Charter school supporters turn out in force for meeting
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – One of the largest audiences to ever weigh in on a state charter school proposal greeted Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI) Executive Director Mark Hyatt in Glenwood Springs on Friday.
“This is amazing, we’re not used to this kind of turnout,” Hyatt said as about 60 people, including several parents with young children in tow, filed into the meeting room at the Hotel Colorado.
Attendees were there to speak to and learn more about the proposed Two Rivers Expeditionary School. State charter officials are currently reviewing an application to open the new K-8 charter school in Glenwood Springs next year to a maximum of 164 students.
A formal public hearing before the CSI Board of Directors is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 18 at the Penrose House, located near the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
The CSI board is expected to decide on the application at its Nov. 15 meeting, Hyatt said.
As part of the review process, public meetings are held in the community where the school is proposed.
Usually, those meetings are rather lightly attended, said Hyatt. A recent public meeting on a charter application in Fort Collins, for instance, only drew three people. Another in Durango had 10, he said.
“This is by far the largest gathering we’ve seen this year,” he said. “This is obviously a very engaged community.”
Most of those attending the Friday meeting were there in support of the proposed charter school, and its plan to use the Expeditionary Learning (EL) model.
“Expeditionary learning is what attracted me to become involved,” said Abby Hollenbaugh, a member of the steering committee for the charter proposal. “We were looking for a project-based approach, and this was suggested to us … it is a phenomenal method.”
EL schools, which emphasize learning experiences outside the classroom, have proliferated across the country in the form of charters, private schools, and in traditional public schools as “schools within a school,” Hyatt acknowledged.
The local charter school push originated among a group of parents and teachers in the Garfield Re-2 school district, and grew to include several Glenwood Springs parents and former Roaring Fork District Re-1 teachers, Hollenbaugh said.
“I am a supporter of the public school system, but I also am supporting this application for a new charter,” she said. “I think it will be an exciting option.”
Lissa DeClute said she previously taught special education in Re-1, but left because she didn’t feel supported as a teacher in the district.
“I didn’t see that kids needs were being dealt with, and I didn’t feel like I was being validated,” she said. “I do hope to go back into the workforce, and the charter school could be an option.”
The Roaring Fork School District Re-1, which includes public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, is urging the CSI to reject the proposal, however.
Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall, both at the Friday meeting and in a letter to the CSI board, expressed concerns that the charter would further impact the school district financially.
If approved, the charter school would be allotted the state’s per-pupil funding amount for each student enrolled. The new charter is likely to draw from both the Re-1 and Re-2 school districts.
“We all want what is best for our kids,” Haptonstall said. “I hear all of those things … but the financial impact is a big one for us.”
Another concern for district schools is that the charter could draw a disproportionate number of Anglo students from higher-income families. The could affect diversity in the traditional public schools, which already have a high percentage of Latino students, including many from lower-income families, district officials argue.
“I like this approach, and would love to see it in our schools,” Re-1 school board member Debbie Bruell said. “The problem is with our demographics.”
Two existing charter schools in Carbondale, the state charter Ross Montessori School and the district charter Carbondale Community School, have tried to increase enrollment of Latino students with only moderate success, she said.
“My fear is that the demographics with this school won’t match the demographics of the community,” Bruell said of the new proposed charter.
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