Under pressure from the State Board of Education, Denver school board members on Monday reversed their decisions on two charter schools — though they grumbled about what they saw as state interference.
The actions mean Monarch Montessori Charter School in Far Northeast Denver will be allowed to open this fall if certain conditions are met while struggling Northeast Academy Charter School will be allowed to continue to operate, albeit without a middle school.
Board member Jeannie Kaplan changed her vote on Monarch as a form of protest.
“I voted the first time for Monarch,” Kaplan said. “I am actually voting against both of these tonight, in part because I don’t think the state Department of Education should have the authority to overturn a decision a home rule institution makes. We know best for our children.”
Board member Nate Easley Jr. also begrudgingly changed his vote, the opposite way. He voted against Monarch the first time, but changed his tune after the state intervened and after the school addressed some of his concerns.
For the state to take the power away from this publicly elected board is “inexcusable,” Easley said.
The DPS board narrowly approved allowing Montbello’s Northeast Academy, the lowest-performing school in DPS that is not in the process of being closed or already been shuttered, to continue to operate, although without a middle school.
In November, Northeast Academy appealed restrictions imposed by the school board that would have eliminated kindergarten and sixth grade at the school.
The state board, in a recent 4-3 vote, said the DPS board’s action was “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.” The state board punted the matter back to DPS for reconsideration, recommending that the school be allowed to continue serving those grades and work on its turnaround plan.
Supporters of the Core Knowledge school showed up at a special public comment hearing Monday to make their case.
“I have been at the front hand of cultural shifts at Northeast Academy,” Assistant Principal Jacob Heiney said. “I can say with distinction that we have a positive culture in our building with our parents and with our teachers and that is going to be bearing fruit very soon.”
The DPS board Monday voted 4-3 to approve the school’s decision to voluntarily close its middle school in June and operate as a K-5 next year.
Easley voted in favor of the school’s new grade configuration, in part because he knows the charter is up for renewal in November.
“I’m a proponent of high quality schools, the kind of school I would send my boys to,” he said. “I take offense at what (the state) board did – to make us reconsider it … I reluctantly intend to vote in favor of this resolution. But I will be in this seat in November. I hope and pray you can come back show us amazing things you’ve done to right the ship.”
Kaplan and board members Mary Seawell and Andrea Merida voted against the measure.
Board OKs Monarch Montessori to open – with conditions
The state board – this time in a 6-1 vote with former DPS board member Elaine Gantz Berman dissenting – also shot back the DPS decision to deny a charter application filed by Monarch Montessori.
The state board recommended that DPS meet with Monarch to complete a number of steps:
- Negotiate and develop a strategy to address how Monarch will implement its education plan to serve its target student population of 60 percent free and reduced lunch students and 25 percent English language learners
- Develop a special education curriculum
- Create a plan to ensure the Monarch’s board will provide adequate financial and academic oversight
DPS board members reversed their earlier decision and approved the charter school to open this fall. Board member Arturo Jimenez, along with Seawell and Kaplan, voted against the school’s imminent opening.
Board members also voted to impose stipulations on the school, including a requirement that Monarch participate in the Far Northeast Enrollment Zone and transportation shuttle, as long as participation doesn’t preclude the school from receiving a state start-up grant.
The school must also have a location by April 15 and be able to document enrollment of at least 102 students by April 20. The principal must stay in her position until the school opens, and the school must maintain a clear separation of public and private money. Monarch currently runs a private Montessori school in Montbello.
The stipulations weren’t enough to get Jimenez on board.
“I don’t think there is enough time to show separation of public and private funds,” he said. “We have a responsibility to the public to ensure that we make the separation very clear for private dollars.”
Seawell said she supported the school but that her obligation was to follow the processes the district has in place for approving charters. After the vote was tallied, Seawell offered her best wishes to Monarch.
“The motion carries,” she said. “You will be able to open your school, so congratulations.”