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Colorado Springs-area charter schools grow up and out

August 19, 2017 Updated: August 22, 2017 at 1:57 pm
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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.

A new charter school is opening this fall, and several others in the Pikes Peak region are completing expansions or renovations.

Colorado Military Academy, the state's first K-8 military-style school, at 360 Command View Drive, will hold a grand opening at 6 p.m. Thursday with state Sen. Owen Hill as one of the guest speakers. The Air Force Academy band will start playing at 5:30 p.m.

School starts Aug. 28 for kindergarten, first- and second-graders, and Aug. 29 for grades three through eight.

"Everywhere I go, I hear such excitement about this, from local elected representatives, the education community, the military community," said Executive Director Reggie Ash, a retired Air Force colonel. "We're doing something that's really revolutionary and needed."

The former Leidos building outside the north gate of Peterson Air Force Base was renovated over the summer in a $3.4 million project. Enrollment is about 550.

The Civil Air Patrol is the foundation of the program. The inaugural squadron will be introduced at the grand opening.

"It brings leadership development, character development, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) projects and integrated citizenship lessons - on presidents, patriots and heroes - in elementary school lesson plans," Ash said.

Middle school students will be encouraged to join the cadet program of the Civil Air Patrol.

That opens "high-quality educational opportunities," Ash said, including military encampments and orientation rides in military airplanes.

The founding principal is Air Force veteran Toni Schone. The assistant principal is Amos Velasquez.

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Classes for sixth- through ninth-graders started Aug. 7 at Banning-Lewis Ranch Academy's new middle and high school. The $17.5 million, 83,000-square-foot building is at 9433 Vistsa Del Pico Blvd. in northeast Colorado Springs.

It's 1 mile from the old building that opened in 2006 and is now the elementary school for kindergarten through fifth grade.

The charter school under Falcon School District 49 has 1,300 students, 525 of whom are at the new secondary campus, the district's first charter high school.

The two-story building resembles the barn-like design of the original school and features a full-size competition gymnasium, a weight room, a cafeteria with garage doors that open for outdoor seating, three science labs including a chemistry lab, a media center, Chrome Books for students, flat-screen TVs for educational purposes and lunch service. Elective courses encompass teen leadership, wilderness survival, music lessons and CSI. A stadium is in the works.

"One of the biggest things we heard from parents was, 'Are you going to fulfill what every other high school offers - band, sports?'" said Heather Zambrano, executive director of the Banning Lewis Ranch Academy Foundation. "We're working diligently to meet every student's needs."

Ninety freshmen make up the inaugural graduating class of 2021. Officials plan to add one grade per year to reach 12th grade by fall 2020.

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Two local charter schools, Thomas MacLaren School and Global Village Academy, have swapped locations. The larger facility will enable Thomas MacLaren School to open an elementary school next fall and serve students from kindergarten through 12th grade, officials say.

Thomas MacLaren, authorized by the state's Charter School Institute, has nearly 500 students at its new location in the former Irving Middle School, 1702 N. Murray Blvd. Renovations have included upgrading ventilation, expanding parking, rekeying entrances, painting and, with the help of 525 volunteers, doing a "deep cleaning," said Katherine Brophy, school spokeswoman.

The bigger campus means the school will add classrooms for kindergarten through fifth grades next fall, under the direction of Nico Alvarado, who has taught at the school for six years.

The elementary school will offer the same classical curriculum as older grades, with "deep immersion in music, mathematics, history, science and stories," he said. Each student studies the humanities, sciences and arts, and every student participates in orchestra.

The first information night for K-12 enrollment starts at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 7,.

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Global Village Academy, one of five campuses statewide that specializes in language immersion and global culture education, is settling into its new site at Pulpit Rock Church, 303 Austin Bluffs Parkway. The K-8 school graduated its first eighth-grade class in May.

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Monument Academy, the sole charter school in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument, has a new principal and chief academic advisor, Elizabeth Davis. She was the founding principal at Colorado Calvert Academy State Charter School and Academy Calvert Online School, which Academy School District 20 acquired in 2015.

