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

Monday, September 20, 2010

Contacting Me

If you would like to contact me with questions or comments, feel free to send me your email address within a Comment. I receive comments to be moderated before they are posted. These emails, however, come without the sender's email address so that will have to be embedded in the comment.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Annual Finance Seminar

On Friday more than 150 people attended the annual Finance Seminar hosted by CDE at the Adams 12 Training Center in Thornton. The morning plenary session featured panelists Sen. Keith King and State Board of Education member Randy DeHoff. Moderator Vinny Badolato from the League of Charter Schools asked questions about the future reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Randy DeHoff said he didn't think there would be many competitive grant programs in the next ESEA due to the controversy surrounding Race to the Top this year. Both panelists talked about the two assessment consortia in the country and funded through federal grants. Colorado is a partner in both consortia. Only one of the consortia has a writing component planned.

The afternoon plenary session featured Vinny Badolato; Russ Caldwell, DA Davidson; John Griego, Colo Springs 11; and Sen. Keith King, administrator of Colorado Springs Early College. Each of the panelists talked about what they thought would be in the next legislative session impacting charter schools. Russ Caldwell said he thought the moral obligation pool in the State Treasurer's office should be increased. Keith King talked about the formula used to project the School Finance Act and the specific figures used for next year. The Governor's office is projecting a slower economic recovery than was originally expected and so next year's School Finance Act will probably contain at least a 6.35% rescission, which is currently expected.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Does Data Matter?

Data only matters when someone is looking at it. Previously school districts in the state reported some data that didn't have any consequences. Now with the new District Performance Framework and School Performance Framework impacting Accreditation, all of a sudden bad data is being exposed. In the past it didn't need to be corrected or watched carefully, but now it's in the spotlight.

Districts and individual public schools are reviewing their framework reports now before they're made available to the public. Quirky things are coming out of the data used to make these calculations.

It's possible the data used to calculate the four performance indicators can be appealed to the State Board of Education. But the data that's used is all final and cannot be changed.

It'll be interesting to see how faulty data is addressed at the state level, but even more interesting will be watching the new interest school and district-level staff take in making sure the data is correctly reported in the first place.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Why Attending This Friday's Finance Seminar is Important

Every year the Colorado charter school community gets together for a Finance Seminar designed for charter school board members, business managers and administrators. This year's Finance Seminar might be one of the best!

Here are a few highlights for someone thinking about attending:
  • A state-level panel discussing the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (f.k.a. No Child Left Behind).
  • A panel discussing the use of Standard 11: Finance for charter schools from the perspective of the CSSI team member, business manager and administrator.
  • The legal aspects to the Financial Transparency Act and what's required of charter schools.
  • Fundraising for charter schools.
  • Lessons learned from one charter school's audit.
  • How to start a charter school business office.
  • An update on the HB 1412 State Advisory Committee established to recommend charter school and charter school authorizer standards.
  • Internet safety for schools.
  • Property and liability insurance tips for charter schools.
  • Information on the BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant.
Too often charter school leaders don't even know what they don't know to ask! Attending a seminar like Friday's on finance ensures leaders are aware of the current issues and where to get specific information. It's also a great time to network with other people in the same role such as board Treasurer or business manager.

Register for the Finance Seminar at:

Charter school business managers meet throughout the school year every other month. The same link works to register for those meetings.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Ed Jobs Bill Prohibits Management Company-Operated Charter Schools From Getting Funds

The new $10 billion Ed Jobs bill passed by Congress earlier this summer won't be going to charter schools operated by a management company. Some states are interpreting the guidance released last week to mean that no employee, not even teachers, are eligible for this new funding aimed at re-hiring teachers laid off due to budget cuts if the management company operates the charter school.

The federal guidance released on Sept. 1st states that a charter school that is an LEA will receive the funds directly. This doesn't affect any of Colorado's charter schools because none of the state's charter schools are their own LEA (Local Education Agency--the label attached to school districts).

The guidance also explains that management company employees are not eligible to receive Ed Jobs funds. Only about nine management companies operate in Colorado and those with varied administrative positions employed by the management company. Most commonly, the lead administrator and possibly another administrative position are employed by the management company and all other employees are employees of the charter school and not the management company.

Colorado's interpretation of the guidance is that teachers, or school-based employees, may be eligible for Ed Jobs funding. Positions paid for by the management company are not eligible.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peak to Peak Celebrates 10 Years

Peak to Peak celebrated ten years of operation by having several guest speakers including U.S. Congressman Jared Polis, Commissioner of Education Dwight Jones, executive principal Tony Fontana, principals Kyle Mathews, Suzanne Ovelman and Noelle Roni, and a student alum.

One of the school's founders, Rhonda Kelly, spoke but before she began recognized all of the individuals who had served on the board since the school began. Rhonda gave a brief history of the school, which includes their selling bonds to finance their facility in their first year of operation. This is a feat that made history as the first charter school in the nation to do this.

High school principal, Kyle Mathews, said that more than 30 million in scholarships have been awarded to the 500 students who have graduated from Peak to Peak since the first class graduated in 2005.

Tony Fontana, Peak to Peak's executive principal, recognized the Kindergarten, first and second grade students at the school who would be at the next ten-year celebration. He also noted that it was time to go back to class and learn more reading, writing and math because "that's who we are."

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Charter School Support Initiative

Today the Charter School Support Initiative team members met for their annual professional development day. Every year team members meet to debrief on the previous year's visits and talk about new topics in the world of education that are relevant to the visits.

The Charter School Support Initaitive (CSSI) is an external evaluation by a team of about 5-6 charter school leaders that ultimately issue a report that documents the findings. The visit is based on the 9 standards of school reform in use by the Colorado Title I process and two additional standards created for the unique aspect of charter schools, which are the governance and finance standards. All schools receiving federal Charter School Program funds are expected to undergo a CSSI site visit in the final year of receiving the grant.

CSSI team members are some of the best charter school administrators, teachers, governing board members and business managers in the state. The criteria for being asked to be on the CSSI team is having already demonstrated success.

Today team members learned about the School Performance Framework that's now in use for state accountability and is tied to state Accreditation. The SPF replaces the School Accountability Report. Schools are placed in one of four categories based on data on the four Accreditation Indicators: Acaademic Achievement, Academic Growth, Academic Growth Gaps and Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness. Depending on the Accreditation category, schools must write a plan. Schools in either Turnaround or Priority Improvement must write a plan this year using the Unified Planning Template. This year the other schools are not required to use the Unified Plan Template, but next year all public schools are required to use the Unified Plan.

The CSSI team members also discussed classroom observations and how to assess a classroom in a common way. This particular topic is discussed annually in order to ensure continuity amongst team members.

Currently about a dozen charter schools are scheduled for a CSSI visit this year. Others will be added as charter schools are identified in the Turnaround Accreditation category. Several of the grant programs available to assist schools in Turnaround require an external evaluation process in order to ascertain the current condition of the school.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Khan Academy: A Great Resource

When entrepeneur Bill Gates recommends something, most people listen. Bill Gates is using Khan Academy to teach his kids. Khan Academy is a collection of videos explaining everything from addition to statistics, the French Revolution, the Geithner banking crisis plan and Physics. The range is from basic to advanced.

This website would be a great resource for students needing a bit more remediation for a concept that isn't quite clicking yet. Since the material is sequential, it builds upon previous knowledge.

Teachers can use this in the classroom for students who either want to advance more quickly or students who want to reinforce what they've already begun to understand.

Check it out. And see what Bill Gates is recommending!