Who Is In Charge

Hyatt named to head Charter Institute

Mark Hyatt, president of The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs and a well-known figure in charter school circles, has been named executive director of the Colorado Charter School Institute.

StockCSILogo122209The institute oversees 17 schools with a combined enrollment of 6,244 students. Hyatt succeeds Randy DeHoff, who resigned earlier this year, as executive director.

Alex Medler, president of the CSI board, said, “Mark has a demonstrated commitment to quality charter schools.  We are very excited because Mark will be able to build partnerships while moving the Charter School Institute into a leading role in education reform during the next phase of its existence.”

Last spring, the Colorado Department of Education and Academy District 20, which charters the academy’s schools, investigated parent complaints about racism, sexual assault and student safety, lack of responsiveness and other issues.

A consultant’s report, issued in May, was critical of how the academy handled complaints about racism and religious intolerance and said the “investigation revealed major areas of concern about management, safety and security of students,” according to a report in the Colorado Springs Gazette. (Full text of investigative report.)

District 20 officials required the academy to submit plans for staff training in reporting of abuse and handling complaints, conflict resolution, revising its board election system, having an audit performed, maintaining open records, ensuring sound financial practices and making reports to the district twice a year.

Classical Academy subsequently created a dean of students position to handle conflict resolution and related issues, improved staff training and created a conflict resolution committee.

Medler said that the situation “came up during the interview process [and] we investigated it some more.” Medler added that Hyatt “probably could have started out more aggressively in responding to it quicker” but did respond appropriately. Medler said that the institute board was satisfied by its conversations with Hyatt that he has the appropriate “philosophy and orientation … to serve all kids” as leader of CSI.

The Classical Academy, with 3,100 students at four campuses in Colorado Springs, is the largest K-12 charter in the state. It also offers a College Pathways program with Pikes Peak Community College and a program for home-schooled students. Hyatt has been president since 2002.

Mark Hyannt, director of Charter School Institute
Mark Hyatt, director of Charter School Institute

Hyatt is a retired colonel and fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He also served as vice commandant at the Air Force Academy and six years as the director of the academy’s Center for Character Development.

He serves on the governor’s P-20 Education Council and CDE’s School Leadership Academy Board.

In a prepared statement, Hyatt said, “All students in Colorado deserve a great education, and all parents deserve the opportunity to choose the school that’s right for their children.”

The institute board Tuesday also announced that Lee Barratt will be deputy executive director. Barratt has been chief financial officer.

The institute, created in 2004, opened for business in 2006 with two schools. An independent agency within CDE, it is allowed to authorize charters in districts that do not have exclusive chartering authority. It has a nine-member board, seven appointed by the governor and two by the commissioner.

In aggregate, CSAP achievement at institute schools ranged from 64 to 71 percent proficient or above in reading in 2009 (by grade) and from 26 to 59 percent in math. About 32 percent of students at institute schools are eligible for free or reduced lunch, compared to nearly 36 percent statewide (2008 figures).

A legal challenge to the constitutionality of the institute was rejected earlier this year by the Colorado Supreme Court when it declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling.

Efforts to broaden the institute’s powers went nowhere in the 2009 legislative session. But, Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, recently told EdNews that he’s considering 2010 legislation that would give the institute broader authorizing powers, perhaps by allowing school boards to delegate authorization functions to the agency. (King is administrator of Colorado Springs Early Colleges, a school authorized by the institute.)

The Classical Academy’s schools have received a number of awards and generally have high percentages of students scoring proficient or higher in reading and math and average rates of student growth. The schools use the Core Knowledge curriculum and are based on a philosophy grounded in “the seven liberal arts of classical education.” (For more information, see this page on the academy’s website.)

Classical Academy opened in 1997 with 400 students.

Here are snapshots of the Classical Academy schools, taken from CDE data.

  • Elementary: 1,858 students (4.84 percent free and reduced), 87 percent proficient or above in math, 51st median percentile in math growth, 88 percent proficient or above in reading, 55th growth percentile. 2008 School Accountability Report
  • Middle school: 429 students (6.53 percent free and reduced), 47 percent proficient or above in math, 51st growth percentile in math, 87 percent proficient or above in reading, 51st growth percentile. 2008 School Accountability Report
  • High school: 597 students (5.7 percent free and reduced), 64 percent proficient or above in math, 64th growth percentile, 97 proficient or above in reading, 63rd growth percentile. 2008 School Accountability Report

In 2008, 9.45 percent of Academy 20 district students were eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Follow the money

In Denver school board races, incumbents outpacing challengers in campaign contributions

PHOTO: Melanie Asmar
Denver school board vice president Barbara O'Brien speaks at a press conference at Holm Elementary.
Donations to Denver school board candidates as of Oct. 12
    Barbara O’Brien, At-Large: $101,291
    Angela Cobián, District 2: $94,152
    Mike Johnson, District 3: $81,855
    Rachele Espiritu, District 4: $73,847
    Jennifer Bacon, District 4: $59,302
    Robert Speth, At-Large: $38,615
    “Sochi” Gaytán, District 2: $24,134
    Carrie A. Olson, District 3: $18,105
    Tay Anderson, District 4: $16,331
    Julie Bañuelos, At-Large: $7,737

Three Denver school board incumbents brought in more money than challengers seeking to unseat them and change the district’s direction, according to new campaign finance reports.

Board vice president Barbara O’Brien has raised the most money so far. A former Colorado lieutenant governor who was first elected to the board in 2013 and represents the city at-large, O’Brien had pulled in $101,291 as of Oct. 12.

