State agency approves two charter schools rejected by Adams 14

Students at University Prep, a public charter school located in a formerly-closed Denver Public Schools facility.
University Prep operates two Denver elementary schools, including one in the Five Points neighborhood. The network is preparing to open a third elementary school in Adams 14. (Marc Piscotty)

Two charter schools received approval Tuesday to open in Adams 14 despite the school district’s opposition. 

The school district north of Denver had tried to block both schools — University Prep and Be the Change — from opening, but the State Board of Education last month took away the district’s exclusive say in approving or denying charter schools within its boundaries.

Adams 14 is under state reorganization orders after years of low test scores, and a majority of State Board members said it seemed the district showed a pattern of being unfair to charter schools.

Because the district lost its chartering authority, the two schools were able to apply through the state agency, the Charter School Institute. Now, both schools are expected to open in fall 2024.

At a special meeting Tuesday, the CSI board of directors unanimously approved both schools.

Joe Salazar, an attorney for Adams 14, said the district had asked CSI to hold off on their vote because of pending litigation. The district has sued the state for removing their exclusive chartering authority and requested that the judge issue a stay on the order. Salazar said the judge has not issued a ruling.

“If they issue a stay, then what CSI did today is void,” Salazar said. 

The Adams 14 school board initially approved University Prep, a charter network that already operates schools in Denver, but then contract negotiations broke down. The charter network successfully appealed to the State Board of Education — twice — but the district still said it could not reach an agreement to open the school.

Leaders of University Prep said they worked with parents in the community, some of whom already drive their kids out of the district to attend the network’s Denver schools. Together they designed a school that is to include a preschool and programming in Spanish. 

The school now has plans to open in fall 2024 serving students in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, expanding over time to enroll students up to fifth grade.

Adams 14 leaders cited uncertainty about whether the school would offer preschool in the first year as the issue that began the breakdown in negotiations. At that time, the network still hoped to open in fall 2023. 

Be the Change leaders also say they had a lot of community engagement in designing their high school under a community school model with a biliteracy approach. The district denied their application after criticizing the plans as not rigorous enough.

On an appeal, State Board members sided with the district. That didn’t stop Be the Change founders from trying again, though.

Now, Be the Change expects to open in the fall of 2024 with students in grade 9, eventually serving students through grade 12.

“We are absolutely honored by the approval and thrilled for our Commerce City community to have an additional high school option in order for families to make the best decision for their children,” said Amanda Gonzales, Be The Change co-founder, in a written statement.

Yesenia Robles is a reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado covering K-12 school districts and multilingual education. Contact Yesenia at

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