On Monday, Feb. 8, 2016, the Cherry Creek School Board conditionally approved the application for the Heritage Heights Academy charter school.
On Oct. 12, 2015, the CCSD board denied the original application, citing a number of concerns about the quality of the application and Academica, Inc., a charter school management company that operates schools in several other states. The charter applicants selected Academica to operate the school. The CCSD board's concerns were echoed in independent analyses by the charter-friendly Colorado Charter Institute and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
The founding families of HHA appealed the decision to the Colorado State Board of Education, which remanded the matter back to the CCSD board for reconsideration despite noting numerous "deficiencies" in the application.
"We were very disillusioned in state board's decision to approve a charter school application that even some of them considered troubling," Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Harry Bull said. "It showed a complete disregard for the right of locally elected school boards to determine what is in the best interest of their own communities."
The conditions imposed by the CCSD board for the contract to be approved include:
- A detailed plan to ensure access and opportunity to learn for a diverse population of students. HHA must ensure that all legal requirements for identification of students with specialized needs are followed.
- The adequacy of the facility in meeting the mission and vision of the charter.
- Evidence that an adequate number of parents/guardians and students have an interest in the school at a newly proposed site in a different area than originally was targeted.
- A detailed plan on how varying and divergent evaluations by individual board members will be combined to complete the evaluation.
- Clarity on its contract with Academica concerning student privacy, conflicts of interest for staff, budgeting and financial transparency.
- Revisions in the bylaws to clarify potential conflicts of interest on the HHA Board of Directors and the roles of voting and non-voting members.
Read the entire resolution here.
HHA and CCSD have 90 days to negotiate the contract, after which the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education can either approve or reject the contract.
"It is our hope that we can reach an amicable agreement to ensure that students who attend the Heritage Heights Academy can have the same high-quality educational experience they now receive at our neighborhood schools," Bull said.
On Jan. 14, 2016, the Colorado State Board of Education voted 5-2 to return the Heritage Heights Academy charter school application to the Cherry Creek Board of Education for reconsideration, saying that “the decision of the local board was contrary to the best interest of the pupils, the school district, or community.”
The Cherry Creek School District Board of Education unanimously voted to deny the charter application on Oct. 12, 2015.
“We are disappointed in the state board’s decision, but I am also very disillusioned by the assertion that our own locally elected school board’s unanimous decision was not in the interest of our own students,” Cherry Creek School District Superintendent Dr. Harry Bull said. “Our board of five members carefully reviewed all of the documents submitted by the charter applicants and listened to the voices of parents and community members on both sides of the matter before making their decision.
“If the state board truly believes in local control, they did not demonstrate that with this decision,” Bull added. “To suggest that the board elected by the people in the Cherry Creek School District did not put our students’ best interest first shows a troubling and complete disregard for the right of local communities to make their own decisions about what is in their best interest.”
Colorado State Board Vice Chairman Angelika Schroeder said in her comments that she found numerous deficiencies in the application and that the applicants “had a lot of work to do, ” before voting to remand the application back to the CCSD Board.
According to state law governing charter schools, the State Board of Education can remand a charter application only if it finds that the local school board’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” or that it acted contrary to the best interest of students. The state board members did not indicate why they felt that the local board had not acted in the best interest of students.
|“To suggest that the board elected by the people in the
Cherry Creek School District did not put our students’ best interest
first shows a troubling and complete disregard for the right of local
communities to make their own decisions about what is in their best
“I was appalled that five members of the State Board of Education chose to abrogate and overturn the findings and recommendations of the Cherry Creek School Board in its denial of a charter application by the Heritage Heights Academy,” Jim O’Brien, immediate past president of the Cherry Creek School Board said. “By failing to uphold the CCSD Board’s decision, supported by hundreds of hours of review by the district’s Accountability Committee, educational professionals, and interested parents, the state board, in effect, asserted that it knows what is best for the Cherry Creek School District and community.
"I’m not aware that the state board has any familiarity with the Cherry Creek community,” O'Brien added.
