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Publish Date: 4/25/2005

Charter push resumes
Group’s plan focuses on converting Longmont High


LONGMONT — A group of teachers and community members would like to turn Longmont High School into a charter school, an idea that has met with resistance from St. Vrain Valley School District administrators.

Paul Flanders, a history teacher at Longmont High, has pushed the idea for many years. For the past 18 months, Flanders and nearly 40 teachers and community members have devised a vision, philosophy, goals and objectives regarding a switch to a charter organization.

The big drive behind the proposal is the flexibility that comes with being a charter school, Flanders said.

The group’s proposal, which will be presented to the St. Vrain Valley Board of Education in August, states that the mission of the charter school would be to help all students to discover and develop their gifts.

As part of that, each student would receive the coaching of a professional mentor at school. All financial resources available to the school would be “optimized, sharply cutting unnecessary layers of administrative control,” the document stated.

“Everybody is looking for a way to get high schools to revive,” Flanders said.

He approached Colorado’s governor five years ago with an idea to turn all public schools in the state to charter schools.

His reasoning behind the proposal: “The only way to compete is to have better services,” he said.

Flanders said the St. Vrain Valley School District is very good at many things, but other things could be cut, shifted or put into the hands of individual schools.

The district is “good at textbook purchases, insurance, capital improvement projects and bond issues,” Flanders said.

Transportation could be cut, he said, because RTD offers teens a $17-per-month pass. Why offer school buses when students could just as easily ride public transportation, Flanders asked.

In fiscal year 2004, the school district spent $2.63 million on transportation, or $325 per student, he said. RTD would cost $153 per student, or $1.2 million, which is “half of our budget for transportation services,” Flanders said. “We would translate that savings into hiring new teachers.”

Longmont High School Principal Mary White is not convinced the group’s plan would work.

“Some of his concepts, I don’t know how realistic they are logistically,” she said. “Only having teachers teach two classes per day, the way I look at it, is very simplistic.”

She added, “We have a great school. I am so proud of this school. We do many things very well. To imply we need to make Longmont High into a charter is almost a negative. It makes it seem like there is something wrong with what we do or the value of education we provide for our kids.”

Greg Winger, a government teacher at Longmont High and a proponent of the charter idea, said he became involved because of the local control issue, “having site-based decisions regarding schedules, regarding mentors, regarding the classes we offer.”

After 18 months of working with the charter pilot committee, “I came to realize that being a charter school gives you flexibility to implement programs parents, students and staff would like to see at the school. It also provides resources to accomplish those endeavors,” Winger said.

Currently, at Longmont High, the funding per student is at 75 percent of per-pupil operating funds doled out by the state, he said. “Under a charter school, we could get 95 percent.”

Kathy Hall, vice president of the St. Vrain Valley Board of Education, said that “high schools are more expensive than people would think to run, and so I would be very interested in the financial pieces (of the charter proposal).”

She added that “to Longmont High School alumni, things like having good athletic programs, strong art programs, things that are fairly pricey, are very important, and in my brief look at their Web site and budget projections, I don’t see some of that.”

District Superintendent Randy Zila said he thinks “Paul (Flanders) has ideas about what would change, but I don’t think financially the picture that he has is very accurate.”

He added that many ideas in the charter proposal, especially the mentoring piece, could be implemented within the current system.

“They could create that vision for themselves,” Zila said.

He recommended that if the group has a “passion for a charter school, they should go find a location and develop that plan. I’m not sure we can give them that building. The district would still want Longmont High School to be a public school.”

This charter proposal is different from others the school board has dealt with because it relates to an existing school.

“I see a number of things they would like to do,” Hall said. “My question to them is, why don’t you do them in the confines of what you do now? ... I don’t see anything stopping people from doing that.”

Under the charter proposal, teachers would teach only two classes a day, Flanders said, giving them time to interact at a more personal level with all of their students.

The organization’s Web site, www.lhscharter.org, says this would allow teachers to interact with only 55 students a day instead of the current 85 to more than 100 a day.

The group would like to change the school climate to motivate students to be successful and be more than average, which is where Longmont High ranks on Colorado Student Assessment Program tests.

Flanders talked about offering classes that meet state standards but would interest kids, like sports writing, love stories for girls or adventure literature.

“We need classes where kids are truly motivated. Long-term learning can’t be driven by the test,” Flanders said.

He hopes to get parents and students involved in the charter effort.

“More and more, we (teachers) are asked to do more, and I’m not sure it is contributing to the overall improvement of education,” he said.

Hall responded that she doesn’t want to “shut down people’s good ideas to improve student achievement; I’m just a little unclear” about how this plan would work.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-684-5211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.

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