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Adams 14 rejects a charter proposal for a new community high school

Flags fly outside the Adams 14 school district headquarters. The district logo sits prominently in front of the building. The sky is a clear blue.

The Adams 14 school board voted to reject a charter application for Be the Change, a charter high school with a community schools model. The vote happened at a special meeting with no public comment.

Erica Meltzer / Chalkbeat

The Adams 14 school board voted Tuesday to reject an application for a new charter high school with a community school model. Charter leaders said the decision was disappointing, but they would keep fighting to open.

The charter, Be the Change, would have served students in ninth through 12th grade using a biliteracy approach designed and overseen by a group of community and parent members. 

The district did not allow the charter leaders to present to the school board. The vote was taken at a special meeting without public comment, and without the district having presented any recommendations on the application beforehand. 

The district did hold prior community meetings to talk about the charter application, but cited low attendance at those meetings as one of the reasons to reject the charter application.

Board members did not discuss the application prior to the vote on Tuesday. Board president Reneé Lovato was the only member to comment, saying that she read the application, the district’s review of the application, and the review from the district accountability committee. 

“There were a lot of great things, and I just want to thank you for your time,” Lovato said.

The board voted unanimously to approve the previously drafted resolution rejecting the charter.

The resolution says the district found “numerous and substantial concerns” the school didn’t resolve, including that the charter board only required one community member and ran a risk of not being representative of the community; there was no detailed plan for recruiting students from out of the district; and programming and services were not developed to meet the “varying needs of special populations.”

Amanda Gonzales, one of the co-founders of Be the Change and a former Adams 14 teacher, said the district’s process has felt hurtful.

“It shows a lack of organization within the district but it also shows just a lack of respect to us as community members and to our families that we serve,” Gonzales said. “It doesn’t feel like we’re getting a fair shake.”

More than 3,000 additional students living within the boundaries of the 6,000-student district leave to attend other school districts each year. At the high school level, the district only has one high school and a small alternative high school for at-risk students. The district currently has a state order for reorganization, after years of low state performance.

Be the Change had planned to apply in the spring, but two weeks before submitting the application, it learned that Adams 14 did not have an authorized process to approve charters in the spring. The school asked the district to vote instead on releasing it to apply for authorization through the state Charter School Institute. The district never took up the issue, so instead the school applied in the fall. 

Now, Gonzales said she isn’t giving up.

“This fight is too important to just let it die,” she said. “Unfortunately our families have experienced let downs so many times. We don’t want to be part of that same narrative.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Gonzales said parents who had been excited while helping design the school, were disappointed. She said many were upset they weren’t going to be allowed to speak, questioning whether the drafted resolution was an indication that the decision had already been made.

Gonzales said she questioned the rationale cited by the district in part because the charter application had just received praise from state reviewers in a grant process.

The school was awarded a Colorado Charter Schools Program Start-up award, and was given extra funding for being a “high scoring” application. The award total is for $350,000 for the first year, and could have totaled more than a million dollars over time, depending on the number of students enrolled. The grant, however, is contingent on the school being authorized to open.

The school got 100% of possible points in some of the award’s rubric sections including for having a research-based program. “Applicant does an excellent job of connecting the research-backed curriculum to the proposed student demographics (extremely student-centered),” reviewers commented. 

The Adams 14 district is already facing an appeal from University Prep, another charter school that wanted to open an elementary school in the district. In that case, Adams 14 voted to approve the charter, but then the district recommended the board reject signing a contract with the school, after claiming that the school’s plans had changed and were inadequate. 

There are currently two charter schools in the district boundaries, an elementary school and a 6-12 secondary school, both run by the same leaders. The charter schools are authorized under the state’s Charter School Institute, and the district has at times had a contentious relationship with the charter leaders. 

“Adams 14 needs a different option because it’s what families have requested,” Gonzales said. Be The Change Community School is “about the empowerment of our young people who are not just underserved but underestimated.”

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at yrobles@chalkbeat.org.

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