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Aurora group proposes opening performing arts charter school

A nonprofit that has been offering after-school African-American arts programs for several years is looking to open a combined middle and high school focusing on performing arts in Aurora.

Visions Performing Arts College Prep submitted the only complete charter school application to the Aurora school district this year.

The school’s proposal is unlike many other charter applications in that the leaders report they have already piloted their model in a summer school program last year.

“This pilot was extremely successful and highlighted the many strengths and identified a few areas of improvement,” the application states. “VPAC team was able to look at all the data and create a plan to fill the gaps to confidently implement in August 2020.”

Aurora’s process for reviewing charter school applications culminates in a vote by the school board in June.

If approved, the school would open to sixth- through eighth-graders the first year, adding two grade levels the next year and one more each of the next two years. The school would serve 700 students at full build-out.

Before opening, the charter school’s plan also calls for running another pilot of the school this summer to finish developing curriculum plans.

The group has been in Aurora for years with the mission of working to “preserve, maintain, and support the tradition of African-American performing arts in the country.” The group provides instruction and programs for about 50 students in Aurora and Denver schools and helps local artists with coaching and productions.

The proposed Visions Performing Arts College Prep is looking to open in the diverse northwest part of Aurora, where several other charter schools are opening, as a way to serve the district’s most low-income families and students of color.

The school is planning to focus on African-American and Latino arts.

The school proposes having open enrollment and would use a random lottery if more students apply than there are seats for. The school would give enrollment priority to children of staff members and, siblings of current students, and would use a weighted lottery to give preference to students from various disadvantaged backgrounds. Children of founders and board members will be enrolled without having to go through a lottery.

After students are enrolled, the school will require an audition, but students would not be denied admission based on their performance.

The school would allow middle school students to explore different arts classes. Students in high school will be expected to audition for and select a “major” from among the school’s arts concentrations including dance, theater, audio engineering or cosmetology.

In making their case for the school, the application also calls out Denver’s successful arts school and the challenges some parents have reported in getting their students such an education.

“According to anecdotal reports from parents and community members there are many underserved black and brown students who apply but unfortunately are rejected, leaving them to take only the limited number of artistic classes offered in the regular school curriculum,” the application states.

Last year, the Aurora district saw a spike in interest from applicants wanting to open charters in the district. Officials said eight organizations expressed interest and later five submitted letters of intent, and later three submitted full applications. One group withdrew its proposal before the board considered the applications.

The Aurora school board, whose majority has been critical of charter schools, approved the two charter applications that the district ultimately reviewed last year.

Read the full application below.