Tuesday, June 29, 2010

National Charter School Conference

At the opening of the National Charter School Conference today in Chicago, Nelson Smith had the following to say:

  • · It’s because of charter schools that districts are now trying to create “faux charter schools.”
    · We’re showing that you can now run a system of charter schools without a central office breathing down your neck.
    · We now serve 1.65 million kids; 40 chartering states plus DC (Mississippi signed on this year).
    · Average charter school is now open 6.7 years.
    · 26% operated by CMO or EMO; 65% are free standing (grassroots)
    · Less than 3% of total national student population.
    · In 14 cities more than 20% of the student population are in charters.
    · RttT: 15 states lifted caps since RttT was announced
    · Serious discussion about charter school law in Alabama, W Virginia, Kentucky, etc.
    · Critics say charter schools are causing re-segregation; many are opened in inner cities where parents are desperate for a better education for their children. He's proud of the fact that children of color are flocking to charter schools.
    · Authorizers are getting more aggressive in chartering only schools that are of of quality academically.
    · We should support authorizers when they have to hold a standard for supporting quality.
    · Increased funding for startups this year through replicating funds. President Obama plans to double charter school funding by the end of his term.
    · The Ball State report said that the funding gap, between charters and noncharters, has increased in the past 5 yrs. The Alliance will attack the facility funding disparity.
    * There have been t oo many negative headlines this year. Every person needs to support the highest standards of ethical behavior and draw a bright line between unethical behavior and that high standard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Board President Issues

Today I had lunch with two charter school governing board presidents. One was experienced and the other was a new board member last August and has been president for one month. Both are from well-established, successful schools that have been in operation more than ten years. What did they talk about?

Here are a few of things that were discussed:

1. How to set the agenda--keeping the meeting efficient, using reports in writing in the board packet, public comment protocol.

2. A handy tool for making the monthly agenda. It's a spreadsheet with a monthly tab for each agenda. At the bottom there is a list of all the statutory reasons and citations for going into executive session in case that needs to be put on the agenda. Each month's agenda is already prepopulated with the agenda items that are routinely addressed during that month. There's also a reference at the bottom for any of the policies that require something to be done during that month, such as approving the school budget in April.

3. Principal evaluation: when to do it so that the board can make a timely decision for the next year and know the impact to the school's budget. Quite often boards neglect to do an annual evaluation of their lead administrator until problems arise.

4. Board training. Both boards are already using the online training modules for charter school boards in Colorado, but now that a study guide is in development the presidents both had plans to incorporate three modules into each board agenda. They plan to have a short workshop, using the study guide's guiding questions, for each set of three modules.

5. Transparency and accessibility for the school's stakeholders. One of the boards puts their entire board packet (unless something is confidential) online. Past board packets are archived.

In the fall, there will be a new program for board presidents and board members wanting more detailed training. This will be the "second level" of training for board members who have already completed the 30 online board training modules. Each semester there will be a President's Council meeting and a webinar. Information will be available through the CDE Schools of Choice Events page and listserv.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Peak to Peak Moves Up on Newsweek List

Peak to Peak moved up to #35 on Newsweek's list of the top public schools in the nation. Last year Peak to Peak was #61. Congrats to Peak to Peak on this accomplishment!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Charter School Boot Camp Pictures

Top photo: (L to R) Jen Dauzvardis, Nora Flood, Karen DeSchryver and John Griego doing a role play of a charter school application hearing.
Middle photo: Vincent Badolato, Vice President of Public Affairs for the Colorado League of Charter Schools
Bottom photo: Tony Fontana, Executive Principal, Peak to Peak Charter School

Friday, June 11, 2010

Charter School Boot Camp 2010

People brand new to the charter school community have been attending a boot camp this week to prepare for writing a charter school application. The training is a collaboration with CDE, the League of Charter Schools and the state Charter School Institute.

Attending boot camp and hearing all the presentations, which include a wide variety of topics including the application components, has been likened to drinking from a fire hose. Most founders begin with learning the lingo we use in education. Almost every component of the application requires a great deal of background knowledge and discussion. The components interplay with each other to comprehensively communicate the school's vision and philosophies. Even the budget should reflect the school's vision.

There are a host of resources available for charter school applicants. Many are on the charter page of the CDE website. Resources include other charter school applications, the model application, primary documents such as bylaws and articles of incorporation, and financial models. The sample contract language that's now available was reviewed; in particular, the pre-opening checklist and ESP provisions attachments.

