Jefferson Academy will open in Coal Creek after parents raised nearly half a million dollars

A brick school building with a flagpole in front.
Coal Creek Canyon K-8 is one of two Jeffco Public Schools closing at the end of this school year. Jefferson Academy will open for next school year in the same building. (Image courtesy of Jeffco Public Schools)

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Parents in a far corner of Jefferson County celebrated Tuesday night after helping to raise nearly half a million dollars to secure the opening of a charter school in their community.

The board of the charter school, Jefferson Academy, voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with opening a new kindergarten through 8th grade school in Coal Creek Canyon.

“I’m voting for the motion because of the hard work that has been done and got us across that line,” said Anil Mathai, a Jefferson Academy board member. “But if we do not focus on year two, year three, this board and the system will have major stress on it. We own this. I want to make sure we aggressively move to make sure year two is financially solid with or without their support.”

The Jeffco school district had decided earlier this year to close the district-operated school after the end of the school year in May, citing unsustainably low enrollment. Since the next nearest schools for families are for many a 20-minute drive away, the district sought a charter school to take over running a school in the community.

Jefferson Academy was approved by the school district in January. But initial enrollment of 60 students and seven homeschoolers was lower than the charter school anticipated.

Schools are funded per student, and the board said the low enrollment numbers meant the school was half a million dollars short of being able to open. But before the board pulled out of plans to open in the fall of 2024, members allowed parents about three weeks to try to help raise the money.

Parents helped the charter school foundation apply for and secure several grants, ran a successful GoFundMe page for individual donations, received funding from several businesses, and put on a silent auction that raised more than $3,000.

All together, the efforts raised $10,000 more than what was needed.

Enrollment is still at 60 students, although there are now 10 homeschooled students who will be connected to the school. Parent leaders believe that once there is no longer uncertainty about the school’s opening, and the first year is successful, more families will enroll.

Although the charter board had previously discussed the idea of opening the school with fewer grades, board members have abandoned that idea for now, with the exception of cutting preschool. The school still intends to have a preschool, but has not yet secured licensing to offer that on the first day of school. It will be available when the school gets licensed, leaders said.

Parents who led the fundraising efforts also presented their ideas for other ways to make the charter school sustainable. Finding babysitters in the canyon is a challenge, they said, and so hosting a night out for parents where they could leave their children in a safe place could be another successful fundraising event, they said.

And to boost enrollment, parents suggested adding before or after school care. At least one parent in the community enrolls her children in Boulder schools close to her workplace, because the canyon school doesn’t have any after school care or activities.

Besides the fundraising, the last bit of help to open the charter came from the Jeffco school district, which agreed to allow Jefferson Academy to operate in the district-owned building for free the first year and with an adjusted cost in the second year.

The only condition was that Jefferson Academy had to decide Tuesday night to open the school and not leave families wondering any longer.

Lisa Relou, chief of staff for the Jeffco school district, told the charter board that the district is committed to helping, but that the goal is for the charter to be sustainable on its own in the long run.

Charter school board members said they also were concerned about long-term sustainability, and said they knew that opening this school in the canyon was a risk, but one that made sense.

Having so much parental involvement in fundraising means that the community “seems to be right up our alley,” one board member said.

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

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