March 10, 2011
State Board Approves Kit Carson School District Request For Innovation Status; Decides Two Charter School Appeals
The Colorado State Board of Education this week approved an application from Kit Carson School District R-1 to be designated as a school district of innovation under the Innovation Schools Act. The vote was 6-1. Board Member Angelika Schroeder, who had asked for more time to find answers to her questions, cast the lone dissent.
Kit Carson’s application includes a proposal to implement its own, unique teacher evaluation system—a request that appeared to clash with the implementation of S.B. 10-191, the state law that called for a new statewide system for teacher evaluation and retention. The new law calls for shifting the focus of career advancement to demonstrated educator effectiveness based on academic growth. The rules for the implementation of that law are due to be discussed by the state board later this year.
Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver, one of the bill’s principal authors, attended the state board meeting and said the bill was specifically drafted so only one provision could be waived, not the other provisions.
He later agreed, however, that the Kit Carson application would only establish a “narrow precedent” should other districts choose to apply for innovation school designation for those sections of the law codified as a result of S.B. 10-191. . .That’s in part because Kit Carson School District is applying as a district of innovation on behalf of all of its schools, an approach that he believed larger districts would not attempt to emulate.
Kit Carson has just over 100 students in three separate buildings all on the same campus. The innovation law allows schools (and districts) to seek waivers from a wide variety of state requirements. Schools and districts are required to demonstrate strong community support for their applications.
The Innovation Schools Act gives the state board two reasons for possible denial: first, if the application is “likely to result in a decrease in academic achievement” and, second, if it is “not fiscally feasible.”
Kit Carson Superintendent Gerald Keefe said innovation status would allow the district the flexibility it needs to remain competitive in its rural environment and to maintain and improve its high level of academic performance. Keefe also pointed out that the district is considered one of the most fiscally sound districts in the state.
Kit Carson’s proposal received a strong endorsement from the Colorado Association of School Boards. Executive Director Ken DeLay cautioned that denying the proposal would cool other proposals. “It’s been a struggle to get districts to use the Innovation Schools Act,” he said. “If you are encouraging more rather than less innovation, this would be an opportunity to do that.”
Board Chairman Bob Schaffer said the plain language of the law seemed clear. “I don’t see much ambiguity in the statute and that leads me to take the side of the district in this case,” he said. “State Board supports and encourages local Boards of Education in their ongoing efforts to seek out and implement innovative, courageous and productive cost efficiencies. This is such a case.”
Appeal from Lotus School for Excellence Charter Denied
On a 6-1 vote, the state board upheld a decision by St. Vrain Valley School District RE-1J to deny a charter school application from the Lotus School for Excellence. The charter organizers currently operate a similar school in Aurora and were seeking to expand to Longmont.
Various state board members cited concerns with the organization’s finances, facility and degree of local support.
“I am very much in favor of choice and charters,” said Board Vice Chair Marcia Neal. “But I do have real concerns here—financial concerns, facility concerns, enrollment concerns and questions that were not answered to my satisfaction.”
Board Member Angelika Schroeder pointed to the “lack of transparency” despite four binders’ worth of information from the applicants. Added board member Paul Lundeen: “It cuts against my grain to move in this direction.”
Board Chairman Bob Schaffer cast the lone vote in favor of Lotus School for Excellence.
Appeal from Youth and Family Academy Charter School Approved
On a 6-1 vote, the state board overturned a decision by Pueblo City Schools to non-renew the charter of the Youth and Family Academy (YAFA). Board member Elaine Gantz Berman cast the lone vote of dissent.
YAFA representatives pointed to their track record of growth among their student population, which is comprised primarily of at-risk and high-risk students who did not succeed in regular district schools, but who were thriving at this school designated as an alternative education campus.
The appeal involved a lively discussion in which the board members attempted to weigh the value of keeping the school open against the conflicting testimony presented pertaining to the academic achievement of the students. The issue was a challenging one for board members, who were required to apply the standard of whether the charter school remaining open was in the best interests of the pupils, the school district, or community considering the demographic.
The board room was full with parents and students who support YAFA. Chairman Bob Schaffer pointed out that the customers like the school and “nobody is running for the exits…I am firmly convinced and persuaded that the district’s decision to deny the charter is contrary to the best interest of the students and the district and the community.”
