The Denver school board will vote tonight on a resolution acknowledging the Pioneer Charter School’s decision not to renew its contract, which means the school would close in May of 2016.
But the resolution also fast-tracks a proposal for University Prep, a nearby charter elementary school, to operate at Pioneer. That resolution has drawn concerns from some people about the district’s process for placing new schools.
After Pioneer’s board voted to not seek a renewal of its contract in December, Denver Public Schools announced that it was looking for at least one school operator to replace Pioneer in its annual search for quality schools.
Tonight’s new resolution says that DPS will inform applicants that “the District has identified a potential replacement provider of high quality [sic] for Pioneer Charter School for the 2016-17 school year.” It says that DPS will approve University Prep’s application to operate Pioneer starting in 2016-17 as long as it has a quality plan and as long as its existing school continues to show strong academic results.
At a meeting of the DPS board earlier this week, Superintendent Tom Boasberg said that “a voluntary transition where parties have ample time to plan, prepare, share expertise, and work together is a good thing.”
But this unusual arrangement has drawn concern from some in the school community.
Laurie Thompson, a business director at Pioneer, wrote in an email to the board, “Parents were informed after the decision was made and were told that there would be a role for parents and community members to have a voice during the Call for Quality Schools process.”
However, she added, the new resolution “effectively [takes] Pioneer off the table for other…applicants and [negates] input from Pioneer parents and others in this community regarding this important transition.”
Other individuals and groups have considered applying to run schools in the Pioneer building. One is a dual language program that would be a district-run school.
But University Prep has already begun a consulting relationship with Pioneer intended to last through the next school year. The Pioneer board will vote on its contract with University Prep tonight, according to board member Anna Nicotera, but school staff from the two buildings have already started working together.
University Prep leaders plan to submit a letter of intent to apply and a proposal for their plan to run Pioneer starting in the 2016-17 school year. David Singer, the founder and head of school at University Prep, emphasized that University Prep’s proposal will go through DPS’s vetting process.
Running Pioneer would be a new task for University Prep staff. University Prep began as a new elementary school, gradually phasing in new grade levels K-5. If the school is awarded operation of Pioneer, it would be taking on a K-5 school all at once.
Pioneer also has a higher proportion of English language learners than University Prep. Singer said University Prep would include a plan for working with those students in its charter proposal.
Nicotera said the board knew that some parents felt they had been excluded from the board’s decision-making about surrendering the contract and bringing in University Prep.
“While we value community and family, when you have these tough decisions and things aren’t getting better, sometimes a board has to make that hard decision,” she said.
She said she was hopeful the partnership with University Prep would help the school’s students.