The Colorado State Board of Education terminated HOPE Online Learning Academy’s ability to serve nearly 400 Aurora students.
Wednesday’s board vote was taken in a room filled with HOPE parents and students. Many of them had traveled nearly three hours to show their support for the charter school, which offers a mix of in-person and online courses.
But a boost from the school community wasn’t enough to persuade all of the board members, who held a special meeting Wednesday in Salida, instead of in their usual Denver chambers.
Aurora Public Schools decided in April not to renew its contract with HOPE Online — citing low performance, poor teacher qualifications, and lack of oversight at the elementary and middle school. HOPE officials appealed that decision to the state school board, which voted three to three on the matter. Because the vote was a tie, the Aurora district’s decision prevailed.
“No one questions that the leaders and staff of HOPE Online Learning Academy care about students and are striving to improve the school,” Elliott Hood, attorney for APS, said in a brief filed for the state hearing. “But good schools are not built on good intentions.”
Hood reiterated that sentiment during the hearing, noting the academy has seen a consistent downward trend in its academic performance ratings.
Jacque Phillips, an attorney for HOPE, said in the hearing that the school has made some improvements recently, and that it offers robust mental health services for the at-risk students it serves. She also said because of HOPE’s unique hybrid design, with some time spent in brick-and-mortar schools and some online learning, students have more flexibility to learn on a schedule that works for them.
Phillips also submitted dozens of letters from HOPE students, parents, and teachers touting how the academy has helped students who hadn’t performed well in traditional school settings.
“I was struggling in my previous school,” wrote Daniel Castillo, a HOPE fifth grader. “I feel safe and accepted at HOPE. … I have become a better reader at HOPE. I liked that my teacher concentrated on me.”
During the hearing, school board member Steve Durham questioned Hood about what other school alternatives HOPE’s lower-income students will have.
“People with means can afford transportation across district lines, but people without means cannot,” Durham said. “Are families without means stuck with an education that doesn’t do them any good?”
Hood acknowledged the Aurora district does not offer any other school options like HOPE, but he pointed to data showing many Aurora schools perform better academically than does HOPE.
Board chair Angelika Shroeder agreed with Hood’s assessment.
“From what I can see from the data, they do have good options,” Shroeder said. “I don’t think [HOPE’s] performance is what it ought to be… I don’t think this is what’s best for the kids, and I’m appreciative of the Aurora Board for facing this challenge.”
Board members Shroeder, Jane Goff, and Rebecca McClellan, all Democrats, voted against HOPE’s appeal, while Republicans Durham, Joyce Rankin, and Debora Scheffel voted in favor of it. Board member Val Flores, also a Democrat, was absent.
This is the second time the state school board has voted on HOPE’s future in Aurora. In 2016, the Aurora district attempted to close down HOPE, also for performance reasons, but the state board voted to keep it in place. Republicans controlled the state board at that time.
While HOPE has been shut out of Aurora, it will continue to serve students at its other learning center locations in Pueblo, Castle Rock, Broomfield, Westminster, and Brighton.