Parental Notice Proposal Discussed
The state board discussed new rules that would require school districts to notify parents when an arrest is made or when charges are brought against an employee or former employee of a school if the charges are based on specific offenses. (The idea was discussed last May and defeated, 4—3.)
The state board held a rulemaking hearing and heard testimony opposed to the concept from the Colorado Education Association. Chairman Schaffer said the proposal would lead to “complete transparency” between a school district and the community and board member Paul Lundeen said the proposal would “raise the standards of trust.”
The state board determined to hold open the public rulemaking hearing for any additional testimony at the next regular board meeting scheduled for April 13 and 14, 2011. The time of the hearing will be posted on the State Board Web site, http://www.cde.state.co.us/index_sbe.htm at least one week prior to the meeting.
Teacher Induction Program Approval Postponed
Historically, the approval of school districts’ induction programs has been among the items on the state board’s monthly consent agenda. That changed on Wednesday when Board Member Debora Scheffel requested that the board postpone approval of the five programs on the agenda to allow more time to review them. These programs include those submitted by ACE Community Challenge School, Aspen Academy, NHA-Foundation Academy, SkyView Academy Charter School and West End School District.
“Educator training and preparation are among the state board’s top priorities,” said Scheffel. “Taking additional time to review these programs emphasizes the board’s commitment to ensuring educators receive meaningful training and mentorship.”
Within the first three years of their career as teachers, all initial-licensed teachers are required to complete the induction program created and provided by their district.
“For many teachers, the induction process is a fulcrum in their professional development and a key part of their decision to either stay in the profession or pursue another course,” said Scheffel. Board Member Angelika Schroeder concurred and supported the postponement to next month “as long as it would not cause a problem for any of these schools.”
State Board Resolution Honoring Assistant Commissioner Vody Herrmann
The state board reserved the last section of the March 10th agenda to recognize the 11-year contribution made by Assistant Commissioner Vody Herrmann to the State of Colorado. The board passed a resolution honoring her many accomplishments in the area of state public school finance. Chairman Bob Schaffer, after reading the resolution into the record, joined other board members in thanking Ms. Herrmann for her service. “You have made a significant mark on education in Colorado,” noted Schaffer, “which will last for decades to come.”
In Other Action:
In other action, the Colorado State Board of Education:
Approved state share payments for March through May 2011.
Approved monthly initial emergency authorizations (monthly total 8).
- Approved a waiver request from certain statutes by Aspen School District on behalf of Aspen Community School.
- Approved a waiver request from certain statutes by Harrison School District 2 on behalf of James Irwin Charter Elementary School.
- Approved a waiver request from certain statutes by Brighton School District 27J on behalf of Foundations Academy.
- Approved a notice of rulemaking concerning amendments to the rules governing standards for individual career and academic plans.
- Approved the five-year reauthorization of teacher preparation programs at Colorado College, Colorado State University at Pueblo and Regis College. Board member Debora Scheffel noted outstanding features of all three programs.
- Recognized Gina Oellig, a first-grade teacher at Soaring Eagles Elementary School (Harrison School District 2) in Colorado Springs, who was the 2010 Milken Educator of the Year. The Milken Family Foundation works to strengthen the profession by recognizing and rewarding outstanding educators, and by expanding their professional leadership and policy influence.
- Passed a resolution “Supporting School Improvement in Colorado School Districts. The resolution encourages Colorado’s local Boards of Education to implement cost efficiencies and adhere to the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recommendation to improve the productivity of the education system through smart, innovative and courageous actions.
- On Thursday, the board was presented two research studies from CDE’s Office of Research and Evaluation. The report, “Shining a Light on College Remediation in Colorado,” concludes that the combination of results from the ACT, a college entrance exam, and 10th-grade CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) “clearly identified most of the students who needed remediation” in their first year of postsecondary education. An expanded news release on the report is available at: http://bit.ly/hd7TiI. A second report shows a student’s performance on ninth- and 10th-grade CSAP serves as a strong predictor of future results on the Colorado ACT. This report is available at: http://bit.ly/fDKqhH.