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Charter Renewal Denied

Noelle Elementary teacher

The school I taught at for the previous three years, Dixon Montessori Charter School (DMCS), was denied renewal by the Dixon Unified School District. The school appealed to the county, who also denied renewal. Sadly my school did not open this year. It has been difficult, especially since we put so much effort into "saving" our school. Our API increased by 115 points in one year thanks to the hard work of students, parents, teachers, and the administration. Sadly, these scores were not released before the district and county voted.

However, today the California State Board of Education voted unanimously, 8-0, that our charter should be renewed. DMCS is now a state authorized charter and will open in the fall. In this brief telling of my school's struggles, I wanted to share DMCS's joy and success today. It's been a long process, but well worth it. I deeply appreciate the State Board's sagacious decision and their faith in our school.

If anyone else is going through the challenging process of charter renewal, please feel free to ask me questions, and hopefully I'll have something relevant to share.

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Director of Programming and Innovation @Edutopia

Charter renewed

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Congratulations, Noelle!! You must be breathing much more easily.

What do you think were the main factors in your success?

Elementary teacher

Our Success

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I'm sure you're not surprised to hear that the main factor in our renewal was our API. When the State Board of Education commented on the positives of our school, it centered around our API score. In one year it increased from 695 to 810-a 115 point growth, and the highest API in the district. That, combined with being a fiscally responsible school, seemed to be the most influential factors in their decision.

How did we successfully increase our API? With a lot of hard work! We knew our local district wanted to close the charter, so we were aware our API meant more than ever (that year we had the lowest API in the district). We did not have funds to purchased any new programs, though we did start using Curriculum Associates Tests, the district's standardized benchmark tests. We wanted to be able to show comparable growth between our students and the district's, as well as individual student growth with a formal, summative test. We incorporated these results into our charter renewal petition.

Being a school that follows the Montessori philosophy, we realized our kids had little practice with such tests, so we taught the students test taking strategies (groan-I know). This was done in small groups and led as a discussion. It was actually very interesting to listen to their conversations about why a certain choice could not possibly be right or to congratulate someone on taking a long time to choose an answer (we encourage slow, careful test taking). Many teachers made testing into games. I used released STAR test questions to play our own version of classroom Jeopardy.

Beyond just learning how to take a test, we aligned our Montessori curriculum more closely to the CA State Standards. We carefully looked at the vocabulary the test used and realized there are some significant differences between their language and Montessori's language. As such, we combined both into our instruction.

Montessori greatly focuses on individualized learning plans. We assessed learning more frequently and allowed that to guide students' lessons. We tried to use high interest topics and materials. Staff meetings were spent finding ways to improve instruction. The entire staff was on board to put forth 110%.

As far as our responsible management of finances, all the glory goes to our Board of Directors and their sound judgment.

The school where I am now

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The school where I am now employed has just been denied renewal and we are appealing this decision. We met AYP last year and have just moved into a brand new building that was built for us. I live in NC and believe this to be politically driven.

Charter school humanities teacher for non-traditional middle grade learners

Thank you, Pamela -

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That is surprising given your AYP status and new facility. What is public support for charters like in NC? What reasons were you given for denial of renewal? How does your appeals process work?

Working in a year 2 start-up - the only start-up charter in my state so far - I think about renewal/non-renewal all the time. We're up next year. I hope your appeal goes through and that your school continues serving its students and community.

Sincerely,
C

Elementary teacher

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Pamela-
We also believe that our charter school being closed was politically driven since we also met our AYP growth, but after appealing to the CA State Board of Education we were reinstated. Our lawyer at Middleton, Young and Minney, LLP (they specialize in charter law) was an asset to our case and helped us win the appeal. I hope your have strong representation also-it truly helps navigate the laws of charters and the appeals process. Best of luck with your appeal!!!

Chad-
My school applied for the GRASP Grant (Charter School Governance, Renewal, Assessment, and Strategic Planning Best Practices Dissemination Project) and we were awarded it. The grant helps California charter schools through the renewal process and provides 75 hours of free legal advice, among many other benefits. Perhaps you can find a similar grant in your state? I don't know if one is available, but it has been a blessing for our charter. Good luck with renewal-it's a lot of work, but worth it!!!

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