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Choosing a charter school in Denver: Fantastic choices abound!

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“Have you thought about any of the Charter Schools in our area?” the Preschool Director asked me, a helpful lilt in her voice. I’d told her we were trying to figure out where to send our daughter in the fall, and I knew the process started early. We still had more than enough time to figure it all out, but it was something that had been weighing on my mind. She could tell from the look on my face I had no idea where to start.

I looked down at the packet of information in my hands. The preschool had provided us with information they’d gathered over the years on all the different neighborhood schools around us, and for various reasons, we weren’t too keen on sending her to the school closest to our house. As it was, the way the boundaries were drawn, our official “neighborhood school” wasn’t the closest to our house anyway.

If I was going to be taking her to school every morning anyway, we may as well choose a school that felt like home to us.

Jefferson County allows every family to choice enroll into whichever school would best fit their needs. It was lottery-based, so applying wasn’t a guaranteed spot, but the odds of us getting into at least one school at the top of our list were pretty high.

But, which schools did we put on that list? The choices were daunting.

“Well,” I said, searching for the right words. “I just can’t justify the expense of tuition for a private school education, especially for something that’s not college-level,” I said. “I love supporting public schools.”

Her whole face broke into a smile, and she laughed. “Charter Schools ARE public schools; they’re not private,” she said. “They don’t have tuition! They’re free!”

I was stunned. What? I gasped out loud. “Well, let me rephrase my answer,” I said with a smile, the possibilities opening before my eyes. “Please tell me more about Charter Schools!”

That conversation was the beginning of MY education into the choices available for us in Jefferson County.

Why was a Charter School so appealing to me? It fit our needs perfectly in the following ways:

I love the curriculum.

Charter schools provide a curriculum that differs from a typical neighborhood public school. (Despite having differing curricula, Charter Schools are still required to meet State Standards.) Some examples of the different types of curricula would be: Waldorf, Montessori, or Core Knowledge, to name a few. Our school does the Core Knowledge (it’s not Common Core, despite the similarity in names) with a mix of Saxon Math and Shurley Grammar, and I love it. It’s been the perfect fit for our child.

Because we were looking at starting the school in her Kindergarten year, the fact that Specials were being offered to the Kindergarten classes was also a big plus. As a Kindergartener, she would be exposed to Spanish, Technology, Music, Art, Physical Education. Many of the neighborhood schools I visited started offering the full-range of Specials to children in First Grade and beyond.

Charter School Pic2 MHMLevelized Learning

Along with a robust curricula, our charter school provides levelized learning. My daughter was “ready” for Kindergarten well before the time she reached the magical age dictated by the Jefferson County School Calendar. Because the Charter School accommodates different learners at different levels within the same grade, she’s always been challenged. The needs of those in her class that struggle are met, as well. The way the teachers get things to flow so nicely in class never ceases to amaze me.

Class Size

Speaking of teachers and how well they work with the kids, a typical class has 28 students with a Teacher and an Assistant. So, for a majority of the day, the student to teacher ratio is amazing. Many Charter Schools operate with Wait Lists. According to their charter agreements, they are only allowed a certain number of students. Enrollment is based solely on the luck-of-the draw. In Jefferson County, the Choice / Open Enrollment process starts in January.

A level of parental involvement that was not only tolerated but encouraged

Many Charter Schools request a certain number of volunteer hours per year, per family. Not only does this provide the schools with creative cost-saving measures, it builds a sense of community.

A budget overseen by a Board of Directors and available to the public at any time

Another draw toward the Charter School, for me, was how well they are able to maintain their budgets. Charter Schools have the ability to be fiscally conservative in certain areas in the face of looming budget cuts at the district level. Despite being a public school, the funding they receive is not equal to that of a neighborhood school when it comes to PPR (Per Pupil Revenue), so it can be tricky at times. The flexibility to be in charge of all that is refreshing. All of this is done with a transparency that has been required since Day 1, and I love that.

For us, Charter Schools are the best of both worlds.

They provide the feel of a specialized learning environment but do so in a public school setting. The minute I walked through the doors at our Charter School, I knew it was our home. As we start our fourth year there, I am so incredibly thankful for this option!

JoAnn as been writing at The Casual Perfectionist since 2007. On Twitter, she is @ThisJoAnn. Offline, she can be found writing, watercolor painting, cajoling hedgehogs, conducting covert missions, decoding secret messages, and pretending her life is more exciting than it may very well be.

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson August 21, 2014

    I have a son in our neighborhood public school and switched my daughter over to an arts-based Waldorf Charter School. Though things aren’t perfect at either school, I’m pleased with where both of my children are and the things they’re learning. I know parents who jump from school to school, hoping for the “perfect” fit. I’m convinced it’s not out there and you have to adapt. Find a school that is right for you and work within those confines. Personally, we’ve been happy with our charter school experience1

  • comment avatar Amanda August 21, 2014

    Charter schools must meet some public school regulations but usually not all of them. The degree of freedom a charter school enjoys varies greatly by state — in some states charters face many of the same rules as regular schools. In others they may be free to create their own curriculum or hire teachers without state certification. I love the idea of charter schools but am wondering how you work through all this?

  • comment avatar JoAnn August 21, 2014

    Amanda, I know that “charter schools” mean different things in different states, and it even varies by county. I can only speak to how our charter school does things in Jefferson County, Colorado. We hire certified teachers. Our curriculum is as stated above, and one reason I loved this school was because they could provide that information to me easily. As for how you work through all this in your state? Research, research, research. Good luck!

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