Guest columnist: Charter school is part of district |

Guest columnist: Charter school is part of district

Sarah Smith Hymes
Vail CO, Colorado

The Eagle County School District has many challenges to its mission “to educate every student for success” and its vision “to be the schools of choice for all families in Eagle County.” Educators and parents throughout our public school community have implemented a lot of creative solutions to these challenges over the years, two of which are district-sponsored charter schools: the 14-year -old Eagle County Charter Academy and the New America Charter School. Other programs include the dual language program, Red Canyon High School, and expeditionary learning.

While most of these programs are applauded for their successes, the Eagle County Charter Academy is viewed through a different lens. Instead of being a source of pride, the Charter Academy has been considered a threat to other district schools.

Instead of being acknowledged as a school of choice that is helping the district achieve its goal of educating every student for success, we are accused of being elitist. Even though our enrollment is based on a lottery ” and we were counseled by school district lawyers that we could not give priority to Hispanic students ” we are criticized for failing to attract the appropriate percentage of Hispanic students.

Two weeks ago, the Board of Education had the vision to grant us the funds to partially fund the construction of a common building. We applaud their decision and their foresight and confidence in our future as a public school of choice.

There are lots of misconceptions about charter schools in general and the Charter Academy in particular, some of which you may read in the editorial and opinion section of this paper. To dispel a few of them:

– The Eagle County Charter Academy is an Eagle County School District-sponsored public school of choice. There is no tuition, and each of the 288 students educated there are as much a part of the district as students at any other public school.

– The Eagle County Charter Academy charter, as accepted by the school district, stipulates 16 students per class.

– By Colorado statute, school districts are allowed to fund charter school facilities from any funding source of their choosing, including inclusion on bonds.

– Charter schools have the right to place their own bond questions on ballots.

– In Colorado, every time a school district has included a charter school on its bond question, the question has passed. Conversely, every time there have been separate school district and charter school questions on the same ballot, each has failed.

– The Eagle County Charter Academy stepped away from inclusion on the bond last year when bond consultants advised that our inclusion might jeopardize the bond, but clearly the votes of our community ultimately helped the bond pass.

– The Charter Academy’s student body represents cultures including Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and American Indian.

– The Charter Academy’s 288 students represent 7.6 percent of Eagle County School District students in K-8.

– Slightly more than half of the Charter Academy’s students live in Edwards; more than 25 percent live in Avon, Eagle-Vail, Vail and Minturn and about 20 percent live in Eagle and Gypsum.

– On average about half of the students who transfer to the Charter Academy are from private schools, and at least half do so because they are struggling in school.

– We have 17 students on individualized education plan; in 2006 we had 14 students on individualized literacy plan.

– We estimate that 30 percent of our students would not be in a district public school if they weren’t at the Charter Academy, and 85 percent to 90 percent of our graduates go on to Battle Mountain or Eagle Valley High School after graduating from the academy.

– Of our 219 families, 90 percent have two working parents.

– The Charter Academy has virtually 100-percent participation in its parent volunteer program. Total volunteer hours for last year totaled more than 21,500 hours.

– More than half of the volunteer hours donated to the Charter Academy are spent on fundraising.

Facts aside, we are all parents who want the best for our children. We are grateful that we are finally going to have a safe place to gather as a community and celebrate our children’s successes.

Sarah Smith Hymes is the president of the Eagle County Charter Academy school board. E-mail comments to

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