an hour.

A group of senior girls gained access to the principal's office and covered everything--literally everything--with tinfoil. This included every single pencil.

This year at a high school where the principal wants to know about pranks that are planned so he can give approval or help the seniors think of a prank that while still funny, won't harm anything or anyone. Well, this year the seniors called him to let him know--that they were in the midst of hanging old tires all over campus.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Incriminating Evidence Against Cesar Chavez School Network

Today CDE released a statement about the findings of the MGT financial audit of the troubled Cesar Chavez School Network (CCSN). At one time the CCSN had six schools under their network, but that is now down to three: Cesar Chavez Academy-Pueblo, Dolores Huerta Prep HS and Cesar Chavez Academy-Denver. The two charter schools in Colorado Springs merged and became Scholars to Leaders while the online school, GOAL Academy, operates out of the Pueblo mall.

Last summer it came out that the CEO, Lawrence Hernandez, made $250,000 a year. Today's financial audit revealed the amount was actually $340,000 for a one-year period. Similar salary increases were found for the CFO, Jason Guerrero, and Lawrence's wife, Annette. The study revealed Guerrero made $321,000 and Anette Hernandez made $200,000. Additionally, the Hernandez's daughter's cell phone and hair salon expenses were charged to school accounts. Twenty-six credit cards were used by CCSN staff for a total of more than $400,000 in one year, most without proper records.

The 193 page MGT report also details that the Hernandez's had 20 relatives working for them before changes were made last fall and the Hernandez's were terminated. Numerous conflicts of interest issues were also identified. Including a corporation Dr. Hernandez established and paid himself to operate an alternative teacher licensing program.

I'll be posting more on this report in the following days.
Update: Another Pueblo Chieftain piece.

Scholars to Leaders Academy

I spent the morning at Scholars to Leaders Academy in Colorado Springs. STL is authorized by the Charter School Institute and sits in the Colorado Springs 11 School District. The school is ending its second year of operation, but just last October separated from the Cesar Chavez School Network.

STL serves 225 students in grades K-8 in a building that had previously been used by a private Catholic school. The school's principal is Dr. Carolyn Gery. Success for All, used for reading and Everyday Math supplement the Core Knowledge curriculum. There is an extended day and school year. Students are 74% Free and Reduced-Price Lunch and 76% minority.

Last fall STL merged with a second Cesar Chavez School Network school that also operated in Colorado Springs and was authorized by the state Charter School Institute. There wasn't enough enrollment to support both schools.

When STL separated from the Network last fall they established a new board of directors, incorporated and signed a new contract with CSI. After consulting stakeholders, the board has adopted a mission statement. The school has rebounded from the turmoil of the first semester and is focused on improving academic achievement.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thomas MacLaren Charter School in the News

The Thomas MacLaren Charter School in Colorado Springs got some much-deserved recognition by their local newspaper yesterday. The new charter school, authorized by the state Charter School Institute, is just finishing up its first year of operation.

Thomas MacLaren was a well-known architect in Colorado Springs when the city was getting established. The charter school has several architectural renderings of his work on display.

The school uses the classical approach to education with an emphasis on the fine arts. Classical education centers on discussion as the primary methodology. The theory is based on the motion that through the discussion of primary texts, the student delves into deeper meaning and asks a higher level of question.