It seems to be working. In 2010, 91 percent of its students scored proficient or above in reading on the annual Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) tests. In addition, 98 percent were proficient or above in math, and 60 percent were proficient or above in writing. The scores are so excellent — especially for a school with a high number of low-income students and English-language learners — that the academy has won several prestigious awards. Earlier this fall, Congressman Jared Polis heaped praise on the school in a speech about a pair of bills to support quality charter schools.

"She has learned so much," parent Mireya Vega says of her daughter, who's now in fifth grade. In addition to being more academically advanced than her peers, Vega says, her daughter is the number-one chess player in the state for her age.

The academy has a number of shiny trophies, including one for winning the state championship in boys' ten-and-under tennis, in which RFMA students faced off against country-club teams from around Colorado. As for its other extracurricular activity, chess, Martinez says that in "every single tournament, our kids have finished either first or second" in the Denver metro area.

Students wear red T-shirts printed with the school's name as a uniform. But on Fridays, the staff gives green shirts to those who did well that week. The shirts are a source of pride for kids who earn them, Martinez says, and an incentive for those who don't.

The school itself is a source of pride for Martinez. "We've always had great press," he says. "Always. We've never had one bad article."

Born and raised in Denver, Martinez, 34, attended Catholic schools and spent his early adulthood as a community organizer and a teacher at a Denver charter school (though he won't say which one). In 2005, he was chosen to participate in a year-long fellowship program through a Boston-based organization called Building Excellent Schools, which provides fellows with training and a $90,000 stipend to found what it calls a "high-achieving, no-excuses urban charter school that is independently managed."

"I realized that I wanted to put a college-prep school in the toughest area, the area with the lowest test scores," Martinez says. "So I researched, researched, researched and found Adams, north Denver — especially at the time — had the lowest test scores. And I said, 'That's where I want to put my school. Right there.'"

Martinez envisioned a school that would hold low-income, Spanish-speaking students to high academic standards. He chose tennis and chess as activities because they are what he calls "thinking sports" usually available only in wealthy suburban schools.

He also chose a name to reflect his vision. "We wanted to name it after someone that the community can identify with. At first I thought, okay, maybe Emiliano Zapata or Pancho Villa, but I said, you know, even though those guys believed in their people and their cause and they were great leaders, I thought, you know, I want to name it after someone who used their intellect. Not their gun. Not violence. Ricardo Flores Magon was an intellectual. He was a lawyer. He has written numerous publications. And he used his pen and his brain to make change."

In 2006, Martinez and his supporters began shopping the school around to a few districts, including Denver Public Schools and Adams 50. But both of them rejected his plan. DPS documents show that the district felt the school's application was incomplete, especially with regard to its curriculum, its budget and its plan for teaching children in both English and Spanish. Adams 50 had many of the same concerns and was also worried that the school's special-education and transportation plans were lacking.

So Martinez turned to the Charter School Institute, a quasi-state agency that had been created just two years earlier to help approve charter schools rejected by school districts with an ax to grind. And there were plenty of them. The law allowing charter schools had been on Colorado's books since 1993, but many school districts resisted them, fearing that charter schools would siphon off state money and students from the traditional public schools.

"Several...were willing to fight," says Jim Griffin, the president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. "They didn't care if it was a good school or a bad school. They were just saying, 'Hell, no.'"

So Griffin and others decided to create a way for charter-school hopefuls to bypass those districts, a cause that gained momentum in 2004 when the school board in Steamboat Springs defied a state Board of Education decision by flat-out refusing to allow a worthy Montessori charter school to open in town. The Charter School Institute was born that year, but local school districts didn't give up. In 2005, the Adams 50, Poudre and Boulder Valley school districts sued the state, arguing that it was unconstitutional for the institute to be able to sidestep the districts and usurp their control. After nearly two years of arguments, a judge sided with the institute.

CSI's backbone is a nine-member board of directors who approve or reject charter schools, and it has added paid staff members as it has grown. Novel at the time it was created, the institute remains something of an anomaly today: Only six other states and the District of Columbia have independent boards whose sole purpose is to authorize and oversee charter schools.