This boot camp is for three days each June and the fee is nominal (to cover food). The primary purpose of the training is exposure to people the applicants will need to contact for help as they go through the application process and explain the detail of what should be included in a charter school applicaction.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Liberty Common School Leases New Building

Liberty Common School is expanding as they grow out their program through twelth grade. The secondary school will be located in the old Pioneer School of Expeditionary Learning building near Drake and Lemay in Fort Collins.

Bob Schaffer, Director of Secondary Instruction for Liberty Common School and also the Chair of the State Board of Education, is excited about the proximity of the new building to the existing LCS campus and the fact that minimal renovation needed to be done in order to use it for a secondary school.

The LCS K-8 program will also expand to build up enough of a student base to support the high school. There are two charter schools in the Poudre School District: Liberty Common School and Ridgeview Classical Schools. Additionally, a Charter School Institute-sponsored K-8 operates in Fort Collins, Northern Colorado Academy of Art & Knowledge.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Charter School Autonomy, Part Two

This is a continuation of my comment on the Fordham report, "Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise."

6. Law/Policy Waivers: Generally, Colorado's Charter Schools Act is favorable to charter schools. It typically earns a B from the Center for Education Reform. The State Board of Education allows for the automatic waiver of 13 state laws and more, upon request. The new sample contract language suggests districts provide a list of district policies that either do not apply to charter schools or could be waived to make the process easier.

7. Budget: The law specifically allows a charter school board to establish their own budget and have control over their finances. Charter schools cannot waive finance laws that pertain to all public schools.

8. Discipline Policies: Many charter schools have sought, and received, waiver from Suspension and Expulsion laws and even Truancy laws. These waivers allow the charter school board the authority that otherwise would rest with the local board of education. CSI requires all of its schools to do their own discipline.

9. Management Contracting: The new sample contract language has an appendix called, "ESP Provisions", which are a list of provisions that should be in the management contract. The authorizer isn't party to that contract, but does often express an interest in what the contract states. Many authorizers require both the charter school governing board and the management company to have separate legal counsels.

10. Staff Dismissals: All charter schools in Colorado employ at-will. This means that the employee relationship can be severed with or without cause at any time. Charter school administrators are careful to not enter into a performance plan with an under-performing employee that would alter the at-will nature of employment.

11. Program/Curriculum: The state law is very clear that a charter school has control over their educational program. The charter school application details how the school will be operated and what the curricula will be. Some charter schools use a packaged curriculum and others create their own from a variety of sources.

12. Procurement: Almost all charter schools in the state have their money in a bank not associated with their authorizer. At least one school district requires their charter schools to keep all their funds in district accounts. Charter schools get their funding monthly or quarterly, according to their contract. Charter schools must adhere to procurement laws, although they don't have to do it through their district (unless their district requires it). Many charter schools consider the League of Charter Schools' group purchasing arrangements in their research.

13. School Scheduling: Again, this is an area that totally up to the charter school operators. It's often reinforced in the charter contract and/or through a delegation waiver of the school calendar law.

14. Work Rules: While Colorado's charter schools use at-will employees, many other states do not. In some states the charter school must participate in the district's collective bargaining agreement. This is an area where Colorado's law has always been solid.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Charter School Autonomy, Part One

I just got done reading "Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise," from the Fordham Foundation. (Yes, it sat in my "to read" stack for quite some time!) Colorado was included in the 26 states whose charter school laws were examined by the authors. This included four individual charter schools: Provost Academy and Thomas MacLaren, both authorized by the Charter School Institute (CSI) and W Denver Prep and Envision Charter School, both authorized by Denver Public Schools (DPS).

In comparing the report's findings on a national scale to Colorado, there are numerous reasons why Colorado's law is stronger than most. Below I will go through each of the report's criteria for autonomy and point out the relevance for Colorado.

1. Teacher Certification: The State Board of Education automatically waives teacher licensure laws and doesn't require a charter school to meet the federal "highly qualified" definition by licensure. Instead charter schools with the licensure waiver, can demonstrate in other ways that their staff is "highly qualified."

