Pikes Peak Prep charter goes independent, with state agency's blessing
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Pikes Peak Prep (Gazette file photo)

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A revised contract for a K-12 charter school in Colorado Springs was renewed Tuesday unanimously by the Colorado Charter School Institute.

Pikes Peak Prep will move this summer, possibly to the old Helen Hunt Elementary School in the Hillside neighborhood.

The school also will operate independently instead of under a management organization, as it has since its inception in 2005, and it must meet new benchmarks.

"We work really hard to make sure our schools have quite a bit of autonomy, but we provide support and guidance," said Terry Croy Lewis, executive director of the Colorado Charter School Institute, which oversees 41 schools statewide.

"We've been closely monitoring it (Pikes Peak Prep) to make sure families' needs will be met appropriately."

Lewis said the early-college prep format, Core Knowledge curriculum and school model with character development will remain at Pikes Peak Prep, which has about 300 students.

But Pikes Peak Prep will vacate its building at 525 E. Costilla St. at the end of this school year. Greater Education Opportunities Foundation, the school's management company, built the school in 2005 when Pikes Peak Prep opened and has put it up for sale.

The property is being bought by a K-8 charter school opening in the fall, Monarch Classical School of the Arts, said Leigha Johnson, one of the school's founders and a former third-grade teacher at Pikes Peak Prep. Monarch is a new school under the wing of the Colorado Charter School Institute.

Both Pikes Peak Prep and Monarch are in Colorado Springs School District 11 boundaries.

The Indianapolis-based GEO Foundation agreed last month to part ways with Pikes Peak Prep as of June 30, said Kevin Teasley, founder and president of the nonprofit charter management organization, which operates three schools in Indiana and three in Louisiana. Pikes Peak Prep was GEO's sole Colorado school.

"It's been a good ride," Teasley said Tuesday. "We didn't start the school with the intention of perpetual management. We are interested in the board taking over, so that's where we are."

The plan had been for the school to assume ownership of the building, he said, but that never happened, and his foundation refinanced it multiple times.

"It's been too expensive for the enrollment the school has," he said, and he was glad to see Colorado lawmakers pass a facility funding measure for charter schools authorized by the state.

The deal to move Pikes Peak Prep to the Helen Hunt campus isn't finalized and needs approval. D-11 closed Helen Hunt at the end of the 2016 school year and sold it to a foundation that leases the space to nonprofit organizations.

Pikes Peak Prep has had its ups and downs in its 13 years of operation. In 2011, the school won the Governor's Distinguished Improvement Award.

The school's graduation rate in 2016 was 61 percent.

Teasley hired controversial education reformer Mike Miles in June 2016 to make improvements. But his no-nonsense management style and techniques led many teachers to quit, and the GEO Foundation filed a civil lawsuit alleging breach of contract after Miles resigned in February 2017. The lawsuit, filed in March 2017 in 4th Judicial District Court, is active, Teasley said.

"They've struggled around school leadership," Lewis said, but she feels confident in the school's new direction.

"Where I feel optimistic is they have a strong, independent board, and the revision of bylaws will allow for more parents to be on the board," she said. "Having the board that can create some stability will be better for the school than the management organization, which had complicated things by being out of state."

Teasley said he's optimistic as well.

"The school is moving along nicely now with a strong board, and I think it will do fine without us," he said. "The good news is, who we are selling it (the building) to will continue to enhance the community."

Monarch will bring a spin to the classical education model, Johnson said, emphasizing whole-child development and student-family support.

"Through individualized learning goals, expansive daily arts programs, free before and after school enrichment lessons, weekly parent-teacher communication, and multiple tiers of support for teachers and classrooms, Monarch seeks to provide a world-class education," she said in an email.

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