The application was reviewed by the District Leadership Team, the District Accountability Committee, along with the charter-friendly Colorado Charter Institute and the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. All indicated the same concerns noted in the CCSD Board of Education’s denial of the application. The district also posted hundreds of pages of documents considered by the board on its website and solicited public comment through a variety of forums and venues.
“Overall, the application has been reviewed and assessed as having a High Risk. Evidence of need for the program provided by the Applicant was not substantiated with reliable evidence. The selection of curriculum is incomplete and requires instructional strategies that are not evidenced to be successful with the target population. The School’s objectives lack rigor and an understanding of Colorado accountability, and will not allow the school to demonstrate the effectiveness of its mission or vision. The structure, expertise, and role of the governing board are unclear, with confusion in the responsibilities and oversight of the school administration and the service provider. While the provided budget aligned to the application narrative, and included a reliable contingency in the event that enrollment falls far below expectations, many of the assumptions are unclear and many initial costs are underestimated. The school has not identified potential viable facilities, and has not outlined building needs that align to best practice,” The Colorado Charter Institute concluded.
With regard to financing, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers stated in its report “The proposed budget anticipates small annual cash surpluses, which may leave the organization in a precarious situation. As discussed above, the NACSA Financial Performance Standards call for 60 days cash on hand. In the school’s first year of operation, the days cash on hand will be just over 18 days and by the fifth year of operation it will be just under 35 days. This will leave the school in a precarious position should there be a delay or reduction in funding, difficulty recruiting the budgeted number of students, or significant unanticipated expenses.”
“In light of all that, I think we can safely say that the CCSD board’s decision was anything but arbitrary or capricious,” Bull said.
Colorado State Board of Education members Jane Goff and Valentina Flores each voted to uphold the Cherry Creek School Board’s decision. Goff said in her remarks that she found the application “very weak,” and noted that the state board had approved weaker applications.
The Cherry Creek School Board and community members denied the charter application citing concerns about financing, questions about the roles, responsibility and the autonomy of the school to be managed by the out-of-state for-profit company, Academica, Inc., the lack of an identified site for the school, a defined plan for academic accountability, and how much input parents would have in the selection of the school’s governing board. The CCSD board also said that the charter application failed to show how it would provide a unique opportunity for high academic achievement not already available from neighborhood schools.
You can read the Cherry Creek School Board’s resolution denying the Heritage Heights Academy charter school application and the reports by Colorado Charter School Institute, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Cherry Creek School District Accountability Committee, by clicking on the links below.
The district has 30 days to respond to the state board.
On Oct. 12, 2015, the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education voted 5-0 to reject the Heritage Heights Academy charter school application. Read the resolution and independent analyses of the application
Heritage Heights charter school application BOE decision.pdf
Colorado Charter School Institute Analysis.pdf
Letter to HHA Submissions.pdf
National Association of Charter School Authorizers Analysis.pdf
DAC Memo to BOE.pdf
District Exec Summary.pdf
NEW HHA charter approval with conditions.pdf
NEW Letter to HHA Submissions.pdf
NEW 7.0 HHA.DraftAcademicaAgreement.pdf
NEW 5.1 HHA.CommunityOutreachPlan.pdf
NEW 5.2 HHA.Q.Serving Students with Special Needs.pdf
NEW 4.0 HHA.DraftBylaws.pdf
NEW 3.0 HHA.ServiceProviderEvaluationTool.pdf
NEW 2.0 HHA.BoardTrainingPlan.pdf
NEW 1.0 HHA.PerformanceGoals.pdf
2016-01-14 - Colorado Sate Board of Education Order.pdf
Heritage Heights Academy Charter School Notice of Appeal.pdf
2.0 CCSD Answer Brief 12 18 15.pdf
3.0 HHA.ReplyBrief.12.28.15 (2).pdf
4.0 CCSD Designation of Witnesses.pdf
5.0 HHA.DesignationOfWitnesses.1.4.16 (3).pdf
Additional documents related to the application and the board's decision are available by clicking on the link below.
Heritage Heights Academy charter school documents