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Gazette Premium Content Money woes, too few students forces closure of charter high

CAROL MCGRAW Updated: May 11, 2011 at 12:00 am

Rocky Mountain Classical Academy will close its high school at the end of the school year, citing dismal state funding and dearth of students.

The elementary school and middle school will remain open on their campuses.

The Falcon School District 49 charter school will save about $400,000 by closing its high school, which has about 40 students in grades 9-11, said Kristin Geesey, RMCA board treasurer.

“It’s definitely sad,” she said. ”But we will be able to add depth to our middle school. It will be more robust.”

The Falcon school board had been scheduled to address the closing at Thursday’s board meeting but took the item off the agenda.

Brad Miller, attorney for D49, said RMCA can close the school. He said the district has a contract with RMCA and the board could review RMCA’s decision. “That’s not to say that they will.”

The RMCA board of directors voted in April to close, said Geesey.

She said that officials from D-49, which authorized the charter, were in agreement with the decision. “They said we were making a painful but fiscally sound decision.”

The costs associated with adding a senior year, including additional teachers, and expanding  such things as curriculum and computer labs were not feasible.

“We couldn’t hire the staff we needed to run four grades with a full schedule even if the full amount of per pupil funding from the state was available,” Geesey said.

The budget for the academy, which has about 1,000 students, is about $5 million, but will drop to $4.7 million next year even with the closure. The amount that the state pays for each student will be $6,137 which is down about $663 per pupil.  

The high school has been quartered with the middle school at 3850 Pony Trails Drive near Peterson Road and Carefree Circle North. The elementary school is at 1710 Piros Dr..

The academy opened in the 2005-2006 school year as a K-8. The ninth grade was added in 2007-2008, and the 10th and 11th grade the next two years.

In 2009 a charter school support team from Colorado Department of Education lauded RMCA for its academic achievement, its attention to character development and for putting students first. But it suggested financial and administrative changes, which were implemented.   

This school year, the D-49 board told Rocky Mountain officials they needed to address test scores, gaps in the high school curriculum, and other issues, academy officials said.

Christianna Fogler, who took over as principal of the middle and high schools last fall, said that in March, parents were told of the anticipated closure. In April, high school representatives from around the region were invited to make pitches to students and parents looking for new schools. D-49 opened the window on its choice program, allowing the students to apply within the district regardless of where they lived.

“It was bittersweet seeing all our kids sitting at tables discussing where they would be going,” said Fogler.

There will be more time for emphasis on other grades now. “We are now growing a program that produces rock stars,” Fogler said.

Scott Cathey, RMCA board president, said, “It was a hard decision. But we are looking forward to where we are going with the middle school. Numbers and scores have come up and students are thriving.”  

The academy uses the classical core knowledge model that provides more hands on enrichment. There has been dramatic turnaround in achievement, school officials say.

At the start of the year, 43 percent of high school and middle school students were from other districts, and 89 percent had been failing in one class elsewhere. As of third quarter, only one middle school student was failing a single class. Of those who were new, all have a C or better now, and 18 percent are on the honor role.

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