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November 30, 2012
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Charter proponents suggest pilot school first

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Proponents of the Two Rivers Expeditionary School (TRES) have offered an amended plan to operate as a small charter school on a pilot basis for two years, after which the program could be absorbed into an existing school.

But a majority of Roaring Fork School District Re-1 board members said Wednesday that they are still inclined to reject the charter option in favor of exploring the possible conversion of Glenwood Springs Elementary School into an Expeditionary Learning (EL) school.

A decision on the charter application could come sooner, at the Re-1 board's Dec. 12 meeting, rather than later in January as requested by TRES. The group wants to use that time to more formally address the school board's concerns.

"I still don't feel like a charter gives us the best opportunity," Re-1 board president Matt Hamilton said at the board's regular Wednesday meeting in Glenwood Springs. "To drag this decision out is not fair to you."

State law requires the school district to act within 90 days of receiving a charter application, meaning a decision would need to be made before Dec. 26. It was unclear at Wednesday's meeting whether the applicants can ask for an extension beyond that time without submitting a new application.

An amended plan presented by TRES at the meeting would involve opening as a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade (K-8) district charter school next fall. The school would work with a limited number of students for two years to train teachers and develop a curriculum based on the national EL Schools model.

After two years, the district would assess the school and the EL model. It could then either absorb the EL curriculum into an existing school or schools, continue the district charter, or allow TRES to apply for a new charter with the Colorado Charter School Institute.

"Two years is a lot of time to look at this and decide if it is the change we want in our district," said Rebecca Ruland of Glenwood Springs, who is part of the group proposing the new charter school.

Nancy Metrovich of Silt is a founding member of the charter group. The effort started in an attempt to offer a small, multi-age classroom charter school choice for Glenwood Springs, similar to the charter Carbondale Community School.

"We are very passionate about the education of our children in a small school, with a focus on excellence," Metrovich said. "A conversion will take time, and some of us who have been involved since the beginning don't have the luxury of that time."

According to the group's amended proposal, the two-year trial would allow Re-1 to monitor the development of the EL model at TRES while evaluating its appropriateness for other district schools.

But Hamilton and other school board members said a limited-enrollment charter school doesn't seem like the best way to approach educational reform in Re-1.

"I feel like we need to look at a path that has the most opportunity for the most students," Hamilton said.

Board member Daniel Biggs said he agrees competition between schools that use different educational models can be a good thing.

"I do think it elevates the whole game for everyone," he said.

"But I really worry when we talk about doing this with a limited number of kids," Biggs said. "It's good for those who get to participate, but it leaves out a whole lot of other kids."

Biggs was also persuaded by the "cautionary" advice from Carbondale parents and school officials who noted how the two charter schools there resulted in a split in the community.

Carbondale resident and parent Colin Laird noted that there are far fewer second-language Latino students and lower-income students enrolled at Carbondale Community and Ross Montessori schools, which are much smaller compared to the traditional public schools in Carbondale.

"I would hate for Glenwood Springs to go through what we went through in Carbondale," he said.

Karen Olson is the principal at Crystal River Elementary School in Carbondale, which saw its Anglo student enrollment drop to around 25 percent in the years after Ross opened in 2005.

"It has taken us eight years to recover from that tear in our community fabric," Olson said. "We're finally at the point where our kindergarten class now reflects the overall community, with about 50-50 Anglo and Latino students."

TRES proponents said they are reaching out to Spanish-speaking families in hopes of achieving a representative mix of students from both the Re- 1 and Garfield Re-2 school districts.

"We can take what hasn't worked so well in Carbondale and make sure we do it well here in Glenwood," said Debra Winston, the interim head of school for TRES who has been working with the parent group.

TRES seeks to draw students from both Re-1 and Re-2, though it would be located in Glenwood Springs. This fall, TRES jointly applied to become a charter school under either the state or the Re-1 school district.

The group withdrew its application from the Charter School Institute earlier this week, after state charter officials recommended denial of the TRES application.

The initial plan was to open as a K-6 school in the fall of 2013, then expand after two years to a K-8 school with 190 students. The group told the Re-1 board Wednesday that it expects to have a lease agreement for a school location in hand by late January.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Nov 30, 2012 11:21AM Published Nov 30, 2012 01:26AM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.