HOPE Online and the Colorado State Board of Education have agreed on an improvement program that will see the school's board of directors expand from five to seven members and will include a management partnership to support teacher and leadership development.
HOPE Online, a K-12 multi-district online charter school that has been authorized by the Douglas County School district since 2008, went before the state board April 13 in a first-of-its kind hearing after being marked in the bottom two tiers of the state accountability ratings for more than five years.
“This is the first time we've reached the end of the accountability clock,” said Brenda Bautsch, head of the Colorado Department of Education's accountability, performance and support division.
The CDE found that “persistent challenges with student performance are present at both the elementary and middle level, in English language arts and math achievement and growth.”
Hope Online Learning Academy Elementary School earned a Turnaround rating from 2010-14. In 2016, the school earned a Priority Improvement rating for the first time. Hope Online Learning Academy Middle School has fluctuated between "Priority Improvement" and "Turnaround" over the past six years. HOPE also offers a high school program, which was not under review.
Districts and schools assigned to a Priority Improvement or Turnaround plan have the lowest performing student outcomes of all districts and schools in Colorado, according to the state’s primary accountability tool, the District and School Performance Framework.
The ratings are based on academic achievement, growth and post-secondary and workforce readiness. Districts and schools on Priority Improvement or Turnaround plans tend to be falling short of state expectations for students in each of these areas.
“We think that with the improvement plan we will see changes and are optimistic that they will be heading in the right direction,” Bautsch said.
The process will take several years, Bautsch said.
The worse-case scenario for the hearing would have been for the board to direct DCSD to revoke the HOPE charter, which would have effectively closed the school. State law is silent on what happens if the school fails to improve under the new plan, CDE said.
There will be no financial penalties for HOPE.
HOPE Online first opened in 2005-06 and was authorized by the Vilas School District in southeast Colorado until it transferred to Douglas County in 2008. The majority of HOPE Students come from outside the Douglas County School District.
“The Douglas County School District is the authorizer of HOPE Online Learning Academy, and will monitor and provide ongoing support as HOPE implements their plan with the involvement of an external management team,” the district said in an email. “It is important to note Douglas County School District will also be evaluating HOPE's application for renewal of its charter in the spring of 2018. We believe HOPE is committed to improving learning environments for students in all of their learning centers across the state.”
The model HOPE Online uses differs from the fully virtual model in which students receive instruction remotely. Students enrolled in HOPE Online attend brick-and-mortar learning centers every day on a set, full-day schedule.
HOPE Online has 26 learning centers in 11 school districts in Colorado. The Douglas County center is in Castle Rock.
The elementary and middle schools enroll 1,788 students, according to the CDE.
In a letter of support to the state board, DCSD Board of Education President Meghann Silverthorn expressed her support for HOPE.
“As the president of the Board of Education of HOPE's authorizer, the Douglas County School District, I am proud of all that HOPE brings to a special population of children across the state," she wrote. "DCSD supports HOPE in its mission to provide a quality academic alternative to parents and students. We take our role very seriously and we will continue to work with HOPE as it implements appropriate improvement actions.”