DCSD school board denies two charter applications

Board members support ideas, raise questions with fundamentals

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Citing limited family interest, resources and budget, the Douglas County School Board unanimously turned down two charter school applications, one with a focus on students with special needs, the other a Montessori school.

“I want to be very clear that I appreciate your passion for these students,” board member Anne-Marie Lemieux said during a June 6 board meeting, when the charters were considered. “I will continue to make sure that we are offering opportunities for all students in our schools that we currently have in Douglas County.”

Here’s a look at what each charter application proposed.

John Dewey Institute

Judy Brannberg, who with her husband started what is now STEM School Highlands Ranch, proposed the John Dewey Institute, a K-14 school specifically designed to meet the needs of students on the autism spectrum.

In her plan, Brannberg outlined an enrollment that would consist of 50% students with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis — of which 15% would be twice-exceptional students, who are both gifted and have learning challenges — and the other 50% traditional student learners.

The school’s curriculum would emphasize project-based learning in areas of science, technology, engineering, arts, math and business, as well as career and technical education.

A handful of parents of students with special needs spoke in support of the charter, citing their experiences at neighborhood schools, where navigating individualized learning plans and working with staff can be challenges.

Lemieux commended Brannberg for her focus on students with special needs, but the board ultimately denied the charter, expressing doubt in the low number of letters of intent to enroll, the absence of a location and a staff with few special education professionals.

“We certainly have advocated that our charters start looking at being more accessible for students with significant needs,” Lemieux said. “So I think it’s certainly exciting for me to see that our charters and our future applicants are saying yes, we want to do something that specifically acknowledges those students who need that choice.”

Renaissance Montessori Academy

Parker-based Renaissance Montessori Academy applied for a new charter contract that would serve students in kindergarten and preschool.

Led by a Montessori-certified teacher and teacher’s assistant, each classroom would have a 1:10 adult-to-child ratio. Curriculum would integrate social and emotional skills into the academic areas of art, communication, culture, language, practical life, math, music and sensory awareness, according to the charter’s website.

Board members lauded the Montessori learning model but ultimately denied the request, citing a limited plan for serving students with special needs, limited mental health resources and no detail on insurance coverage, among other concerns.

“The narrative makes a commitment to having qualified staff but does not identify a process to ensure the students are supported with credentialed individuals, and the funding for services is extremely limited,” board member Christina Ciancio-Schor said. “For those reasons I vote to deny.”

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