Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crown Pointe Academy Celebrates Opening of New Building

After twelve years of having a building on a small piece of land without an opportunity for expansion, Crown Pointe Academy celebrated this afternoon the move into their brand new facility at 86th & Federal in Westminster. The building is named after Bill Christopher, former City Manager for the City of Westminster.

Crown Pointe Academy, a K-8 Core Knowledge Charter School opened its doors in 1997 and remains today as the only district charter school in the Westminster 50 School District.

The school's Building Corp President, Cheryl Olivo-Neil, presented a plaque to Russ Caldwell, one of the school's former governing board members and a key player on the financial team that created the opportunity to fund the new facility. The school's new library is named after Russ Caldwell.

Crown Pointe's founder, Kay May, returned for today's celebration and provided remarks about the formation of the school and why various components were selected for its program design. May now lives in New Hampshire.

The Crown Pointe Academy principal, Barbara Ridenour, has been with the charter school since it first opened. She was originally a teacher at the school before assuming a leadership position.

The school was built by JHL Construction and designed by Slaterpaull Architects.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rounding up the Little Doggies

My friend, Nora Flood, Vice President of the League of Charter Schools donned western chaps and cowboy hat the other day for her all-staff meeting. I was there for a meeting and couldn't resist capturing her picture!

Friday, August 27, 2010

SkyView Academy Opens in Highlands Ranch

Last night over a thousand people showed up to celebrate the grand opening of SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch near C470 and Quebec. The school is located in what was formerly a Home Depot building. Currently they're only using about half of the building. The other half is being rented out every afternoon and evening because it's an indoor sports facility. The school's building has four volleyball/basketball courts, three soccer courts, a batting cage and speed development court.

SkyView Academy will use the Core Knowledge curriculum and will begin with serving the elementary school grades. They've already been approved for a high school to open next fall. The board plans on converting the athletic center into two stories of classrooms for the junior high and senior high.

SkyView's principal is well-known in the charter school community: Merlin Holmes. Merlin is a well-respected former high school science teacher, high school principal, K-12 principal, consultant for the Colo. Dept of Education and consultant for the National Heritage Academies, Inc management company. Merlin had an overabundance of applicants for his new staff and was very selective in developing a high quality team.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall spoke at the grand opening ceremony. He said he's been a long-time supporter of charter schools and commended the school's founders for their work and dedication to improving the community's students. He noted that today's students are tomorrow's leaders.

Founding board president, Jennifer Larson, addressed the crowd by acknowledging the work of several parents in addition to the founding board. She said the building has over 100,000 sf of space and sits on 14 acres. Their plans are to add on to the building since they won't need the 800+ parking spaces currently available.

Daughters of founders Jen Larson and Lorrie Grove introduced their new Executive Director, Merlin Holmes, and gave him several gifts that he would need for the school year. These gifts included a magic wand (because anyone named Merlin should have a magic wand), oversized clown glasses so he could continue to see to implement the grand vision, and a whoopee cushion so that he could be excused from some of the many meetings he's required to attend.

JHL was the contractor for the project, which was designed by SlaterPaul. The design is industrial with concrete floors and open areas above the classrooms. In its previous use, there were no windows. There are now large windows and the west side features a great view of the Colorado's mountain range. For the first time in the state's history, the charter school's authorizing school district -- the Douglas County School District -- floated Certificates of Occupancy for the charter school, essentially cutting the cost in almost half.

The founders of SkyView started NorthStar Academy six years ago. They originally intended to locate that school in Highlands Ranch, but couldn't find a facility. Once an existing charter school facility became available in Parker, they decided to locate their new charter school there. But many Highlands Ranch continued to drive a considerable distance to Parker. The founders voiced appreciation for the Parker site's principal, Cynthia Haws, and Dean of Curriculum, Kendra Sheffield, for their help with the SkyView application.

