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November 16, 2012
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School board leans toward rejection of new charter school

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - The Roaring Fork School District Re-1 board and state charter school officials are both leaning toward denying a new charter expeditionary learning school in Glenwood Springs that has been proposed to open next year.

Colorado Charter School Institute staff, in a report given to the agency's board of directors this week, recommended denial of the proposed Two Rivers Expeditionary School (TRES) charter.

The recommendation cited several deficiencies in the charter application related to achieving pupil performance standards and conducting student evaluations. It also cited concerns about the school's proposed budget, governance and the lack of a specific school location.

The staff recommendation comes in advance of the state charter review board's scheduled Nov. 27 decision whether to approve or deny the new school.

TRES proponents, including parents, teachers and community members from both the Roaring Fork Re-1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts, jointly applied this fall to become a charter school under either the state or the Re-1 school district.

The school is proposed to open in fall 2013 with 146 students from Glenwood Springs to Rifle in kindergarten through sixth grade. It proposes to expand after two years to a K-8 school with 190 students.

Charter proponents have been looking for potential school sites in either West Glenwood or the downtown Glenwood Springs area.

Meanwhile, Re-1 board members and district officials, at the board's regular meeting in Glenwood Springs Wednesday evening, also shared some initial concerns about the charter proposal.

"I believe we have a long way to go to be ready to open the school by next fall," Re-1 interim Superintendent Diana Sirko said, citing some of the same concerns as state charter officials have identified.

The school board is not scheduled to take a formal vote on the charter application until Nov. 28, the day after the CSI board is due to act.

'On the cusp of something great'

School board President Matt Hamilton said he not only has concerns about the TRES charter proposal, but continues to have philosophical concerns about charter schools in general and their impact on existing schools in the district.

"I do have deep concerns about the charter model in this school district, the way it has played out," Hamilton said. "I can't support a school that's separate but not equal when it comes to diversity and inclusion."

However, he said the expeditionary learning (EL) model is something the district can embrace.

"This application has caused us to begin to have a conversation that's long overdue," Hamilton said. "We are on the cusp of something great for this district."

Hamilton and other school board members asked district staff to begin evaluating a possible conversion of one or more schools, possibly involving Glenwood Springs Elementary School, into an official EL school.

The EL model revolves around traditional classroom learning, but is project-based with "expeditions" both in and outside the classroom focused on science studies, the arts, outdoor education, and involvement in community or civic projects.

"I do see the commitment of parents to this," school board member Daniel Biggs said. "I hope you can join us in having a critical conversation about the choices we are providing in our schools."

'Not closing the doors on anything'

TRES interim head of school Debra Winston, while disappointed with the board's direction regarding the charter application, was open to the idea of working with Re-1 officials on bringing the EL model to local schools.

"We're not closing the doors on anything," said Winston, who has worked with the national EL Schools organization in recent years as a school designer. "We would like to be that catalyst to make a change."

However, some parent proponents of the charter school were skeptical that a conversion can happen by next year, and what kind of resistance there might be from school administrators and teachers.

Sirko said it would likely take until fall 2014 to lay the necessary groundwork for an EL school conversion. However, some school board members would like to consider a conversion as soon as next school year.

"I'm not convinced we can't be more aggressive on this," Biggs said. "I think we have an obligation to these parents to somehow provide the product they are wanting."

Other board members urged a more cautious approach, however.

"If we rush, it will be a top-down approach" board member Richard Stettner said, offering that fall of 2014 seemed more realistic. "I don't want us to cram something down people's throat who may not want it."

Several parents spoke at the school board meeting in favor of the TRES charter proposal, including some who said the idea of a smaller, more intimate school setting was the idea before the EL model was adopted.

The school board will likely continue the discussion on the charter proposal and give more direction on a possible EL conversion at its regular Nov. 28 meeting.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 16, 2012 12:59AM Published Nov 16, 2012 12:54AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.