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54 comments
LOVEWY
LOVEWY

As a concerned parent of my student at the new charter school established by Marcos Martinez in Cheyenne, WY. I decided to see what the talk was about with this Colorado School and the problems it had. I honestly didn't know it was this bad. I have read the articles and read all of these comments below. What I think about the whole thing is that Marcos probably made some mistakes with this Colorado school, probably did what all you are talking about and like everyone else in this world...he made mistakes. This backlash from staff, parents could truly have ruined Marcos but I actually admire him for what seems, learning from his mistakes and building a school with hard work and dedication. He didn't start it from the ground up, he started it from ten feet under because of what happened here in CO. It seems to me by observations and chatting with teachers at PODER that Marcos is an incredibly dedicated man who has a vision for these children. He puts in countless hours along with the rest of the staff at PODER. I believe that because of the mistakes that Marcos may have made in CO that he is coming to Wyoming with a different attitude. He still has high expectations and doesn't let teachers get behind or slack off but I believe he is being professional with all of his encounters as the CEO. My daughter has told me that Marcos has taken her in the hall to discuss things and he is understanding but knows what she is capable of more and expresses that to her without belittling her, I appreciate that he doesn't let her slack off, which she is very capable of doing. My daughter had a teacher last year that did not have enough authority and had an out of control classroom, which she was not aware of. I also was fed up with my daughter more concerned with what her and her peers were wearing for the day instead of her school work. I have always been able to sit in or observe my children's schools in the past and I am most impressed by this one. I see no signs of biases or aggression in this man, which he may or may not have displayed before. I am glad someone came to Cheyenne and is setting the bar for education here. The school district/Board here are too relaxed and need to take more initiative with our children and their education. It seems like they just go through the motions and don't hold teachers to any standard. I have full confidence that my daughter will be a very successful student at PODER academy.

Thank you Marcos, I support you and believe in you and this excellent school.

Matt
Matt

I personally know Marcos and he seems to be a nice person when you first meet him. In fact both of the children attended his school for three years. The first two years were great, both of my children accelerated. One of my children had a learning disability, but his teacher was amazing. During the 3rd year I noticed that Mr. Martinez had changed. He began acting as though he owned the school. I know that he is the founder, but he really believed that the school was his and he did have absolute power. He not only bullied his teachers and Students, he bulled some of the parents. There are a lot of parents that were new to this country and didn't know any better. He would tell the parents to send their kids to school or they were going to be expelled. The school would tell the parents to come and sign their children into school even if they were sick. By my children attended RFMA, the school was packed. It concerned me that they had small children cramped in small rooms. Mr. Martinez would not turn anyone down to attend the school despite there not being any more room. The more kids attended the school, the more money he received. The lunches the school gave out to the kids were not bad until the end of my children's 3rd year there. I stopped letting my kids eat that food because I was afraid that they were going to get sick. Once I saw that the conditions were getting worse my children in that school, I took my kids out. Mr. Martinez should not be leading any other schools. He lost that drive to try and help children, it all turned into a money making scheme. When I saw this article, I was not surprised and I am glad that he is finally gone.

Thebigpebeat11
Thebigpebeat11

Are you nuts I am 100% Italian that alone should tell you I am not Marcos and I am anti government assistance so that as well should tell you that I am not macros. I am also a republican. You are truly ignorant and dumb if you would have read my other post you would have scene that the definition of ignorant is talking about something that you know nothing about. I am not Marcos I don't even know the man but I do know that I am sick of the weak whining that goes on in this country. If you want to talk to me personally you refer to me as Nick from now on. I also hate Obama so that should tell you that I am not him as well. The only reason why I even commented is because I see a man trying to better his own community. I come from Italian immigrants and the only way we surpassed people that have been here for hundreds of years is because we helped our own out. Please former teacher don't be ignorant it just makes me scared that you are teaching kids and spreading your dumbness around. As a side note if you weren't so stupid you would have looked up the word pebeat and scene that it is a Italian word. You truly are pathetic and saddens me that you teach kids but I guess you are the reason our country is in the shape it is. Also how is any one gaining financially from a school and if they are there should be a government agency looking into my tax money being stolen but there is not there is just a bunch of crying your ridiculous and are just spraying venom because you couldn't cut it in the real world.