Update: Highlands Ranch Herald News article.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Charter School Board Discussion in the St. Vrain Valley School District

There's a controversy brewing in the St. Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) over a proposed change to district policy that would require charter school board members to live within school district boundaries. This would be the first time a district will have imposed such a requirement.

According to a Longmont Times-Call editorial, this district policy provision is not warranted because the district's charter schools are doing well and the editorial questions why this change is proposed after a proposed charter school application last year had out-of-district founders.

Last year the Lotus School for Excellence proposed a new charter school using a model similar to the school they already operate in Aurora. The application was denied, in part due to their founders -- and proposed board members -- being from outside the school district. In the Lotus proposal they intended to use their existing governing board to also oversee the new school in Longmont.

It's apparent that the vital issue with this whole debate is where should the line be drawn in charter school authorizing responsibilities. This subject came up in the last legislative session when certain lawmakers wanted to see "something done about" schools like the Cesar Chavez School Network. The top three administrators of the Network were eventually terminated, but it was disclosed that they had extraordinarily high salaries and little accountability. Several lawmakers questioned who had the responsibility to ensure things like that didn't happen.

There are differing viewpoints on where the line should be drawn between charter school accountability and "regulation creep." The charter school philosophy embodies the right of a charter school to operate independently, in exchange for increased results. Leaders in the charter school community have expressed concerns over the years that gradually charter school autonomy has been eroded. In fact, this was an issue in the most recent charter school appeal hearing before the State Board of Education.

This debate about autonomy is likely to be a hot topic at the committee hearings established as a result of HB10-1412, which creates a committee to review charter school standards and charter school authorizer standards. The committee will meet this fall and ultimately, have recommendations for the State Board by August 1, 2011.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Wealth of Information for Parents: SchoolView

CDE has a wealth of information for parents through the SchoolView portal. The Colorado Growth Model provides information on achievement and growth. There are videos and powerpoint presentations to explain terms, how to use the tools and stakeholder roles.

To begin, watch the tutorial. If you don't understand why the state uses the growth model to examine student achievement, watch this video.

Not along ago each school district in the state received their data for the District Performance Framework and each individual public school's School Performance Framework. The data in these reports generate different levels of Accreditation. The State Board of Education accredits each school district in the state. In the past the Accreditation process could be a bit subjective. By using the District Performance Framework (DPF), the Accreditation level is based strictly on data.

The type of data used to determine Accreditation level is different for elementary, middle and high schools. By October 15th, districts must assign an Accreditation category to each of their public schools. By November 15th the State Board and Commissioner of Education will approve the school Accreditation categories and the related plans associated with underperforming schools.

There are four key indicators for School Performance Frameworks (SPFs). These are:

1. Academic achievement: the percent proficient or advanced
2. Academic growth: the median student growth
3. Gaps in academic growth: median growth for subgroups
4. Postsecondary & workforce readiness: graduation rate, drop-out rate, and the ACT composite

High schools are accredited on all four indicators while elementary and middle schools are only accredited on the first three indicators.

The School Accountability Reports are obsolete and the state is now using SchoolView to provide information to parents about their child's school. Parents can compare a variety of schools, using the Growth Model, and get specific information about each school through the School Performance Framework.

Many educators have been learning about the Growth Model and SPF at their trainings conducted before school began this month. Schools will have individual student achievement data to use in making decisions on the types of interventions each student may need. Parents should ask to see this information either at Parent/Teacher conferences or by visiting the school office.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The First Day of School

I tell everyone who starts a new charter school that the reward for the long hours and tough work they've endured is all worth on the first day of school. If their new school offers Kindergarten, that's the best class to visit on the first day. Those eager faces are priceless!

However, my memories of dropping my kids off for their first day of Kindergarten was the mothers wore sunglasses and didn't talk with each other after the kids went in. They were too choked up from that first day's goodbye!

The Kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Academy (the first charter school I worked on) is still there 16 yrs later. Her name is Bentley Ryberg and she taught my daughter who is now in college. Bentley is the absolute best! She's smart and she loves kids of that age. Kindergarten teachers are unique. Not everyone can deal well with students so young. But it's amazing to watch the transformation of these 5 and 6 year-olds over the school year. I recall learning the Open Court alphabet sounds right along with my daughter. And my daughter and I still talk about the field trip to the zoo where she and her classmates spelled "hippopotamus" to the sheer astonishment of a couple standing nearby.

The first day of Kindergarten is the very best. Most importantly, it's the best for the charter school's founders in order to completely understand why they went through so much work.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

CDE News Release on Charter School Grant Award

Colorado Awarded Three-Year, $40.8 Million Federal Grant To Expand Charters And Public School Options

Denise Mund, director of the Schools of Choice Office at the Colorado Department of Education announced today that Colorado will receive a $40.8 million charter school grant to increase public school options in Colorado. The state will be awarded $13.6 million each year for three years.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday the award of 12 charter school grants, totaling $136 million per year to state education agencies in Arkansas ($3.4 million), California ($51.8 million), Colorado, the District of Columbia ($1.3 million), Georgia ($13.1 million), Indiana ($10.9 million), Michigan ($16.7 million), Missouri ($2.2 million), New Hampshire ($1.3 million), Rhode Island ($2.4 million), South Carolina ($5.7 million) and Texas ($13.8 million).

The purpose of the Charter Schools Program is to increase financial support for the startup and expansion of these public schools, to build greater national understanding of the public charter school model and to increase the number of high-quality charter schools across the nation.

"Ninety-five percent of these funds will go directly to new charter schools in their first three years of operation," said Mund. "The grant will fund curriculum, professional development, administrative costs, desks and classroom supplies, office equipment, furniture and technology."

The remaining 5 percent of the grant funds the Schools of Choice Office and provides development opportunities for charter school leaders. Numerous trainings are offered throughout the year, including a finance seminar, business manager network meetings, mentoring opportunities, online board training modules and a variety of other online resources.

CDE's Schools of Choice Office is recognized for its support of developing charter schools and received a very good monitoring report from the federal government in 2009. Last year Mund provided technical assistance to 14 states and was a featured presenter at a national conference and webinar. Colorado, which has seen an overall increase in charter school funding since 1998, received $7.4 million in grant funding last year.

Through the Colorado Charter School Startup and Implementation grant, CDE's Schools of Choice provides technical assistance to charter schools and authorizers, processes waiver requests for the Colorado State Board of Education, collects data on charter schools, produces special topical studies, performs the state evaluation of charter schools, and responds to questions from the general public. For more information, visit www.cde.state.co.us/cdechart/index.htm

More information about the Charter Schools Program is available from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement at www.ed.gov/programs/charter/index.html

New Charter Schools in Colorado Get Grant Award

The Colo. Department of Education announced today the Schools of Choice Unit has received a $40.8 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Education under the Charter School Grant Program. The state will continue administering a federal startup and implementation grant program designed to assist new charter schools in up to their first three years of operation.

The state will have $13.6 million for each of the next three years to fund the unique startup expenses of a charter school. Many of the schools receive these funds in the spring prior to their opening, which allows them the opportunity to hire an administrator early. New charter schools don't get operating funds until July 1.

The schools rely on this startup grant to purchase desks furniture, technology, lockers, curriculum, and train their new staff members. Further, the money is often used to inform the community about a new charter school through advertising.

The grant is competitive and as many as 40% have been denied funds. For further information on the grant program, click here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Turkish-Americans Lead 100 Charter Schools in the U.S.

About 100 charter schools in 25 states have been questioned for their link to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish peace advocate. The schools emphasize math and science and generally outperform their counterparts.

Some of the schools have been criticized for influencing students to accept Islam ideals and philosophies as a result of the school being "Gulen-inspired." Gulen claims no connection with any of the schools.

