Summary:

  • An existing Colorado-based charter school network, Ascent Classical Academies, hopes to open a new school in the Boulder area.
  • Over 560 Letters of Intent have been submitted already by area families – enough to almost fill the school.
  • Last fall, Ascent submitted applications to two area school districts with significant parent interest.
  • The Adams 12 School District denied the application while also refusing to release Ascent to pursue a state path to approval.
  • The Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) initially refused to even review the application, but was forced to reconsider by the Colorado State Board of Education. BVSD’s new superintendent now recommends approval with conditions.
  • The BVSD board is considering the school and will vote on January 22, 2019.

Finding a Home for Hope

There’s a silent struggle going on in your neighborhood that you may not have heard about yet. The war on ideas, on parent choice in education, and specifically, on how charter schools are approved in Colorado.

Ascent Classical Academy Flatirons (ACAF) is a planned charter school currently seeking a home for its high-quality education method, known as the classical education model, and is targeted to open in the fall of 2019. It will be a part of Ascent Classical Academies, a Colorado-based network of charter schools that operates Ascent Classical Academy – Douglas County in Castle Rock and is based on the successful Golden View Classical Academy in Golden.

Even after receiving a startup grant of almost $700,000 from the Colorado Department of Education, and letters of intent from more than 560 area families, Ascent Flatirons is a school in limbo.

Based on parent interest, Ascent submitted applications to open the Flatirons school in two school districts: Adams 12 and Boulder Valley School District (BVSD). With time running thin, however, both school boards reviewing the charter application have stretched out the process.

School Boards React

After a lengthy review, the Adams 12 School District Board of Education voted to deny ACAF’s application in early January 2019, essentially claiming their five board members know what’s better for children and how they need to properly learn, rather than hundreds of parents. In their denial, the Adams 12 board stated that they simply did not like the model, claimed there was not enough community interest, and argued there were too many “unanswered questions” about a replication school based on two successful charters already in the state.

Ascent awaits a decision from the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) Board of Education, which is still considering whether to approve the school’s application. Initially, Boulder Valley declined to even review the charter application submitted by Ascent Flatirons, stating it was “incomplete.” Ascent pressed the issue by appealing to the Colorado State Board of Education in November. The state board directed Boulder Valley to review the application.

After touring Golden View and taking public comment in early January, Boulder Valley’s board plans to vote on the application on January 22.

It’s not clear yet why their decisions are taking so long – is it political? Is it that they truly need to consider a new school? Is it spite?

With enough letters of intent already submitted to almost fill a school, whatever their concerns, lack of interest cannot be one of them.

The Bright Side

So, what’s happening here? What’s the issue for such a proven model?

While it’s unclear why BVSD has taken so long to decide, organizers and families are encouraged that new superintendent Dr. Rob Anderson has recommended the BOE approve this charter, although with conditions.

At the same time, the BVSD District Accountability Committee (DAC) has recommended the BOE deny the application. Although Ascent originally submitted their application last fall, the committee claimed they didn’t have enough time to work through many “unanswered” questions, including where the school would be located.

As pointed out by Boulder Valley’s own charter consultant, however, questioning the school’s location is a “chicken and egg” situation – if Ascent Flatirons doesn’t have approval, they can’t sign a lease, and if they don’t have a specific location, it makes the staff leery of recommending approval.

While the Boulder Valley board has asked many questions of both the DAC and staff, and their own superintendent recommends approval with conditions, Ascent organizers are left responding to questions about an application sent months ago just days before the expected vote on January 22.

Parents Speaking Up

During public comment at the January 8 Boulder Valley Board of Education Study Session, many parents spoke in favor of the new school, stressing the need for this type of diversity in the district. Boulder Valley currently does not have any schools using a classical model.

A daughter and mother spoke about driving over an hour, on a good day, from east Boulder County to Golden, just so the daughter can attend a classical school while they await the opening of Ascent Flatirons.

If BVSD ends up denying the charter for Ascent Flatirons, two school boards with a total of 12 people will have blocked hundreds of children from getting a great education because adults are unwilling to work in good faith with a successful, parent-led option.

The Classical Method

The classical method focuses on using primary texts and encourages free thinking, discussion and dissertation. It is a method that also holds up a child’s gifts and encourages happiness found through the use of reason and civil conversation.

Fears about a school that won’t require teachers join a union, and that won’t focus on “social/emotional learning” as a stand-alone principle — but instead integrates it into the learning through the use of rich examples from science, history and literature — could explain why some in the traditional education establishment are hesitant to see Ascent grow.

For many families, however, the model is worth long drives and wait lists. Children in a classical school are treated like thinking, joyful human beings and given a background to flourish in life. They are encouraged, honored and challenged. And most of all, they build character in a world that needs more people of character.

Ascent’s Douglas County school website features testimonials from parents of children with special needs, including one parent of a child with ADHD who said their son, “loves [Ascent Classical Academy] and is thriving.”

Well-proven nationally, four of the top five high schools in Colorado use the classical method of education.

What are your thoughts?

Should school boards, made up of 5 to 7 people, be able to limit the options available to families throughout a school district? Let us know your thoughts on Facebook!

Want to get involved?

To get involved in the approval process, please check out the steps below:

To express interest in having a classical charter school option for families in the Boulder area, please fill out a Letter of Intent found here. Also follow Ascent Classical Academy Flatirons’ Facebook page here.

If you would like to contact the Boulder Valley School District’s Board of Education with your views on their upcoming decision, please contact the BVSD school board at [email protected].

More Resources

How are charter schools different from public schools? Find out here.

Few things are as critical to improving our lives and our society as a quality education. Learn more.

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