New school option

Mike Miles, former superintendent in Colorado and Dallas, opening charter school in northwest Aurora

Mike Miles, former superintendent of Harrison schools, visits a classroom in this file photo.

Former district superintendent Mike Miles, whose reforms in Dallas and Colorado Springs stirred controversy, is set to open a new charter school in Aurora this fall serving at-risk kids.

The Academy of Advanced Learning will borrow strategies Miles has employed elsewhere, including keeping school doors open early and late to help ease families’ child care burden, and differentiating pay for teachers based on their roles so the school can afford extra staff.

“I knew I wanted to continue to be engaged in public education,” said Miles, the school’s CEO. “Public education is the most important work of our time. I’m just convinced of that.”

Others helping with the school’s launch include former state education commissioner Dwight Jones and Kevin Smelker, a former chief operations officer for the Dallas district.

The Aurora school board approved the Academy of Advanced Learning in June. The charter school, which will be near 6th Avenue and Sable Boulevard in northwest Aurora, will open with kindergarten through sixth grade students and add seventh and eighth graders the following year.

The school will follow a model similar to Pikes Peak Prep in Colorado Springs. The school hired Miles last year to make improvements, and he is now its CEO.

The Aurora school will pay teachers different salaries based on the importance of their roles. For example, a reading teacher — expected to help students make large gains to get to reading at grade level — could make $80,000 per year while a physical education teacher would make about $45,000 annually. Most districts don’t differentiate teacher pay by subjects taught, but may give bonuses for hard-to-staff positions.

It’s something Miles says he knows not everyone will agree with, like many of the reforms he has had a hand in over the last decade.

Miles is working to open the Aurora charter school a year after returning to Colorado after leaving his superintendent job in Dallas with two years left on his contract. During his time in Dallas, Miles made headlines for creating new evaluations for teachers and principals and for firing three principals after the district’s school board voted to keep them.

“If you’re going to prioritize resources, high-quality instruction, whatever you’re going to prioritize, that’s a very political act,” Miles said. “When you prioritize you make some people feel like they’re not a priority. If you want to please everyone, don’t be a superintendent.”

Before the Dallas job, Miles had been superintendent of the Harrison School District in Colorado Springs for six years. In that role, he led the district to adopt one of the first teacher pay-for-performance models in the state that tied salary and raises to annual evaluations.

Tammy Clementi, a former chief academic officer for Aurora Public Schools who now works as a consultant and is on the founding board of the charter school, said she is aware of the criticisms of Miles over the years but believes they are a reaction to his drastic changes.

“I’ve worked with Mike, he was my boss and anytime somebody has approached me with ‘Oh Mike Miles?’ I’ve always said, ‘If you’re working hard and you’re doing your job, you don’t have anything to worry about,’” Clementi said. “He is all about holding folks accountable. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Clementi said even though she was unsure about joining a board for a charter school, she was persuaded by a model that will focus on serving at-risk students and that won’t pick and choose its students.

If more students enroll than the school has room for, the school will hold a lottery.

School officials say the Aurora school will focus on at-risk students through the educational model and by providing them a reliable — and free — place to hang out before and after school.

The school promises to have staff at the building from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. every school day — as it the case at Pikes Peak Prep — so parents who work don’t have to leave kids home alone. Students can sign up for after-school activities, receive tutoring, get help with homework or just watch television.

The school doors will be open on snow days when classes are cancelled.

“We’ll close if Starbucks closes,” Miles jokes.

Brenda Balderas, a mom of two young boys in Aurora, said the school’s hours are one of the most attractive features for parents she has talked to about the school.

“That right there just opens a lot of doors for parents,” Balderas said. She helped gather parent feedback for the school and said she may send her own kids to the school when they are school-age.

The school will also offer free, full-day kindergarten and will follow a competency-based model that will move students through grade levels as they prove they’ve learned certain competencies, not based on time spent in class. The school will also use personalized learning, relying on technology, such as programs on computers or tablets, that move students through lessons at different paces based on each student’s needs.

By saving money on differentiating teacher pay, Miles said he will be able to hire more staff, like teacher’s assistants to get students more one-on-one help.

“That’s kind of what intrigued me the most,” Balderas said. “It’s a very good opportunity for parents, for their kids, that want a little bit more attention.”

It's Friday. Just show a video.

How a push to save some of Indiana’s oldest trees taught this class about the power of speaking out

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students working at the School for Community Learning, a progressive Indianapolis private school that depends on vouchers.

Alayna Pierce was one of seven teachers who participated in story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library on Sept. 5. Every teacher shared stories about their challenges and triumphs in Circle City classrooms.

Pierce’s story is a letter she wrote to her second and third grade students at the School for Community Learning, a private school in Indianapolis. In it, she recounts how they came together as a class and as a community to save some of the state’s oldest trees.

Check out the video below to hear Pierce’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.

Charter appeals

Siding with local district, Tennessee State Board denies two Memphis charter appeals

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
B. Fielding Rolston, chairman of Tennessee State Board of Education

Tennessee’s education policymaking body is switching course this year to side with the state’s largest school district in denying two charter school applicants.

On Friday, the nine-member Tennessee State Board of Education unanimously rejected the appeals of two charters that sought to open all-girls schools in Memphis next fall. The charter applicants will now have to wait until next year and reapply with Shelby County Schools, which had rejected their applications this year, if they so choose.

The decision on Friday stands in contrast to the state board’s dramatic overruling of the local board last year that resulted in the first charter school authorization by the panel in Memphis. That essentially added another state-run district in the city, and the State Board of Education joins just one other state in the nation to also operate as a school district.

The board acted in accordance this year with recommendation from Sara Morrison, the executive director of the State Board of Education, in the denial of appeals by The Academy All Girls Charter School and Rich ED Academy of Leaders.

The vote comes a month after the Shelby County Schools board turned down their applications,  along with nine others. After a charter applicant is denied by the local school district, they can appeal to the State Board of Education and be re-reviewed by a six person committee.

Morrison told board members that both charter applicants failed to meet requirements in their plans for school finances (Her analysis specified that one of the schools relied too heavily on philanthropic donations).

She added that the applications did not fully meet standards in the other two categories measured: operations and academics.

Board members accepted her recommendations on Friday without questions.