Awareparent
Awareparent

It saddens me that you would attempt to question my capacity to teach given that you (Mark Martinez) is unable to consider the simplicity of a homophone like "seen" in lieu of the word "scene." Your desperate attempt to salvage your name through the medium of an internet message board truly saddens me. Ultimately, I hope you seek the psychological help you truly need, Mark, and can grow from your ridiculous attempt to create a fiefdom when all you ever truly deserved at most was a mediocre police badge with no hope of promotion. Yes, that simple badge and its inherent power would have surely satisfied your egotistical ambitions. When considering that, I almost hope that you would have been relegated to the sub-class category of a "Pig" than the unwarranted title of a Director of a school. At least as a Pig society could have relatively quarantined your sick mental pathology.

Guest
Guest

yeah. whatever. "MARK" Martinez

Thebigpebeat11
Thebigpebeat11

Just keep proving how dumb you are. If you would like to debate this in person so you can see who I am I would love to. Stop being a cry baby and realize other people besides Marcos think you wrong and think you are just a wussy cry baby. Please stop being ignorant and think that only Marcos thinks you wrong. I am totally independent here and I still think your totally wrong. Please don't be so stupid.

Concur
Concur

I agree. Once again, the people who see Marcos exactly for what he is has shown just how sad Marcos Martinez's personality disorder truly is. Trying to argue your way out of not being Marcos by your username "Thebigpebeat11" as possibly being of Italian origin is truly PATHETIC. I agree with GUEST that only a person administrative leave would take this much time out of their pathetic life to respond to such comments. Please understand, Marcos, that eventually everyone has a judgement day. Unfortunately, yours came years too late.

Guest
Guest

Only a person on administration leave would take this much time out of their pathetic lives to respond to comments. Get over yourself and let justice speak for itself.

A FORMER TEACHER
A FORMER TEACHER

As a former teacher of this school I have to say that everything EVERYTHING in this article is true. The only reason this school is a success is because of the dedication of its teachers, most of whom who come from similar backgrounds as the children they teach. Marcos Martinez and his collaborator, Gabriela Guzman, have abused and exploited these children and their teachers for personal financial and egotistical gain. The school is a good idea and should continue, but only if there is ethical leadership. Marcos is not an ethical man, to the contrary he is a true narcissist, and his comments below as "Thebigpebeat11" are indicative of his sad mental pathology. Protect our kids and our teachers by ensuring that this man and his collaborators are never allowed back in the halls of this school.

Thebigpebeat11
Thebigpebeat11

I cant believe that in this day and age and kids being so out of control that we would worry about a teacher being to hard on kids. We live in a state where our public schools are a total mess and this man is truly trying to better our state and his own race of people. We need more people like this man he is not making excuses he is making answers. Especially in this day and age where everyone is making excuses for everything. This man should have got a raise not removed this is truly insane I hate to call this place home when a teacher with good motives is being chastised for being to hard on kids. Kids need discipline and especially at risk youth they need even more. Have we as a society really become this weak that teachers cant rule with an Iron fist teachers should rule like this. Schools and for that matter corporations and non profits by nature are dictatorships there is no such thing as a democracy in schools or nothing would get done. With out discipline and harsh teachers I would have never graduated from a prominent university. Please tell me that we as state have not become this stupid that teachers can not discipline. As a side note any of these whinny teachers could never cut it the private sector. I could never whine about my boss being to mean that is insane these teachers are grown people stop whining like a bunch of sissy jerks it makes our state look stupid and weak. I never could understand why are schools are in in the shape that they are in until I read this ridiculous article here is a man with a mission and results to back up his mission and he is totally being attacked for it. We are handcuffing are teachers and wondering why are kids are as dumb as they are. I guess this all part of the plan of dumbing down America get rid of all the good teachers and administrators and keep the ones who do nothing what a sad day for Colorado

Anonymous
Anonymous

Let's just be honest, all this stuff is true.