The second-highest fundraiser was newcomer Angela Cobián, who raised $94,152. She is running to represent southwest District 2, where there is no incumbent in the race. The board member who currently holds that seat, Rosemary Rodriguez, has endorsed Cobián.

Incumbent Mike Johnson, who is running for re-election in central-east District 3, brought in far more money than his opponent, Carrie A. Olson. In a three-way race for northeast Denver’s District 4, incumbent Rachele Espiritu led in fundraising, but not by as much.

O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson and Espiritu had several big-money donors in common. They include former Denver Center for the Performing Arts chairman Daniel Ritchie, Oakwood Homes CEO Pat Hamill and Denver-based oil and gas company founder Samuel Gary. All three have given in past elections to candidates who support the direction of Denver Public Schools, which is nationally known for embracing school choice and collaborating with charter schools.

Meanwhile, teachers unions were among the biggest contributors to candidates pushing for the state’s largest school district to change course and refocus on its traditional, district-run schools. The Denver Classroom Teachers Association Fund gave the most money — $10,000 — to candidate Jennifer Bacon, a former teacher who is challenging Espiritu in District 4.

It gave smaller amounts to Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who is running against Cobián in District 2; Olson, who is challenging Johnson in District 3; and Robert Speth, who is running in a three-person race with O’Brien. Speth narrowly lost a race for a board seat in 2015. A supplemental campaign filing shows Speth loaned himself $17,000 on Oct. 13.

The two candidates who raised the least amounts of money also disagree with the district’s direction but were not endorsed by the teachers union and didn’t receive any union money. Tay Anderson, who is running against Espiritu and Bacon in District 4, counts among his biggest donors former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, who endorsed him and gave $1,110.

In the at-large race, candidate Julie Bañuelos’s biggest cash infusion was a $2,116 loan to herself. As of Oct. 11, Bañuelos had spent more money than she’d raised.

With four seats up for grabs on the seven-member board, the Nov. 7 election has the potential to shift the board’s balance of power. Currently, all seven members back the district’s direction and the vision of long-serving Superintendent Tom Boasberg. Mail ballots went out this week.

The new campaign finance reports, which were due at midnight Tuesday and cover the previous year, show that several of this year’s candidates have already raised more money than the candidate who was leading the pack at this time in the 2015 election.

O’Brien’s biggest contributor was University of Colorado president Bruce Benson, who gave $10,000. Other notable donors include Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne; and billionaire Phil Anschutz.

Several Denver charter school leaders, including Rocky Mountain Prep CEO James Cryan and KIPP Colorado CEO Kimberlee Sia, donated to O’Brien, Johnson, Espiritu and Cobián.

Political groups are also playing a big role in the election. The groups include several backed by local and state teachers unions, as well as others funded by pro-reform organizations.

Following the money

Douglas County slate that favors continuing school voucher court case is ahead in early fundraising, records show

Former State Board of Education member Debora Scheffel at a campaign event in 2016. Scheffel is now running for the Douglas County school board. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A group of candidates that largely supports the direction of the Douglas County School District, especially its embrace of school choice policies, has raised nearly $100,000 in campaign contributions, new financial records show.

The group, which calls itself “Elevate Douglas County,” topped its competition, the “Community Matters” slate, by more than $30,000 in monetary contributions to committees for individual candidates.

A lot is at stake in the south suburban Denver school board contest. A majority of seats on the seven-member school board are up for grabs, putting the philosophical direction of the state’s third largest school district on the line.

For eight years, the school board has pushed a conservative education reform agenda that included developing a voucher program that would allow parents to use tax dollars to send their children to private school and establishing a market-based pay system for teachers.

While the Elevate slate has promised to reconsider and tweak many of the board’s most controversial decisions, such as teacher pay, the Community Matters slate has promised to roll back many of the previous board’s decisions.

The contrast between the two groups is most stark on the issue of the school district’s voucher program. Created in 2011, the voucher program has been tied up in courts ever since. The Elevate slate supports continuing the court case and, if there is community support, reinstating the program. The Community Matters slate staunchly opposes vouchers and would end the court case.

According to records, the Elevate slate raised a total of $98,977 during the first campaign reporting period that ended Oct. 12. Grant Nelson raised the most, $34,373. The three other candidates — Ryan Abresch, Randy Mills and Debora Scheffel — each raised about $21,000.

All four candidates received $6,250 from John Saeman, a Denver businessman and the former chairman of the Daniels Fund. The foundation has financially supported the school district’s legal battle over the voucher program.

Other major contributors to the Elevate team are Ed McVaney, the founder of JD Edwards, and businesswoman Chrystalla Larson.

The Community Matters slate raised a total of $66,692 during the same period. Candidate Krista Holtzmann led the pack, raising more than $21,000. Her teammates — Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor and Kevin Leung — raised between $13,000 and $15,000 each.

Among the major donors to the Community Matters slate are Clare Leonard and Herschel Ramsey. Both Parker residents gave $1,000 each to all four candidates.

The campaign finance reports that were due Tuesday tell only part of the story. Earlier this week, special interest groups working to influence the election were required to report their spending.

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers union, has pumped $300,000 into the race in an effort to support the Community Matters slate.

Meanwhile, Americans For Prosperity, a conservative political nonprofit, is running a “social welfare” issue campaign promoting school choice. Because the nonprofit is not directly supporting candidates, it is not required to disclose how much it is spending. However, the organization said in a statement the campaign would cost six-figures.

Correction: This article has been updated to better reflect the Elevate slate’s position on reinstating the school district’s proposed voucher program.