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Aurora may grant reprieve to struggling elementary school facing charter takeover

James Cryan, founder of Rocky Mountain Prep, leads students and staff in a cheer in 2012.
James Cryan, founder of Rocky Mountain Prep, leads students and staff in a cheer in 2012.
Denver Post

Aurora school board members signaled Tuesday that a struggling district-run elementary school could get another chance to improve before the board considers the unprecedented step of turning it over to a high-performing charter school network.

The school district staff recommended that Denver-based Rocky Mountain Prep take over Fletcher Community School in fall 2016. The new charter school would begin with a small group of preschoolers and add a new grade level each year.

But the board raised a variety of concerns and asked the district and charter to return to its June 21 meeting with an updated charter application and contract.

Fletcher has struggled academically since it opened in 2000. Munn has previously said he thinks the district has done all it could to try and help the school, to no avail.

Board of Education Vice President Dan Jorgensen, who supports Munn’s proposal, said he wanted to see specific contract language before voting.

One concern that needed to be addressed in the contract, he said, included assurances that the charter school would accept all children within the Fletcher boundary. Some Fletcher parents think that if Rocky Mountain Prep takes over, the school may not accept their children for any number of reasons, including behavioral issues.

James Cryan, CEO of Rocky Mountain Prep, told the board that he had every intention of taking RMP students and the students who are in the Fletcher school boundary.

Board member Barbara Yamrick also was hesitant about Rocky Mountain Prep taking over Fletcher.

“I feel as though it’s too fast, too much,” she said. She and other board members suggested the idea of the charter school operating in Aurora, but not at Fletcher.

At the board’s June 21 meeting, Rocky Mountain Prep is scheduled to present plans for how it would like to use the building, and also make clear in its application it would serve all kids in the Fletcher boundary.

One former Colorado legislator spoke in support of turning the elementary school over to the charter school network, which operates two campuses in Denver and outperforms many schools on state tests.

“There comes a point where a failing public school must change or go away,” said Bob Hagedorn, a former Democratic state legislator who represented Aurora. “Rocky Mountain Prep has the reputation, it has the resume. I ask that you give them the chance.”

Abby Ciollo, who teaches at Fletcher, spoke in defense of keeping the school under district control. She values the ties the school has to the surrounding area, and thinks that a charter school can’t replicate the bond that she and the other teachers have.

“We care about what our kids want, what we want, and what the community needs to thrive,” she said, referring to the current staff.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the Aurora school board had approved Rocky Mountain Prep’s charter application. It also incorrectly reported the district’s recommendation that the charter open in 2017. This article has also been updated to better reflect board member Dan Jorgensen’s request regarding Rocky Mountain Prep.

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