District compact with area charter schools aimed at better coordination

Colored pencils adorn a classroom at Ross Montessori School in Carbondale.
File photo/provided

A compact between the Roaring Fork School District and several area charter schools has not only improved inter-school relations, but could make it easier for parents when it comes to school choice.

One outcome of the three-year effort to improve collaboration among the schools — whether they operate under the school district, or not — is the ongoing development of a common timeline for enrollment each year.

Once in place, it should help families make decisions within a consistent timeline before the start of each school year. That also provides the district and charter school some certainty about student enrollment once school starts, said Rob Stein, superintendent of the Roaring Fork Schools.

What’s now being referred to as the Roaring Fork Valley Community of Schools Compact began in 2016 when leaders from schools in the area began meeting as a means to improve collaboration.

The group included representatives from the school district that serves the Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt communities, the lone charter school that operates in partnership with the district, Carbondale Community School, and two Colorado Charter School Institute schools — Ross Montessori in Carbondale and Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs.

Representatives from the Marble Charter School also participated. The K-8 charter school operates under the Gunnison School District but serves an area that’s within the Carbondale schools attendance area.

The effort was funded through a grant from the Denver-based Gates Family Foundation.

While there had been a history of animosity between the district and charter schools in the past, the compact talks have resulted in a meeting of minds on some issues.

“One area that has been hard is the enrollment process,” Stein said during a recent school board meeting, adding that sometimes families would enroll in one school while awaiting the outcome of a lottery for a charter school, and then switching.

Under the proposed enrollment process to be discussed and implemented by the end of this school year, the schools would be better able to share information and collectively manage that process, he said.

“It does reduce the uncertainty in the enrollment system, and makes for a better mutual understanding,” Stein said.

Beyond that, “we view all the kids in the district as ‘ours,’ and most will be eventually,” Stein said of the transition from middle to high school. All of the charter schools currently end at eighth grade.

What school board member Mary Elizabeth Geiger referred to as an “acrimonious” relationship in the past, “… at the end of the day, that doesn’t serve the kids,” she said.

“Our vision is to become a thriving and diverse network of public schools that meet the educational needs of every child in our community and where students and families feel a sense of belonging,” reads a vision statement that grew out of the process to date.

Jamie Nims, head of the Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood, said the compact talks have, in part, directed the school’s decision to seek re-chartering under the school district, rather than the state. The school is applying concurrently this fall with both the state and the district for reauthorization.

“There are several benefits to us having a local authorizer,” Nims said at last week’s school board meeting, where the compact and Two Rivers’ pending application were discussed.

The compact gets into some of the areas where shared resources between the traditional district schools and charter schools could be considered.

Those could include the provision of services such as special education and second-language students, professional development for teachers and staff, and access to school-based health centers and family resources.

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