Carbondale charter school aims to increase minority enrollment
October 27, 2016
A recent change at the federal level in allowed preferences for weighting lottery admissions to charter schools could promote more minority student enrollment at area charters.
The Roaring Fork School District board on Wednesday revised its enrollment priority policy for the K-8 Carbondale Community School to extend to applicants whose primary home language is other than English when the school does its annual admissions lottery next spring.
Previously, the federal government allowed preferences aimed only at low-income families, with the qualifier being students who meet federal free and reduced lunch program guidelines, explained RFSD Superintendent Rob Stein.
"You still can't use race as a basis, but you can now use primary household language as a qualifier," he said. "It's not something that's being mandated, but it is allowed."
The district has been working with the 135-student Carbondale Community School (CCS) to better mirror the broader district student population. The school operates under a district charter by the nonprofit educational organization Compass.
Currently, about 49 percent of students in the district, including Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs schools, fall into the household language other than English category. A little over 54 percent of students identify as Latino or Latina.
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Compass Executive Director Skye Skinner said the Latino student population at CCS is now about 15 percent, and the highest it's ever been is around 25 percent.
"It's something that we have been trying to push for awhile, and this seems like a viable option," Skinner advised the school board.
"But we have to make sure we are marketing it," she said. "It's one thing to have the lottery, but another thing to get people through the door."
CCS will do away with the low-income designation that it had been using to help weight the lottery in favor of the new primary household language designation, she said.
Still, the reality is there are only 14 kindergarten slots available each year and very little attrition in the other grade levels, Skinner said. Most of those are filled by wait list.
The school has tried various forms of outreach to try to attract more Latino families, including bilingual fliers, targeted advertising and door-to-door efforts.
"Being a non-traditional school, it is hard to get applicants from different cultures," Skinner said. "And when you have 60 or 70 kids applying for those limited spots, it's hard."
CCS also has a sibling preference that allows younger siblings of existing students to be given priority in the annual student lottery.
Now, students applying under primary home language designation will be put into a separate pool, she said.
The new designation also will help the Colorado state charter Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs meet its desired student mix, said Adriana Ayala-Hire, director of business and outreach for the school which is now in its third year.
Because bilingual education is one of the primary tenets of the Two Rivers model, enrolling native Spanish speakers and involving those families is crucial, Ayala-Hire said.
"For us, we're not looking to have a specific number, but we do try to mirror the population of Glenwood Springs," she said, adding that about 36 percent of the school's student body is Latino.
Likewise, the state charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale could make use of the new lottery priority tool in its student admissions process.
For now, though, Head of School Sonya Hemmen said Ross is fairly comfortable with its student mix and ability to reach out to the Latino community. Currently, about 23 percent of Ross students are Latino, she said.
"I am proud that the number has risen since I've been here, from around 9 or 10 percent," she said.