The superintendent of the struggling Adams 14 district asked his board Tuesday to deny the new school application from the high-performing KIPP charter network.
The abrupt decision was aligned with the recommendation from a district-convened committee of teachers and parents, but it went against the advice of Superintendent Javier Abrego’s own staff.
KIPP, the largest charter network in the country, submitted an application to open a preschool-12th-grade campus within the boundaries of the Commerce City-based district. That school would offer biliteracy — a Spanish-English option that charter officials say parents requested after Adams 14 put the brakes on its own such program, citing a lack of qualified teachers and research, something many educators and advocates disputed.
For months district leaders have told the board they planned a thorough review of KIPP’s application, created with help from a consultant. But on Tuesday Abrego’s presentation did not speak to the review process. It instead emphasized his philosophical concerns with charter schools.
“Improving Adams 14 is not about having others come in and fix our schools, it’s about all of us working together to do the job ourselves,” Abrego told the board. “Adams 14 believes in traditional public schools.”
However, those concerns may not be deemed an acceptable reason for denial, should the board vote against KIPP and should the charter network appeal. The discussions around KIPP’s application have become political and framed around questions typical of the national charter school debate.
As the board approaches a final decision next month, the community has become increasingly divided — and that division was another reason Abrego gave for his recommendation. He also told the board he was concerned about the school’s plan to offer biliteracy because he said the details of the model seemed inadequate.
Adams 14 students “deserve an outstanding model,” Abrego said.
The committee made up of teachers and parents, known as the DAAC committee, laid out in a report to the board reasons for recommending against KIPP. The report falsely stated that KIPP planned to remove 10 percent of students each year. In fact, the charter application states that KIPP, seeing re-enrollment as a measure of success, would monitor to ensure no more than 10 percent of students exit each year.
“We are disappointed by the DAAC and superintendent’s recommendation to deny KIPP Colorado’s application for a new school in Adams 14 — particularly due to the misinformation, incorrect data, and outright falsities contained in the rationale,” said Kimberlee Sia, the executive director of KIPP Colorado.
Sia said KIPP would appeal to the state, should the board vote next month to deny its application. Under Colorado law, districts can only consider certain factors when denying a charter application.
Shelagh Burke, the district’s director of federal programs, devised a review process that included the staff team that made a recommendation to the superintendent, interviews with KIPP leadership, and feedback from community meetings. That process is similar to what other large districts do in reviewing charter applications and follows often-cited best practices nationally.
Burke said all of that went into a presentation to the superintendent on Oct. 1, in which district staff suggested approval with conditions. That report noted some concerns with the application, but not enough to warrant a denial.
“Adams 14 is in dire need of expanded learning opportunities for students, based on the district’s performance over the past 8 years,” the original presentation, provided to Chalkbeat, stated.
Tuesday the superintendent, however, asked staff to help prepare an entirely different presentation recommending denial. In it, he highlighted the district’s ability to get three district schools to earn the state’s highest-quality rating. He also attacked one Denver KIPP school that had low state ratings for two years. That school has since bounced up to the state’s highest rating.
“Parents and families in Adams 14 have choice on sending their children to a performance school in our district,” Abrego said.
Abrego did not respond to requests for comment about his recommendation.
Some groups attended a meeting of the State Board of Education on Wednesday in Denver, where they criticized the district. Adams 14 has spent years on a state watch list for low-performing schools, and contentious board meetings have highlighted a lack of trust between community members and elected officials. Some community members are even circulating recall petitions for three board members, though it’s not clear if they’ll be successful.
Adams 14 leaders have been preparing for a hearing with state education officials next month. At the hearing, the leaders must say why they believe they are on the right track to improve, despite failing to meet targets the state had set last year. If the State Board of Education is unconvinced, they can order more drastic changes, including a charter takeover of some schools.
The decision on KIPP, scheduled just a few days before the district’s hearing with the state, will likely factor into those discussions.