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After delay over district jurisdiction, proposed Colorado Springs military charter school pushes forward

April 5, 2017 Updated: April 6, 2017 at 7:29 am
Caption +
Colorado Military Academy is working on renovating a building it's buying next to Peterson Air Force Base, as organizers prepare to open in the fall with 600 students in grades K-9. Provided rendering.

After a confusing couple of weeks, Colorado's first K-12 military-style school seems back on track for an Aug. 14 opening in a building near the north gate of Peterson Air Force Base.

"The recent events have not affected the fact that we're going to be able to open a school that is unique and providing a long overdue service and addition to the Colorado Springs community," said board chairman and interim executive director Reggie Ash, a retired Air Force colonel.

The proposed Colorado Military Academy has an expedited application review before the Colorado Charter School Institute board on April 18.

As part of the process, the school will hold a public open house at 6 p.m. Thursday at its registration center at 6829 Space Village Ave.

Ash, the school's director of finance, operations, academics and student services, a Civil Air Patrol commandant and Janet Dinnen, director of data and accountability systems for Colorado Charter School Institute, will be available to answer questions.

Organizers of the military-type school are seeking approval through Charter School Institute, the state's authorization agency for charter schools.

But until mid-March, they were intending for the school to be authorized by - and therefore accountable to - Falcon School District 49.

The issue: The building that organizers are working on obtaining, at 360 Command View Drive, is located in the geographic boundaries of Colorado Springs School District 11, not D-49.

Misunderstanding came to a head last month, when school organizers learned they hadn't followed protocol D-11 issued last August when relinquishing its chartering authority. The stipulation was for the school to seek authorization through the state agency, not another school district.

School leaders blamed John Evans, a founder of the school, for the snafu and recently terminated him as executive director and commandant.

"He did a phenomenal job in getting the school off the ground, and to take the school to the next level ... the board thought we needed a leadership change," Ash said.

The school's fate was tenuous following a March 22 meeting of D-11's board, whose members said that while they think the military-laden Colorado Springs community needs a military-type school, they were disappointed about the awkward pairing with Falcon D-49.

D-11 board members said they would decide at an April 12 meeting whether to allow the school to open under the auspices of D-49 or require organizers to follow the instructions set last year: go to the state for authorization.

Ash had said that further delay would jeopardize plans for funding.

D-11 board members and staff said they were caught by surprise when Colorado Military Academy decided to keep moving forward with linking up with D-49 instead of the state agency.

"We went through a lot of work to get them to be ready to go to CSI for approval, and they never informed us they were going to D-49," Glenn Gustafson, D-11's chief financial officer and deputy superintendent, said last month.

Matt Meister, D-49 spokesman, disagrees. He said D-49 informed D-11 last September about the military school's interest in being authorized by its district, and D-49 has "maintained an ongoing dialogue with District 11 about this idea for nearly six months."

"We are certain that District 11 representatives were not surprised by CMA's interest in chartering through District 49," Meister said. "While not routine, the authorization by an adjoining district is lawful, and in this particular case, very natural."

D-49 has had a strong emphasis on supporting military families, he said, and for several years has been interested in helping develop a military-style school.

Terry Crow Lewis, executive director of Colorado Charter School Institute, said since it seemed like there wasn't going to be agreement between D-11, D-49 and the proposed military school, leaders of the school in recent weeks approached her agency for authorization.

Since Falcon D-49 had given conditional approval in February of the school's proposed plans, including budget, structure, curriculum and focus, she said her agency is conducting a "compressed and expedited" review process.

"We all agree this is an unusual situation, and we also wanted to make sure we recognize, respect and acknowledge the work D-49 did with the school," she said.

Thursday night's open house is part of the requirements for charter authorization, for school officials to meet with the community and gather input.

"This roadblock is an obstacle the applicant did not foresee," Lewis said, "and they've been responsive and positive in trying to meet our requirements in a short time."

Ash said school organizers have 350 letters of interest from parents who want to enroll their children for the fall semester. The school plans to open with grades K-9 and add a grade each year to 12th.

The concept is to emphasize sciences, technology, engineering, arts, math and business subjects. The Civil Air Patrol cadet program will serve as a model for the military training format, Ash said.

"The program does a phenomenal job of blending STEM, project-based learning, character development and leadership development," he said.

The muddled authorization has led to a few setbacks, Ash said, including delaying hiring teachers and pushing back by about three weeks the real estate transaction on the building.

Also, "It will divert some of our funds toward accelerating our construction schedule," Ash said.

The Colorado Charter School Institute has 39 schools with more than 16,000 students across the state under its wing, Lewis said, including nine schools in the Pikes Peak region.

The state agency was enacted by legislation in 2004. To preserve local control over education, public school districts in Colorado have the authority to decide which schools reside in their boundaries and the first right of refusal.

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