Douglas County School board revokes elementary's charter

DCSD board revokes charter at direction of state board of education


The Douglas County School Board revoked the charter for HOPE Online Learning Academy's elementary school in March at the direction of the state board of education. HOPE's elementary school will close at the end of the school year, leaving more than 840 students in need of a new school for the 2020-21 school year.

HOPE is an online charter school with learning centers in multiple school districts, serving the K-12 grade levels. HOPE's middle and high school can still seek charter renewals from the district.

The state board held accountability hearings in January and February as HOPE reached nine years on the state's accountability clock. The school was on a priority improvement plan in 2018 and 2019. The state board voted 5-2 on Feb. 13 to order DCSD to revoke HOPE's charter.

HOPE's founder and CEO, Heather O'Mara, said she was disappointed in the state board's decision and thanked the Douglas County School District for working closely with the school.

HOPE is working with each of the elementary school's students to help them find a new school, she said, a complicated task when open enrollment deadlines have passed. O'Mara said academic performance contributed to the charter being revoked.

“Our students are behind, and we work hard to help them perform,” she said, adding HOPE's middle school is less than one point from a performance rating, which she believes shows students' growth as they progress at HOPE.

The elementary school's student achievement remained flat in recent years and overall fell below state expectations, according to a presentation from the Colorado Department of Education.

HOPE had been authorized by the Douglas County School District since 2007 and operates roughly 20 learning centers throughout the state. DCSD's Director of Schools and Choice Programming Danny Winsor said 11 of the learning centers will be affected by the elementary school closure. A draft of the school's closure plan must be submitted by March 30, although it does not have to be finalized at that time.

DCSD renewed HOPE's charter three times since 2007 — in 2013, 2018 and 2019. The 2019 contract was a two-year renewal contingent on the school's progress in its improvement plans, called a pathways plan.

“This board was certainly committed to the two-year contract renewal that we did, and the pathways plan, and we just want to acknowledge the work, Heather, of your team,” school board President David Ray said.

Director Christina Ciancio-Schor said she was frustrated by the state board directing the local board of education to revoke HOPE's charter.

“They're not really asking us, they're telling us,” she said.

Jeremy Meyer, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education, said the state board was required under law to consider a report from the state review panel, an independent body contracted by the department, which also produced findings on HOPE's financial status and teacher qualifications.

As an elementary school, HOPE is assigned performance ratings based on growth in state assessments. Schools that don't meet expectations are assigned to a Priority Improvement or Turnaround plan.

Schools cannot remain on the plans for five consecutive years without significant action under state law, Meyer said. That is referred to as the “accountability clock.”

In the 2018-19 school year, HOPE served 921 elementary students, of whom 87% qualified for free/reduced lunches, 54% were English language learners and 4% were on an IEP, according to a presentation from the CDE.

The elementary school's enrollment had declined every year since the 2013-14 school year, when it served 1,751 students and overall student achievement fell below state expectations, according to the presentation.


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