The process works like this: In cases where a charter school disagrees with a school district's decision to reject it or shut it down, the school can plead its case before the State Board of Education in a sort-of mini-trial. Each side files briefs and presents its argument in a hearing. Like Supreme Court justices, state boardmembers can interrupt at any time to ask questions. In the end, if a majority of the seven members sides with the charter school, the board can remand a decision back to the district with instructions for what the district should do. Ultimately, it's up to the district, but if the local entity refuses to follow the instructions, the school can appeal again.

Monarch Montessori made its case before the state board on February 8, hiring attorney Barry Arrington, a sometimes-irreverent former legislator who once represented the families of Columbine victims but now focuses exclusively on charter schools. He, Monarch principal Nancy Radkiewicz and a few other Monarch representatives were joined by DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg and administrator Alyssa Whitehead-Bust.

DPS had rejected Monarch for several specific reasons. Staff and boardmembers felt that its plans for teaching special-education and non-English-speaking students lacked detail, that its board of directors didn't know enough about running a charter school, that its budget wasn't sustainable, and that it wasn't being inclusive enough of low-income students. The district was also worried that Monarch would commingle the funds from the school's private daycare with the public funds that would support the charter school, which had happened at Monarch's predecessor, Challenges, Choices and Images.

Monarch Montessori tapped Nancy Radkiewicz as its principal.
Monarch Montessori tapped Nancy Radkiewicz as its principal.
DPS boardmember Nate Easley.
DPS boardmember Nate Easley.

Monarch supporters suspect the school's history may be one of the reasons DPS was so unreceptive. Challenges, Choices and Images was a disaster. Started by a woman named Carolyn Jones as a Saturday school in Aurora, it became a DPS charter in 2000. The school focused on African-American culture, and in 2007, it moved to the former Samsonite building in northeast Denver, where Monarch now resides. That fall, Jones also opened a private Montessori daycare in the building.

But problems soon surfaced. A 2008 CBS4 story revealed that several staff members at the charter school had criminal records. Further, DPS suspected financial mismanagement when it was revealed that the school had loaned $500,000 to the daycare, possibly mingling public and private funds. Soon after the scandal broke, Jones bowed out and the daycare declared bankruptcy.

Several parents, including Jessica Bidlingmaier, recognized that the program had potential, however. So the daycare's board of directors, of which Bidlingmaier was president, severed ties with the former entity, hired a Montessori expert to run the center and changed the name to Monarch Montessori. The board decided that the best path forward would be to open a Montessori elementary charter school in addition to the daycare. "This was all a transformation," Bidlingmaier explains.

Under competent leadership, the daycare flourished. In March 2011, it hired Radkiewicz, a longtime teacher turned principal, to write its 500-page charter application. Radkiewicz had previously helped a group of parents in Longmont and Boulder write an application for a gifted-and-talented school. (That charter was rejected by the school district, and the school did not appeal.)

Radkiewicz sought help from the Colorado League of Charter Schools, which reviewed Monarch's application. The league thought it was good. League president Jim Griffin says its reviewers never anticipated that DPS would reject it. "Our group was stunned when they heard that DPS was thinking of saying no," he says.

In a 5-to-2 vote on November 17, the DPS board did say no to Monarch. The next day, Monarch appealed the decision to the State Board of Education.

Arrington was sassy in his appeal briefs, calling the district's assessment of the school "staggeringly inaccurate" and "nothing short of absurd."

He highlighted the educational backgrounds of Monarch's boardmembers and explained that the budget was adequately crafted by a financial officer with years of experience. "This was not written on the back of an envelope," Arrington said. He added that the budgets of the private daycare and the public charter school would be "hermetically sealed." In fact, the two would be separate legal entities altogether.

Radkiewicz explained that the school planned to hire a special-education teacher, as well a teacher who specialized in teaching English-language learners.

When it was DPS's turn, Whitehead-Bust emphasized DPS's affection for charter schools. "In the past number of years, we have approved 63 percent of the charter-school applications that have come before us," she said. "In 2011, we approved 70 percent." However, DPS's approval process is "very, very rigorous," she said. "I think that our emphasis on quality is paying off," she added, pointing out that DPS's charter schools outperform its non-charters. Monarch, she said, hadn't passed the test.

But the questioning soon delved into specifics. Chairman Bob Schaffer, a Republican who himself is principal of a charter school, implied that DPS's standards were too high. For instance, he said, state law requires a charter-school applicant to provide "a description of" the governance of the school. It doesn't say anything about the qualifications the school's board should have. "What DPS has applied is some standard of quality that seems to me to be extra-legal," he said.

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10 comments
Krcurran
Krcurran

It is deplorable that Ms. Kaplan would "sacrifice" a much-needed school in the Far Northeast just to thumb her nose at the State. So much for responsible leadership.

greg
greg

After reading how Jeannie Kaplan has 'taught us all a lesson' with the second of her votes cast. I was 'taught' that school board members run, get elected and work as advocates for the parents and children in their district. I now see that I'm 'misguided'. Ms. Kaplan's role as a school board member is to, from her bully pulpit, stomp her feet, shake her head side to side and because she was so put off that she switched her vote the second time around in order to send a message to the state. Ms Kaplan chose to act like a 'child'. But then, she isn't on the school board to help parents and their children in her school district. Ms Kaplan is on her local school board to show us all that no one... will challenge her self anointed, superior intellect when it is her job to... change her mind. Always for the best reason... of course.

greg
greg

Jeannie Kaplan

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kristin norris
kristin norris

Amazing! Does DPS really think they are that entitled!

M.B.
M.B.

Kristen of course they are entitled. If you were to say anything against them they Punish. And you thought the only bullies are on the PLAY GROUND. The worst ones are at 900 Grant Street disguised as people who want "What's best for Kids". I know many teachers forced out of teaching not because they were bad teachers but because they had a brain. Weak management never wants a smart work force.

 
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