Guest
Guest

I think this is a great article. I've seen the test scores the students of this school are posting and thought that they were great; great until I learned that those scores were being manufactured. I think it's silly for the public to accept that one idiotic test can be used to say whether our kids are learning or not. You use tests to test monkeys in laboratories not kids. However, if the Head is cheating then the scores don't mean anything anyway. I really hope Westword contacts more former employees and even current ones. I know that, if given anonymity, the staff would gladly inform the public about the truth of this article.

calhounp
calhounp

We'd like to publish some of these comments in our print letters to the editor column -- ideally with the author's full name and town. If you're willing, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com. thanks.

Assrdrgz
Assrdrgz

Hi Patricia,Sure, that's okay with me.

forstudentpower
forstudentpower

This school does not deserve to be named after someone who fought against tyrants. Maybe rename it Fidel Castro Academy?

Sierra
Sierra

It certainly looks to me like Mr. Martinez is using child performance as the guise to bully and terrorize teachers, parents, and children, an alarming number of whom seem to be women. Do you think that teachers must dedicate themselves to indentured servitude in order to meet your master plan for student achievment, Mr. Martinez? Many of the people who pride themselves on brutal honesty enjoy the brutality more than the honesty.

Rifka Anne
Rifka Anne

Thanks Sierra for pointing out the exploitation and oppressive dynamics here - U.S. schooling has long been founded on hegemony - what is happening here is violence - violence against children, families, and the teaching profession. Where is the Building Excellent Schools organization in this current context? Where do they stand? Perhaps it is time for communities to take back their children and realize that school officials and district personnel (as well as "authorizing agencies") are in this for their own egos and positions of authority - and not for the liberation and enlightenment of children....

Assrdrgz
Assrdrgz

This regurgitation looks more like a seized opportunity to try out the word "guise" and a family cliché than a thoroughly informed and intelligent opinion.

Disgusted
Disgusted

Marcos (Assrdrgz), shut up. You try desperately to sound intelligent, but honestly you're not. You're incredibly far from the par of intellectualism, and to match, you're inept in the use of a simple dictionary and/or thesaurus. Someone like you should have never had the chance to open a school. You're an incompetent hack who has exploited our most valuable resource, our children, for the explicit use of creating the illusion of power for yourself.

Sierra
Sierra

And you, sir, seem to be more intent on discrediting anyone who spoke against Mr. Martinez than providing any thoughtful comments.

Concerned_parent
Concerned_parent

One group huh? I wonder how many more of the teachers that have been fired or intimidated by Marcos Martinez will have something to say after this article? I'm sure the parents have no idea what's going on in that school. That doesn't make them bad parents. They are guilty of putting their trust into a flawed system and a flawed school and why wouldn't they? A school is supposed to be trustworthy. Also, if these teachers are only looking for payouts, they are looking in the right place because they seem to be winning.

Assrdrgz
Assrdrgz

Why wouldn't you wonder instead how many content and inspired teachers continue to work for Martínez in an environment each deems to be healthy, purposeful, and beneficial to the children who attend?

Concur
Concur

There aren't any.

Concerned_parent
Concerned_parent

I do wonder and I'm almost certain that the number of content and inspired teachers working for Mr. Martinez is severely outweighed by the number of uninspired and extremely discontent teachers who stay there in spite of his horrible leadership and authoritarian ways. I'm certain of this fact based on the turnover rate that was pointed out in this article. I mean, the average tenure of each teacher is 2 months to a year. Basic math will tell you that most teachers don't last a year at the Ricardo Flores Magon Academy. I'm sure there are teachers who are content and have found a home at the school and I have no doubt that ALL the teachers are there for the specific purpose of educating poor, minority children but how many leave the school disenchanted with education and teaching in general?

Guest
Guest

And so who are you ASSrdrgz b/c that is what is seems to be - your comments are ASSinine - look that up and tell me if I spelled it right....

Looking4Truth
Looking4Truth

This story is yet another example of the media turning a molehill into a mountain. The allegations have been brought forward by a small group of disgruntled people looking for payouts and attention. Do you honestly believe that parents knowingly send the nearly 300 students to school on a daily basis to a prison like atmosphere where they are forced to wear dunce caps and eat slop? If that is the case there are some serious parenting issues that need to be addressed. I’m wondering if people will ever stop jumping to conclusions and really find out the facts before making judgments.

Crazy
Crazy

Thanks for your view, Marcos...

