Charter Academy not elitist, leaders say |

Charter Academy not elitist, leaders say

Kristin Anderson/Daily file photoEagle County Charter Academy seventh-graders Kendall VanHee, left, and Tess Chapman concentrate while taking a science test. The school board Monday will revisit a controversial vote to give the Edwards school $2.5 million for a community building.

EDWARDS ” You’d think a school with 900 students on its waiting list would be more popular in the community.

But despite being a high-performing, often-coveted school by parents, the Eagle County Charter Academy is viewed with confusion and even scorn by many people in the valley.

The recent controversy over its proposed community building certainly brought to light some of the long harbored resentments toward the school. The board’s 4-3 decision to give $2.5 million to the Charter Academy for a community building nearly a month ago drew the ire of several parents and educators, who saw better uses for the money.

Leaders at the Charter Academy weren’t prepared for the dramatic outcry. The school district has since taken back its decision and will vote again on Monday.

“We thought there would be a few people upset, but we weren’t ready for the animosity in the valley toward the charter school,” Principal Jay Cerny said.

And while the community building is the hot topic of the moment, the tense feelings have a long history. Why is that? Where does the animosity come from?

There are always a few people opposed to the whole idea of a charter school when they’re created, said Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. There is a mindset out there that a public school should be run and operated by a school district, and creating a charter school can only divide a community, he said.

The word Charter Academy leaders hear most often is “elitist,” and that reputation does a lot to harm the school, Cerny said. There seems to be a perception that the academy is basically a private school funded by taxpayers, a perception the charter school doesn’t believe is fair.

While the school does have an enrollment cap, and many families wanting in the school are left behind, the school should still be embraced as an important part of the school district, leaders say.

There are several misconceptions out there about the Charter Academy that feed that elitist image, and many have been lingering for 14 years now, said Sarah Hymes, president of the Charter Academy board of directors.

Here is the Charter Academy’s take on some of those myths.

Actually: The Charter Academy admits it does have a low percentage of Hispanic students, but it’s not a problem that will easily go away.

The Charter Academy used to give priority to Hispanic students on their waiting list, but school district lawyers decided that practice was illegal ” “reverse discrimination” they call it.

Now, the school chooses students through a random lottery process, and the number of Hispanic students in the school are determined by chance and the number of Hispanic families that have applied for the academy.

The school would like to see more Hispanic students in the lottery pool, Cerny said, and the school has been doing outreach like visiting churches and knocking on doors to let Hispanic families know the Charter Academy is an available choice.

A language institute aimed toward helping Hispanic students learn English was also held at the Charter Academy this summer, which hopefully raised awareness in the Hispanic community about the school, Cerny said.

Actually: School leaders don’t exactly know where this myth came from, but it’s one they hear frequently. The truth is, as it is with Hispanic students, students are randomly chosen in a lottery, and families have to take that extra step of putting themselves in the school’s admittance lottery.

You could see that as a way of “self selection,” Ferraro said. The act of applying for the Charter Academy takes time and a lot of thought, so generally, families that apply for the Charter Academy are families that are highly involved in their child’s education, which is always a boost to performance.

Cerny said anyone who spends time at the school will see that it is by no means nothing but straight-A, easy-to-teach students. Kids at the Charter Academy have difficulties like in any other school, he said.

Actually: The Charter Academy is a public school, one that is a part of Eagle County School District. The district is allowed by state statute to fund a charter school from any funds of its choosing, Hymes said.

Cerny said many people forget that the paved road leading up to the Charter Academy was paid for years ago with a bond issue, a bond issue approved by voters.

Otherwise, the Charter Academy pays for everything itself. It pays for the modular trailers where students have class, books, technology, staff and teachers. The Charter Academy gets the same taxpayer dollars from the state that all public schools get.

Actually: While the school district admitted the vote to give the Charter Academy $2.5 million needed some clarification, it was not a new issue to the board when it voted in September.

A common building at the Charter Academy has been a part of official discussions with the school district for more than two years, and has been planned by the Charter Academy for much longer.

The common building proposal was there when the $128 million bond question was being developed. When the common building was taken off the bond, the Charter Academy board made it clear that they would return to the school district to make the proposal again.

“It wasn’t through the back door” we had been trying to do this for a while,” Cerny said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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