Aurora Public Schools will close out this school year with big decisions impacting district improvement and access to high-quality school choices for Aurora’s kids. At this week’s meeting, the APS Board will hear proposals for four charter schools looking to serve Aurora Public Schools students: Academy of Advanced Learning, Vega Collegiate Academy, Dean’s Institute for Learning, and Rocky Mountain Prep; at the June 21 meeting, they will cast their votes determining which new schools will open in Aurora. A+ Colorado sent the following letter to the school board to encourage thoughtful systems and decision-making processes that will ensure that district-managed schools and new charter schools in APS will meet the needs of Aurora’s kids and community.
June 1, 2016
Dear Aurora Board of Education,
We support increasing access to high-quality school choices for Aurora Public Schools students, particularly in parts of the city where students do not currently have access to high-quality options. To provide real options for kids and families, the district must be willing to engage the community in conversations about improving the lowest performing district schools while also supporting additional excellent public options including charter school and innovation schools. Transparent decision-making processes are central to family and community engagement in the improvement of Aurora Public Schools.
Students in North Aurora currently lack a robust set of high-quality options, whether we look at district, charter, pilot, or innovation schools. The innovation zone is a step in the right direction, but it will only impact about 5,000 of the district’s 40,000 students. The district’s strategy for improvement must also include adding high-performing charter schools and replacing low-performing district schools with more effective models. Charter schools, innovation schools, district schools, and community school models could all be part of a system that offers students and families in Aurora the opportunity to attend a school with high expectations for Aurora’s kids.
We applaud Superintendent Munn and the school board for their deep consideration of many options for dramatically increasing student achievement at Fletcher and other Aurora schools. The choice to bring in new leadership and a new model that has worked well with similar populations represents high expectations for Fletcher’s kids. It represents the belief that with smart school design and effective leadership, Fletcher’s kids can and will demonstrate increased student achievement. This is a decision that cannot be put off another year. Fletcher’s kids deserve a high-quality school model.
We are also thrilled to see the district approving charter schools that it believes will offer students unique learning models while also increasing student achievement. Students deserve excellent school options, which not only requires dramatic improvements in district schools but also the expansion of effective autonomous schools. As the board considers expanding school choices for Aurora kids, there are several questions to consider in the design and implementation of an effective school-choice system, including:
- What is the school board’s new school authorization process? And, how does the process engage families and new school leaders?
- How can the district ensure that decision-making processes around school improvement and new school development is transparent and intelligible for families and community members?
- How can families and community members be engaged in conversations about improving Aurora Public Schools’ school options and outcomes?
- How will the district determine which schools are offering kids an effective education and holding kids to high standards?
- What happens when it becomes clear that a school is not offering an effective education?
- What are the best turnaround or restart strategies for persistently underperforming schools? How can the district use publicly available resources like the recent School Restart Authorization Guide released by Public Impact and EdPlex to inform school restart or turnaround?
- How can the district make effective and proactive choices ahead of the state accountability clock?
- Children and families have a variety of needs and desires for their schools: how can the district offer families options for their child’s education and access to the information required for families to be empowered to take advantage of those options?
- How can the district and board leverage the assets of the community so that cultural and linguistic diversity in Aurora propels student achievement forward rather than being interpreted as an obstacle to overcome?
- What is the expectation for community engagement performed by schools that are seeking to open in Aurora?
We envision a system of forward-thinking, rigorous, diverse school models that prepare students for college and career; effective district management that holds schools accountable to high standards; and a system of choice whereby families are empowered to find the right high-quality educational opportunity for their child. It’s what Aurora’s kids and community deserve.
Van Schoales and Liz Reetz