Charter school opens at Reunion

"I am a Landmark student. I strive to achieve academic excellence," recited 400 kids in unison on Thursday morning. "I exemplify high moral character. I work diligently to prepare for the future. I know that my success in school and in life is dependent on my own effort." Landmark Academy, a K-5 charter school in the vast Reunion development on Commerce City's north edge, was holding its ribbon-cutting ceremony two weeks after the first classes began. Students, parents, teachers, staff, and VIP guests were aglow. This visitor was mightily impressed. Nobody there seemed deserving of that "special place in hell" which charter supporters allegedly merit, according an email last year from state House education chairman Mike Merrifield to state Senate education chairman Sue Windels.

At the ceremony, booard chairman Tim Gallagher spoke of neighborhood families seeking a way to "make lemonade of lemons" after Adams District 27J lost a school-construction bond issue in 2005. Steve Ormiston, VP of Shea Homes, worked with them and the district on a national search for a proven charter-school contract operator. National Heritage Academies of Grand Rapids MI got the bid, breaking ground on the new academy's building only this March. It opened on schedule, with personnel that principal Catherine Witt brags about.

The Landmark Student Creed, quoted above, gives an idea of NHA's educational approach. No soft bigotry of low expectations here. This is the company's 55th school since 1995. Founder and CEO J.C. Huizenga was on hand to greet the school community personally. He showed me the Parents' Room, front and center next to the handsome building's main entrance -- but with a separate outside door and combination lock, so moms and dads can have 24/7 access. "This is their school," said Huizenga.

Present and former staffers of the Colorado Department of Education's charter school office were also there. One said District 27J has the state's most welcoming attitude toward charter schools and choice options. "We really believe in it," Superintendent Rod Blunck told me. It's possible that Dwight Jones, newly appointed state education commissioner, believes too. There will be a charter authorizers' training event this fall, a first for the department. Maybe I was too hard on Jones about that fiasco with the Constitution booklets in Fort Carson, where he used to be superintendent.

After the "go to hell" email surfaced on during the 2007 legislative session, Rep. Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs) quickly vacated his chairmanship, but word is he'll resume it come January. One more sign that charter-school opponents remain influential in state government, in an oddly inverse relationship to the notable achievements and burgeoning enrollment (3000 in District 27J alone) of these innovative and thoroughly public schools themselves.

Something is definitely backwards here, as David Harsanyi noted in a recent column. But meanwhile, for the bright-eyed kids and excellence-minded educators of Landmark Academy at Reunion, everything is rightside up and fast forward. The Voldemort shadow of Merrifield and Windels doesn't seem to darken their horizon at all.

[Cross-posted on]