She takes over as the preK-eighth grade Monument Academy is preparing to ask the D-38 board to approve an expansion to add a high school.

The school plans to file an application in the next 30 days, said Executive Director Don Griffin. A high school would be at a different location from its elementary and middle schools, he said.

"We have several sites in mind, all within D-38 boundaries," he said.

The target opening would be the fall of 2019.

The elementary and middle schools are full this year, with more than 1,000 students, Griffin said. He attributes the school's popularity to staying true to core values, being value-driven by eight tenets and allowing parents to have input on testing, curriculum and school direction.

Davis, who also has been a consultant to the Colorado Charter School Institute, where she reviewed charter school applications, said coming into a school that's "high-performing and high-functioning and having a vision for where that will go in grades 9-12" is a good fit for her.

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The Classical Academy, the state's largest brick-and-mortar charter school, is celebrating its 20th anniversary and continuing to grow up and out.

"It's a very exciting year," said spokeswoman Tisha Harris. "It's amazing to experience what has grown from the vision of nine families who met around a kitchen table so many years ago."

TCA has increased from 33 staff members and 400 students in 1997 to 453 staff members and about 3,900 students this school year.

The school operates seven programs on three campuses on the city's northeast side and is authorized by Academy School District 20.

Expansions have been ongoing.

The school is nearing the completion of renovations and expansion at the Central Elementary Campus. The $6.8 million project, made possible through bond refinancing, includes new heating, air-conditioning, paint and cabinetry and a new building with 14 classrooms and two planning rooms. The building replaces modular units students had been using. Four modulars continue to house administrative offices.

The playground was installed last week, and a new artificial turf field is to go in by Labor Day.

Improvements to the North Campus are underway. Office modular buildings were removed over the summer to make way for the first phase of construction of an elementary gymnasium and auditorium. Completion of both projects is scheduled for August 2018.

The school board approved a budget of $14 million for the gym and auditorium, and another $800,000 for the turf field, as a result of Academy School District 20's successful bond authorization proposal on the November 2016 ballot.

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The Colorado Springs campus of Colorado Early Colleges, which launched 10 years ago as the first in the system, has made updates around support for students, who earn college credit, certificates and degrees for free while earning their high school diploma.

The school's tutoring center and writing lab has doubled in size, with full-time and part-time staff. Two new counselors, Paige Rutkowski and Courtney LaPar, will provide proactive and preventive support to help high school students overcome social and emotional issues.

Also, based on demand, college-level Environmental Science and Micro Economics courses from Pikes Peak Community College are new and available on the campus, which is off Garden of the Gods Road.

The changes are designed to "help CSEC's students more easily navigate high school while also taking college classes as part of CSEC's curriculum," said Jennifer Daugherty, head of school.

"Being in high school was tough before - and with all of the new distractions and challenges teenagers face today, it's important for them to have the support they need," she said.

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The opening of an energy-efficient dome-shaped building for seventh- and eighth-grade students at The Vanguard School in Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 has been delayed due to weather and construction issues. The building, anticipated to open at the beginning of this school year, now is scheduled to open in mid-September or October, according to officials.

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On deck:

Monarch Classical School of the Arts got the go-ahead from the Colorado Charter School Institute to open with grades K-6 in the fall of 2018 and grow to serve grades K-8.

The school will be in central Colorado Springs and offer a Core Knowledge classical education program along with free before- and after-school care.

Liberty Tree Academy, a Hillsdale College-affiliated K-12 school, received approval to open in the fall of 2018 in Falcon School District 49. Initially, it will offer grades K-8 and expand to 12th grade.

The school will provide a "Traditional American Education" - teaching the basics as well as the philosophical tenets of the nation's founders. "The assimilation of these ideals will assure the continuation of liberty in our country," according to materials.

New Summit Charter Academy is reworking its plan and will reapply for charter authorization from Academy School District 20 for a fall 2018 opening as a K-6 school and increase to K-12.

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