Colorado Skies space academy for middle schoolers appeals Cherry Creek rejection to state officials

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AURORA | Supporters of a proposed aerospace charter school appealed to the state Board of Education last week after Cherry Creek School District officials revoked their conditional approval of the school.

With the appeal, Colorado Skies Academy is fighting to open its doors in Fall 2019.

April Lanotte, a founding member of the Colorado Skies Academy board, said the appeal was a necessary step.

“Colorado Skies is going to open,” Lanotte said. “We are dedicated to this project … and we’re not going to accept no for an answer, especially when we are doing everything we need to do.”

Charter school officials said Cherry Creek is being capricious in denying the charter application, basing objections on form technicalities.

The school project is a collaboration between aviation museum Wings Over the Rockies and iLead Schools, a California-based charter school network.

The middle school is planned to be based on land at the Centennial Airport, on a growing aerospace museum campus operated by Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum. Students would work on flight simulators and students of age would have been able to pilot real planes with an instructor. The school would have employed project-based learning techniques, in which students learn about a variety of subjects while working on a single task – for instance, colonizing another planet.

Charter schools, which are autonomous public schools, must receive approval from a host school district or other authorizer before they can open as an alternative to traditional public schools.

However, Colorado school districts regularly reject the applications of charter schools, which can appeal the decision to the state Board of Education.

The state board often remands charter school rejections back to local school districts – as was the case in 2016, after the Cherry Creek School District rejected the application of Heritage Heights Academy.

Despite protests, district officials later approved the school. Colorado Skies Academy is hoping for a similar outcome.

The school filed two appeals to the state education board. The first concerns Cherry Creek’s specific reason for revoking the school’s conditional approval. Last week, the district said Colorado Skies failed to prove that the school would fill with students.

However, Barry provided The Sentinel with an aggregate list of about 200 interested parties, which he said Colorado Skies submitted to the Cherry Creek school board on time. Details show student names, addresses, home districts and other contact information, even the date they agreed to their intent to attend.

Cherry Creek schools spokesperson Abbe Smith said the district required specific forms.

“The conditions weren’t met,” Smith said. “For us, it’s a black-and-white thing.”

Amer Kuric, lead strategist at iLead Schools, said Colorado Skies believes it met the requirement imposed by Cherry Creek and hopes the state board will agree.

“I honestly think it is a big misunderstanding,” Kuric said. “Our hope is that Cherry Creek will go back to the drawing board. This is really a difference in appearance and semantics.”

The second appeal to the state board is intended to clarify other terms in the conditional approval, Kuric said.

The state Board of Education regularly forces school districts to reconsider charter rejections.

Since 2010, the state board has sided with local school districts in 13 charter school application appeals, including a tie vote that upheld a district rejection, according to data from the state Department of Education. 16 charter applications were remanded back to school districts during that time.

The state education board can outright force school districts to approve charter school applications if schools appeal for a second time.

Lonette, the Colorado Skies board member, said the school hopes to work collaboratively with the school district, but that the school will continue to appeal district rejections if necessary.

She added that students like her son, an eighth-grader next year, hope to enroll next Fall. He’s more likely to argue about the appropriate wing shape for a fighter jet than the latest sports game, she said.

“There is a need for this,” Lonette said of the school. “People are going to be coming to this school that are desperately looking for what fits best for them.”