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Proposed charter schools detail offerings for D-11

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: November 9, 2012 at 12:00 am

Organizers of three proposed charter schools are seeking to join Colorado Springs School District 11’s family of seven charter schools.

The last charter application to the Pikes Peak region’s largest district was submitted three years ago, and the D-11 board approved Academy for Advanced and Creative Learning. The school opened in 2010.

Four applicants submitted charter school proposals this year.One, Adventures in Learning Career Academies, has since withdrawn. The three remaining groups presented their proposals to the board at a work session last week.

“We need to get our act together so we don’t need charter schools, but we need them now,” said D-11 board member Bob Null said during the meeting.

Here’s a look at the schools want to offer.

GLOBAL VILLAGE ACADEMY

• Open in August 2013.

• Initially serve kindergarten through fourth grade, adding a level annually through eighth grade.

• Open with 330 students, building to 900 students after five years.

• Plans to locate in southeastern quadrant of Colorado Springs, preferably in the former Jefferson Elementary School.

• Global Village has two schools near Denver, and another charter application is pending in Fort Collins.

• Governed by a Northglenn-based collaborative public entity created under Colorado’s charter school act.

The school would blend military traditions and language immersion, offering curriculum in Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and German. Kindergartners would be taught in their chosen target language. First-graders would have 20 percent of the day in English, the rest in their chosen language. Third- through sixth graders would split their school days evenly between English and a foreign language. The oldest students would only have about a third of their day in a foreign language.

Immersion is the most effective way to learn a new language, and its also a more efficient use of education dollars, said language expert Myriam Met, director of the National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. She said students don’t lose anything by learning typical scholastic subjects in another language.

The program hinges on students starting at the school while young, when it is easiest to learn another language.

The school’s math curriculum puts students about a year and a half ahead of their peers, said Christina Howe, chief executive officer.

Today’s students face a global world, and Global Village Academy will teach essential skills, she said.

The school is not a military academy, but is aligned with such values, she said, giving examples such as service history, the meaning of the flag and observation of traditions.

Officials said there had not been a formal feasibility study on the school specific to Colorado Springs, in response to D-11 board questions.

D-11 board Treasurer Nora Brown asked how the school would work with students who enroll in later grades.

Modified support would be offered to older students for the first few years, Howe said. Eventually, students would be required to enroll by the first grade.

D-11 Board member Al Loma pointed out that the district would have to accommodate high school students who went through the school.

The campus in Aurora grew from 220 students to 1,150 in about five years, officials said. More than half of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

“We draw across school districts,” Howe said.


JAMES IRWIN CHARTER ACADEMY

• Open in fall of 2013.

• Kindergarten through fifth grade.

• Open with about 260 students and grow to about 340 students in five years.

• Prefers to use the former Jefferson Elementary School, but has started preliminary talks on alternative locations.

• Three James Irwin schools are chartered through Harrison School District 2.

• Governed by a Colorado Springs nonprofit created to oversee the schools.

Some of the highlights of a James Irwin school are extensive time spent on reading and math instruction, and cursive writing lessons starting in kindergarten. Although most school days would be a little longer than the typical D-11 day, every Friday is early dismissal to give teachers time for development and planning.

The school would be a replication of James Irwin Charter Elementary School in D-2. The group also has middle and high school campuses in the same district.

Cindee Will, assistant principal at the elementary would be the principal of the new campus if approved by the D-11 board.

“We want to bring another choice,” she said.

The founders told the board that they want more students to experience the success seen at the D-2 James Irwin school. About 240 D-11 students attend or are on the wait-list for the D-2 school. Many don’t get to attend because D-2 students have priority, Will said.

D-11 Board Vice President LuAnn Long asked what set James Irwin apart from others schools in the district, since similar honors, elements and instructional time appear relatively equitable.

Will touted test scores, which have been consistently high at the D-2 campuses. The longer students are enrolled at James Irwin, the more they improve, she said.

James Irwin officials noted that teacher pay is lower than in D-11, but there are merit pay boosts built into the system.

The kindergarten program is shorter than the program offered at other D-11 schools. Tuition-based full-day kindergarten could be offered, based on interest and need.

MOUNTAIN SONG COMMUNITY SCHOOL

• Open in August 2013.

• First serve pre-kindergarten through sixth grade, adding seventh and eighth grades by 2015.

• Open with about 180 students and grow to about 260 students in five years.

• Prefers to use the former Jefferson Elementary School; has several other possible locations.

• It would be the third Waldorf methods charter school in Colorado.

• Governed by a nonprofit board that includes parents and members of the community. Founding board members include parents, educators and those with experience with nonprofits, administration, business and other fields.

Mountain Song would emphasize an arts-integrated education within a nurturing, multi-sensory, multi-cultural, nature-based environment where cultivating students’ imagination and creativity are high priorities.

“Charter Schools don’t work is they’re doing the same thing,” said Neah Douglas, founding board chairwoman. “Waldorf is different.”

Mountain Song’s roots are in a group of parents who have been homeschooling their children using Waldorf methods.

A child in a regular class might learn about Day of the Dead by watching a movie, one parent said. In a Waldorf class, the student would learn about traditional folk dances, traditions and foods through in-depth and hands-on lessons.

Teachers move up with their students year after year, Douglas said, which gives teachers a better understanding of their students.

Any teacher development and training activities would be open to any educators in D-11 and other districts.

“It’s our duty to share what is working for us,” Douglas said.

More than half of the families who have expressed an interest in the school are D-11 residents.

Some board members asked for more details on students achievement indicators at similar schools. Several D-11 board members expressed concern that technology was not a key piece to Mountain Song.

“Technology is made to be easy,” said parent Raj Solanki. Young kids need to learn how to think creatively, and don’t need to learn how to use technology when they can simply pick it up later, he said.

When D-11 board member Sandra Mann asked about Mountain Song leadership and expertise, Douglas said they would need some help. She said that they have at least a dozen teachers interested in the school if approved.

“It’s difficult for me as a board member to approve a charter school without a lot of infrastructure,” Mann said.

Douglas said the school can’t hire anyone until the school is approved, and there is a lot of expertise on the founding board.

NEXT STEP

A public hearing on the three charter school applicants is planned for 7 p.m. Wednesday. The District Accountability Committee and administrative team will present their findings and recommendations to the board that same night, but the board will not take action.

DECISION

The board is expected to make its final decisions on the applications at a special board meeting Nov. 27.

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