Fethullah Gulen promotes peace and communication between Turkey and Western cultures. Since 1999 Gulen has lived in the United States. Earlier this summer, Gulen critized Turkish involvement in the flotilla that attempted to deliver aid to Israel's Gaza Strip. Gulen said the Turkish aid group should have sought permission from Israeli leaders before attempting to deliver aid.

The Lotus School for Excellence in Aurora was founded by a group of individuals with connections to Turkey. The school originally opened as a secondary school and is adding an elementary school for this school year. Their grand opening celebration will be later this week where they have expanded their campus by taking over more of the church facility they occupy.

Last year Lotus leaders submitted new charter school applications in the St. Vrain Valley School District and Jefferson County School District. They later withdrew their application from St. Vrain, but appealed the charter denial out of Jeffco to the State Board of Education. Lotus lost that appeal.

A significant portion of the appeal hearing centered on the school's academic achievement data, which was mixed with some small gains. According to this year's Growth Model data, Lotus made Adequate Growth in reading, but not in math or writing.

Lotus plans to submit at least one more charter school application this fall.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Vanguard HS Nails the Writing CSAP!

Vanguard High School scored a perfect 100% on the writing CSAP for their ninth and tenth grades. Not even one student, of the 55 who tested, scored below proficient!

Vanguard HS is an extension to the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. The secondary school is authorized by the state Charter School Institute while the elementary is authorized by the Cheyenne Mountain School District. The Cheyenne Mountain district wouldn't let the school's leaders use the words "Cheyenne Mountain" in the name for the new high school when it was initially approved. The secondary school's charter subsequently moved to CSI.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Advisory Committee for Charter School Institute Charter Schools Meets

Yesterday was the first meeting of the advisory committee established by SB10-111, sponsored by Sen. Keith King. King is an administrator at Colorado Springs Early College, a CSI school. It was the second day of school for King so he joined the group via the telephone for a portion of the meeting.

Patricia Hayes chaired the meeting. Hayes is a board member of the Charter School Institute, former CU Regent and former State Board of Education member. About a dozen people attended the meeting, reflecting the representative required by SB 111.

The purpose of the committee is to make recommendation to the next legislative session's Education committee members about CSI schools becoming their own LEA. In addition to this potentially impacting Special Education, there is also a potential impact on federal entitlement funds, the Carl Perkins Act and gifted and talented programs. The committee discussed what would be studied by the committee and what would not.

The questions raised centered on what problem was the committee attempting to solve? Since the delivery of Special Education services is distinctly different for CSI schools and district charter schools, the "problem" to solve was quite different. CSI schools must conduct their own Special Ed services and do not have liability coverage through CSI. District charter schools deliver Sped services via a contract with their district (using a variety of different models) and their district has ultimate liability.

Sen. King noted that his interest for the work of the committee was not so much about Special Education, but rather what other programs might be different if administered by the charter school, instead of CSI. He noted a few federal programs, but then also recognized that with increased responsibility comes increased accountability, which may include paperwork and bureaucracy. King carried another bill this session that allows charter schools to form cooperatives with CSI. His other bill allows even district charter schools to seek federal grants through CSI.

It was generally agreed that if there was a better way for delivering Special Education services to CSI schools or there was a more efficient way to operate, the committee's report should uncover those options. The committee will conduct research on what other state's have done and consult nationally recognized groups such as the National Assn of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The committee will meet monthly throughout the fall. For more information, contact the Charter School Institute.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Prospect Ridge Ordered Open by State Board

Today in another unanimous vote, the State Board of Education told the Adams 12 Five Star School District to open Prospect Ridge Academy. This was a second appeal from Prospect Ridge, a proposed K-12 math science focused Core Knowledge charter school in the Erie area. The State Board voted unanimously at the conclusion of the first appeal hearing to remand the application back for further consideration. The State Board, whose membership is split 4-3 along party lines, rarely votes unanimously on charter school appeals.

