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October 26, 2012
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Charter Carbondale school seeks to loosen sibling policy

CARBONDALE, Colorado - The lone charter school operating as part of the Roaring Fork School District Re-1 wants to change its enrollment policy to allow siblings of current students automatic enrollment into the school.

Currently, the Carbondale Community School (CCS) gives preference to siblings in its annual student lottery by allotting up to half of the available slots to any sibling applicants.

As the school prepares to submit its required five-year charter renewal application to the Re-1 school board, it is seeking an amendment to allow an open enrollment policy for all sibling applicants.

"The parents who already have students in our school are very passionate that this is where they want their children to be educated," said Skye Skinner, executive director of Woody Creek-based Compass, which operates both CCS and the Aspen Community School.

The Aspen school, which is chartered with the Aspen School District, already has a 100 percent sibling preference, Skinner said during an Re-1 school board meeting in Basalt on Wednesday.

"To divide families between different schools has been destructive to some families," Skinner said.

The 17-year-old Carbondale school has had a limited sibling preference as part of its charter agreement dating back several years. The policy was adopted partly in an effort to keep as many slots available as possible for the school to achieve a more representative mix of Anglo and Latino students, similar to other Re-1 district schools.

Still, while other Carbondale schools in particular have a Latino student population of 60 percent or more, CCS continues to hover around 20 percent.

The educational model at CCS is built around a smaller school setting and low student-to-teacher ratios, with a cap of 135 students for grades kindergarten through eighth grade.

As a result, only 14 kindergarten slots and a very small number of slots in other grade levels are available each year, with usually five or six times as many applicants.

A random lottery is conducted each spring for the following school year to determine which students can enroll. Priority is given to different groups of students, including children from low-income families, siblings of current students and children of CCS employees.

The sibling policy has resulted in some families, both Anglo and Latino, choosing to leave the school after younger siblings were not selected in the lottery, CCS Principal Tom Penzel said at the Wednesday school board meeting.

"If we're really trying to diversify, we were finding that this policy was going to work against that," Penzel said.

During a preliminary discussion of the sibling proposal, school board members were split on whether to loosen the policy.

"If it were just me, I'd say we should get rid of the sibling policy altogether," board president Matt Hamilton said. "I think we need to respect the larger community, and all families should have that opportunity."

He said the larger discussion is how best to incorporate more of the CCS approach to learning in the other district schools.

School board member Daniel Biggs said he believes the sibling policy, and the amendment to give 100 percent sibling preference, "makes sense."

"If one of our goals is to have full family engagement in our schools, I think we need to allow this," Biggs said. "If we're splitting up kids between schools, that's going to be hard to do."

School board members Bob Johnson and Richard Stettner added that, if the policy stands, there needs to be disclosure to families upfront that there's no guarantee younger siblings will get into CCS.

The school board will take comments on the proposed CCS charter amendment at a Nov. 14 board meeting in Glenwood Springs. The charter renewal application is to be formally submitted by Dec. 1. The school board must decide whether to approve the new charter by February.

Whatever the board decides will also likely have bearing on a new charter application for the proposed Two Rivers Expeditionary School in Glenwood Springs. A public hearing is also scheduled at the Nov. 14 meeting as part of the board's consideration of the proposed new school.

The Nov. 14 meeting is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Oct 26, 2012 01:04AM Published Oct 26, 2012 01:03AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.