2. Contract Revisions: The state law says that charter schools can "negotiate" their contracts with their authorizer. The degree to which they actually can varies across authorizers (districts and CSI). Most districts that have more than one charter school already, tend to standardize their contracts so that they aren't, for example, paying for Special Education services in two different ways. The development of last year's "sample contract language" provides for the charter school to define their own characteristics. It also more clearly explains what is considered a "material change" to the contract whereas in the past this was often ambiguous and led to differing legal interpretations. Colorado's law also allows for a charter school, for the purpose of gaining a better financing package, to have a long-term contract. Many schools in the state have 30 year contracts, or even "ever-greening" contracts that automatically renew each year. It should be noted that these long contracts do not change the accountability provisions for academics nor does it prevent the annual renewal of financial terms.

3. Staff Compensation: This is another one of the statutes that are automatically waived for charter schools, upon request. In fact, many charter schools do not even use a salary schedule. Instead many use performance pay systems and negotiated salaries. All charter schools use at-will employees. The charter contracts explicitly state that the charter school employee is not a district employee.

4. Board Composition: Although this is somewhat vague in the law, authorizers have, for the most part, steered away from dictating who can and cannot be on a charter school board. There have been a handful of situations where the authorizer either closed a charter school due to their governance issues or mandated a clean sweep of the current board. The authorizer's legal ability to do this remains in question, however. The new sample contract language contains an appendix that is a Board Certification Form. The form is meant to provide disclosure for potential conflicts of interest. Almost all charter school contracts require board's to have, and adhere to, conflicts of interest policies. Further, some authorizers in the state frown on charter school staff (i.e., teachers) from being on a charter school board. This is the exact opposite of some other states.

5. Special Education: The entity that has the legal authority to deliver Special Education services, and ensure compliance, is the "LEA" or Local Education Agency. In our state this is the local school district. Some of the smaller districts have formed a cooperative, a Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES), for the purposes of delivering Special Education services. Charter schools must remain under their LEA and don't have the authority to join a BOCES unless their district participates in a BOCES. Charter schools have little autonomy in the area of Special Education in our state. For many charter schools their main source of contention with the requirement they adhere to whatever their district wants, is when district employees do not support the charter school's educational program or when the cost is very high for limited services.

To be Continued

Friday, June 4, 2010

K12's Ron Packard Addresses COVA Teachers Today

Ron Packard, the founder and CEO of K12, spoke to a group of COVA (Colorado Virtual Academy) staff members assembled for a professional development day in Northglenn. Before Packard began speaking, COVA student Bryce Meyers presented him with a gift from the Student Council.

Packard spoke about the beginning of COVA ten years ago. He said the school opened in only two weeks. COVA was originally attached to The Academy of Charter Schools and then after several years, separated with its own charter from the Adams 12 School District. Colorado and Pennsylvania were the first two states to open virtual academies. Today K12 employs 2200 teachers and educates more than 70,000 students. In addition, there are 800 K12 central office staff.

Packard told the teachers that their relationship with their students and families was the biggest factor in K12's success. He said he thought he was starting an education curriculum company, but soon realized he'd started a company of teachers. K12 lists student retention and academic achievement as their two highest goals.

Packard said he wants to be in all 50 states within four years and is in 26 states right now. K12 is already in 51 countries and will be in China and Dubai soon. In addition, K12 is openings its first brick and mortar school this fall in San Francisco. In Chicago, the company operates a school for dropouts that is 15 hrs a week of being in the building and the rest are online classes.

One point that Packard kept emphasizing was that the top 50 largest school districts have a high school dropout rate of 50%, which he deemed unacceptable.

[Disclaimer: I am on the board of COVA.]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Last winter the Jefferson County charter schools got together to discuss something that came up and affected each of them. More than 20 people attended the meeting, representing the 13 operating charter schools and two that were approved to open. From that meeting, the board presidents began meeting every other month to discuss relevant issues.

Tonight the "President's Council" met and discussed topics such as bonding requirements, foundations, the Transparency Act, budgeting issues and principal evaluation instruments. The group values being able to discuss issues that they are currently addressing and getting feedback from others. One charter school leader is with a school that hasn't even opened yet and another's school was 15 years old.

This type of networking has led to state-level meetings for board presidents. The state President's Council will meet quarterly next school year with two of the meetings being webinars. There will also be a President's Handbook written to address the questions board president's have, such as, "If the board is going to discuss an individual employee in executive session do I have to invite that employee in to executive session?" The handbook could also be viewed as a second level of board training, above the online board training modules available here.