Assrdrgz
Assrdrgz

I know the gentleman professionally and he is beyond addressing and responding to such biased drivel. Look it up.

Caringpublic
Caringpublic

Truth Seeker - identify yourself tell us who you really are Marcos Martinez, one of his constituents, Antonio Vigil, CSI...who!!!! The TRUTH Truth Seeker is already listed in this article - even my dog could understand that one....CSI had Marcos Martinez and Antonio Vigil's actions recorded - its NOT JUST the teachers or some story making a mountain out of a molehill as you state...REALLY! May I make a suggestion...TRUTH SEEKER ...read it the article that is ...if you can! Then post your comments. I would bet if your kid or family member had to endure what this article discusses these families have had to endure - the shoe would "fit" altogether differently.

Caringpublic
Caringpublic

Its amazing to me that schools like this exist...it makes you wander how many other Marcos Martinez exist under CSI/CDE rule???!!! SCAREY! Is it fair that nothing has been done about a situation like this? CSI had it in their files that he was accused of child abuse, tampering with CSAP scores and with state funding "copying and pasting Special Ed. applications" for students to get funding because that is what is amounts to - funding. COLORADO WAKE UP ....is this how you want your taxes spent and then the CDE and CSI wander why they cannot get enough funding to support education....THERE IS A REASON schools like this exist and obviously the system has failed because if these items have been "DOCUMENTED by the 1 institute that is to be watching and regulating schools - IS NOT doing their job. And how in the hell does CDE not follow up with these institutes who are SUPPOSEd to be in charge of allowing and keeping schools to the law and well are not....HMMM!!!! This entire article is INFERIORATING! The next time their is a move for get more of my tax money for education my question is to CDE and CSI - WHY! You hire poor leadership - do not watch what they do daily to students and to their staff and you expect us to fund this - what happens if thats my kid in these schools - then what. When does this madness stop!!!! At what point. In my eyes to have people like Antonio Vigil and Marcos Martinez yelling at 4 year olds or grade school students is what is - CHILD ABUSE! And what has been done - NOTHING! And what is the next question....as in all child abuse cases WHY did the state allow this to happen!!!!! This school is asking teachers to change grades.....I wander what more has Marcos Martinez and Antonio Vigil done to their state tests - sort of makes you think doesnt it. And where is CSI....is Ethan Hemming going to do something with this other than worry about turning his own sad organization into lemonade so they get more funding REALLY! Hey Ethan what the hell else are you going to do for the organization - what is it going to take for your group to start doing your jobs and STOP people like this and yourselves from allowing this to happen to children and to teachers. WOW!!!! WOW!!! WOW!!!!

guest
guest

Antonio vigil now works are West Denver Prep. Watch out parents!

guest
guest

At West Denver Prep

Guest
Guest

Thank you for speaking out against this incredible, ignorant man! We need to contact Ethan Hemming and the Larimie County School District that just approved them conditionally!!! If this makes your blood boil...please call and speak up so no other teachers and children have to deal with this man.

Guest
Guest

I believe the teachers 100%! I hope this guy gets what he deserves. I am sure they are happy to not work in an environment that does not support teachers and students. I hope new schools are not opened and at least the leadership is changed within this school. This is no way to treat professionals that actually care about the students...not the test scores (which are not valid because it says he coaches the students and checks all tests...hmmm). I hope the right people recognize what he has done and make the right decisions!!!

Guest
Guest

Wow, a person is a democrat who opposes charter schools because they feel a principal who discriminates against women, treats students like piggy banks instead of people and misappropriates funds is wrong? Nice try. These charter schools were created specifically to ensure students pass these idiotic tests. If they do well on the tests then it's not a measure of each student's educational level, it's a measure of how well the school was able to teach students how to take a specific test. Please take a moment to understand the dynamics and factors that allow schools like this to do "well." Also, as the article says, it's not the principal it's the teachers that are the reason the students are learning. They learn in spite of the principal, not because of him.

guest
guest

What an idiot! I hope that school doesn't get renewed!

fliteking
fliteking

Great plan, punish the kids because the super is an idiot.

I'd bet you are a democrat who opposes charter schools, no?

When are Liberals going to start putting kids first?

 
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