Enrollment opens for new Hillsdale College-affiliated school in Colorado Springs
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(Courtesy of Liberty Tree Academy/Facebook)

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FALCON - Enrollment opens at 10 p.m. Friday for Liberty Tree Academy, the newest school in Hillsdale College's network of charter schools.

Early interest shows the "traditional American education" of schools affiliated with the conservative liberal arts college in Hillsdale, Mich., will be popular in the Pikes Peak region.

"We believe we'll have full enrollment shortly after opening" the process, said Ronnie Wilson, a Liberty Tree Academy founder and board president.

As a condition of obtaining charter authorization from Falcon School District 49 last July, school organizers were required to collect 380 "expressions of interest" from parents by June 1. As of Monday, the school had received 470.

"We're not surprised. We believe we're answering a need in our community," said Wilson, who also works as a lead pastor at Gathering Stones Community Church in Falcon.

"Being the 17th school (in the network), people have expectations and a deeper appreciation for Hillsdale College and what that means for their child," he said.

The school, which will teach liberal arts and sciences along with "the philosophical tenets of the nations' founders," intends to open with 468 kindergarten through eighth-grade students. It will grow by one grade each year until it reaches 12th grade.

"We will train and develop young Americans," Wilson said.

Applications will be taken online starting at 10 p.m. Friday at ltaeagles.org. Applications will be processed in the order in which they are received, Wilson said, although priority will be given to founding families. A random lottery will be conducted March 12 for classes that have more applicants than seats.

The school will host a public information session at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Falcon D-49's Creekside Success Center, 3850 Pony Tracks Drive.

Organizers are working on buying property near East Woodman Road and U.S. 24 on which to build the new school. Wilson said a temporary location is available if the building is not completed for the fall opening.

A $750,000 federal grant is helping to pay for furnishings, curriculum and other startup costs, he said.

Founded in 1844 by Freewill Baptists, Hillsdale College, according to its mission statement, today is "a nonsectarian Christian institution," which maintains "by precept and example the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith."

The college started the Barney Charter School Initiative to promote classical liberal arts and sciences education in startup charter schools, which are taxpayer funded but have more flexibility than traditional public schools in governance, curriculum, culture, financing and operations.

Hillsdale's goal is to have 50 such charter schools by 2022.

Interest in Liberty Tree has come from near and far, Wilson said, from families within Falcon D-49 to Manitou Springs and Monument, to Washington, D.C., Nebraska and Florida.

Hillsdale does not fund the schools but provides free on-site training, feedback and mentoring as long as schools follow its educational philosophy, curriculum and standards.

Students will wear uniforms, and the school will "uphold the same standards of teaching, of curriculum and of discipline found in the schools of old," according to Liberty Tree's website.

That doesn't mean corporal punishment, though, Wilson said.

There's a heavy emphasis on civics lessons using originally sourced materials to "equip students to understand and defend the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."

While Judeo-Christian tradition underlies study and instruction at Hillsdale College, its charter schools do not have any religious bent.

Wilson said Liberty Tree will "fully adhere to state and federal law as to how any material, including that subject or any other subject related to the Constitution, is taught with original documents."

Liberty Tree won't fit every student, said Colorado Springs resident Linda Taylor, a school supporter.

"They're going to learn about great literature and the founders of our country and the importance of all the classic education," she said. "That doesn't mean it's going to be great for every student, but it's great for parents and students to have different choices in education."

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