charter approval

As charter approvals dwindle, state ed officials begin to ask why

Dr. Steve Berman, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Colorado, at left, moderated a conversation on childhood hunger and obesity with Angela Glover Blackwell and Bill Shore.

Two New York City charter schools got a preliminary stamp of approval Monday from the state’s Board of Regents — but its overall number of charter approvals might reach its lowest number in years.

The Regents have approved only three new charter schools this year, though one application round remains in December. The state education department has approved at least five and as many as 13 in past years — marking a decline that has left Regents puzzled about why so many applications are being dismissed early in the process.

Meanwhile, SUNY, the state’s other authorizer of new charter schools, recently approved some of the schools the education department rejected in its last round, raising questions about the department’s standards.

“The ones that we said no to today, are we going to read about them now going across the street?” Chancellor Merryl Tisch asked on Monday, referring to SUNY. “You know, mommy says no, so daddy says yes?”

State education department officials, who vet the prospective schools and make recommendations to the Regents, had few answers to Tisch’s inquiries, prompting State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to ask her own staff for more clarity around which schools make the department’s cut.

The decline is not due to a lack of interest in opening charter schools in New York. This round, the state received 51 letters of intent, the first step in the charter approval process. Seventeen of those applicants were invited to submit a full application, and three made it to the Regents on Monday.

When the state rejected every applicant in its last charter approval round, in May, it prompted a round of speculation that the rejections were prompted by an increase in anti-charter-school sentiment among the Regents, some of whom were recently elected. That round also came after the Regents approved a Rochester charter school whose founder lied about his résumé, prompting calls for stricter standards.

Tisch continued to push back against the idea that the decisions were politically motivated on Monday.

“We ended up on the front page of a tabloid as being anti-charter, which is ridiculous. It’s not true,” Tisch said, of the May rejections. “What we are is pro good schools.”

The two New York City schools that did get the Regents’ preliminary green light Monday are the School in the Square Public Charter School and South Bronx Community Charter High School.

School in the Square promises Bronx students access to a physical “square” to deliberate about school governance and current events. South Bronx Community was inspired by the Obama administration’s initiative to improve the lives of young black and Hispanic men, My Brother’s Keeper, and its New York City counterpart, the Young Men’s Initiative.

The charter applications rejected in this round included a music-themed school for students from Washington Heights and Inwood and an internationally focused school in Manhattan.

Evan Meyers, the founder of School in the Square, had his application rejected six months ago. He said the additional time helped him focus his application.

“We thought we had understood the task and had met the requirements,” Meyers said. “We dusted ourselves off and made the decision to re-apply. We took it as an opportunity really rethink what we were saying.”

The Regents will take a final vote on School in the Square, South Bronx Community, and a Rochester charter school on Tuesday.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”