New charter

After a long, and at times tumultuous, history of tension between Durango School District 9-R and organizers of charter schools, the landscape has brightened considerably. There has been considerable work on both sides of that equation to transition the formerly adversarial relationship to one of collaboration. It began with Animas High School’s successful development from a bold concept to a high-achieving institution that graduated its second class in May. It followed with Mountain Middle School’s bold entrance into the education business with three over-enrolled grades in 2011, growing to produce impressive statewide test results in 2014.

It has been facilitated by leaders at these schools and 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger’s combined commitment to pooling resources and educating the whole community – according to the models best suited to each student in the district. With that strengthening foundation, the community is looking to add an elementary charter school option that could further bolster both the relationship between 9-R and charter schools, and, more importantly, expand educational offerings in the community.

A steering committee of educators, parents and community members is working to open a K-5 charter school, one grade at a time, beginning in 2015. The Durango Schools of Choice steering committee – which includes former Animas High School head of school and executive director Michael Ackerman, an educator with several start-ups on his résumé – is working closely with 9-R to establish the charter, further cementing the burgeoning collaboration. Both Animas and Mountain have their charters through the Charter School Institute, a statewide organization through which charter schools can be authorized when the local district does not hold the charter. There are benefits to the independence, but a close relationship with the local district is to students’ and all schools’ benefit. The proposed elementary school is seeking for 9-R to hold its charter; that is appropriate given the district’s growing interest in supporting choice in education.

That began with rhetoric from Snowberger, but he has steadily built a reputation of putting his money where his mouth is. In one particularly helpful example, the district has made its buses available for Animas and Mountain students, first with a shuttle from Durango High School to AHS in 2013, and now welcoming charter students on all the district’s bus routes. There are opportunities to increase that resource-sharing with many basic school needs including administrative services and professional development. Provided there is a commitment from 9-R to supporting the charters’ independence, the possibilities for mutual success are many.

Adding an elementary school to the charter mix would be of great benefit to the growing community where demand for educational options is similarly expanding. The models of success created by Animas High School and Mountain Middle School came with no shortage of hard work and dedication to building cultures of excellence – including strong relationships with the community. That is a valuable legacy for a new charter school to spring from, particularly now with firm support from Durango School District 9-R.

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