Teacher's Desk: The Charter Edge

"Charters fuel DPS growth," said a Rocky headline this week. Why do public charter schools have waiting lists while old-line schools are losing ground? Story with details is here. From my experience as an educator in both types of institutions, it is obvious to me the diversity of student experiences, diversity of instructional programming, and the warm and friendly teacher/parent relationships that charter schools provide draw parents throughout Colorado to charter schools.

Denver Public Schools’ charter schools represent all grade levels with distinctly different approaches to instruction, while many of Denver’s elementary charter schools take a back-to-basics approach with E. D. Hirsch’s Core Curriculum, Odyssey Charter School provides an expeditionary learning approach for its students.

P. S. 1 introduces its middle school students to understanding their learning in an urban setting. KIPP Sunshine Peak Academy, West Denver Preparatory, and Denver School of Science and Technology provide instruction to middle school students with a highly structured approach and high expectations for all students. The teachers and leaders are dedicated professionals willing to put extra time and effort into an age group that at best can be called “little rascals.” If I had a hat, I’d certainly tip it!

Highline Academy, Omar Blair Charter, Amanda Charter (formerly Challenges, Choices and Images) Highline Academy, Odyssey Charter, Wyatt-Edison, and Northeast Academy continue their rigorous approach for a pre-K through 8 or K through 8 student body (Amanda Charter is through 12). While Community Challenge School includes the 8th graders in an 8th grade through 10th grade student body enrollment.

The high school experience in Denver Charter Schools probably shows the greatest diversity of structure, culture, and student body. KIPP, Denver School of Science and Technology, Southwest Early College and the new West Denver Preparatory High School are all highly structured, academically rigorous, no-nonsense programs. Amanda Charter focuses on improving the quality of education for African-American students. Life Skills provides an opportunity for students to finally reach for a diploma with a computer-based educational program. Academy of Urban Learning is a small school designed to help students of poverty and homelessness gain access to a diploma and work experience. Skyland Community works with students to develop personalized learning plans that include outside experiences and P. S. 1 Charter tries to raise and improve students’ awareness of their learning with both a day and night school. Denver Venture School is a new program combining the entrepreneurial spirit with strong academics.

My current school, Colorado High School Charter, is an alternative school that places emphasis on giving students a second chance at earning a high school diploma through small class sizes and every student graduates with a post-secondary plan. Both day and night school students must be 16 or older. All of our seniors attend a College Summit class daily that helps them devise a post-secondary plan, apply to colleges, sign up for student aid and scholarships, write a college essay, and prepare for graduation requirements. All students graduate with acceptance into a post-secondary institution; many are the first in their family to go to college!

All of these charter schools welcome parents and many require parental participation. When parents choose a school for their student, or an older student chooses a school for himself, there is much more buy-in and a greater likelihood that the student will succeed. Parents and students are flocking to charter schools because involved parents will choose the school their children attend, not depend on sending them to the closest school. A charter school relies on the fact that needed school dollars require them to provide quality instructional programming for their school or it cannot exist. Student success and parental satisfaction keep charter schools in business. That’s accountability.

Kathleen Kullback is a special educator at Colorado High School Charter with a M.A. in Educational Leadership and a former candidate for the State Board of Education.