Today's appeal hearing centered on six issues: two contained in the approval resolution dealing with enrollment and four contractual issues. The four contractual issues were 1) the district requirement that they approve any financial auditor the charter school wanted to use, 2) the requirement of additional audits and/or reports, 3) the district's insistence that they could rescind waiver of district policy from the charter school at any time, and 4) the district's stipulation that they be able to approve any staff hired by the charter school.

The district claimed the four contractual issues were not relevant to the appeal hearing and should have been dismissed because they weren't "ripe" yet because negotiations broke down after the first meeting and no contract was ever signed. The charter school stated there had been a "gross imposition of conditions," a reference to the statute that pertains to a charter school having to comply with unreasonable contract provisions.

Barry Arrington, counsel for the charter school, said contract negotiations broke down when the district refused to negotiate. Charter school founder Dr. Ken Rooks said that the district had simply said they'd "negotiate to impasse" if the charter school leaders didn't agree to the contract terms set forth by the district, which is another way to acknowledge that the district holds all the cards in a charter school contract negotiation and doesn't need to open a new charter school.

In it's deliberation comments and in the resolution to support the charter school's claims, the State Board specifically addressed five of the issues and said the sixth seemed to be close to resolution by the parties and didn't need to be included. The charter school's founders said they planned to use only Highly Qualified or appropriately licensed staff and so if they were able to have complete autonomy over hiring, they would agree to more clear language addressing the district's concerns that staff be appropriately identified as Highly Qualified.

The two enrollment provisions in the hearing were the district's requirement that the charter school must have 80% of each grade's enrollment by March 1st in order to keep its charter and that 70% had to be from the Adams 12 School District. The charter school said they'd agree to 80% aggregate enrollment by March 1st since that was a reasonable expectation. As to the other provision, they cited state law that says a charter school must have a majority of its students from the district or a contiguous district and said they were willing to give priority to in-district students.

More than one State Board member noted the angst between the two parties that was evident during the hearing and expressed hopes that the two parties would be able to resolve their differences.

Monday, August 9, 2010

DPS in the Money

Denver Public Schools is one of 49 grant applicants selected to receive an Investing in Innovation (i3) federal grant provided they can come up with matching funds from the private sector. I3 grants are a new grant program, funded by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, designed to encourage improving academic achievement in high needs areas to close the achievement gap.

DPS plans to use the money, up to 25 million, to improve literacy skills in middle school students through a partnership with the Bueno Center at CU Boulder and Padres and Jovenes Unidos.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Guam Approves It's First Charter School

Guam will have its first charter school a year from now. Guam will receive federal startup and implementation grant funds to support the formation of new charter schools.

Forty states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have charter school laws.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Which Book is Better?

By Elle Mund, Guest Blogger & Student at the University of Northern Colorado

A quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of lists saying what the best books are. Comparing these lists reveals that no one agrees; even if there are some books that appear more frequently than others. Everyone from popular magazines to bloggers are eager to decide what the best books are. I even have a professor who gives every student a copy of his “Highly Selective 100 Book List”. While each creator thinks his/her book list is the best, they seem to all utilize different criteria. These lists raise a very important question. What books should we be teaching students? There are many questions that this leads to:

· Is what a book says more important than how a book says it? A book can be very interesting to read, but make no strong statements. Also, a book can make a very powerful statement, but if the students can’t enjoy reading it, the book will have little to no effect on them.

· What influences are more important than others? Is a book with political influence more important than a book with social influence? What about educational influence or literary influences. Each of these can greatly affect which books make it into the classroom and which don’t.

· Should all races be equally represented in the classroom? Or, what about an equal representation of both male and female authors? What about trying to judge the quality of a book regardless of the gender or ethnicity of the author?

· Should we teach more than one book by the same author? Or, should authors be limited to one book in the classroom to make room for the students to be exposed to more authors?

This list of questions could continue on for awhile. With so many questions to answer it is no wonder that we can’t decide which books are more important than others. The most teachers have time for is to give the students a tiny window to view the vast ocean of literature. What a teacher can do is decide what those students see outside that window. So, what books do you think are most important for students to view through that window?