Charter Schools Set Bar High

By: Tim Ciesco Email
By: Tim Ciesco Email

Students at Caprock Academy charter school head back to the classroom Monday morning, where the public school alternative has seen big payoffs when it comes to CSAP and other test scores.

Ask Sarah Hirschbuhl and Stephanie Cook what a charter school was two years ago and they would've told you they had no clue. Ask them now, after their kids have spent a year as students at Caprock Academy and they'll have a lot to say.

"My daughter enjoys it so much," said Cook. "She loves coming to school."

The K-9 school is one of two charter schools in Mesa County. Like public schools, they receive public funding and required to take standardized tests. But unlike public schools, they have more freedoms when it comes to deciding what and how to teach.

"It really is an interdisciplinary situation where kids learn and learn a little deeper," said Kristen Trezise, Headmaster of Caprock Academy.

For example, kids at Caprock take Latin starting in kindergarten, and Spanish just a few years after that. They are required to read for 20 minutes everyday, wear uniforms, and take part in character education projects. In addition, their parents are required to volunteer at the school.

"I think it impacts their life and makes them more successful at what they do," said Trezise.

And it appears to be working. In 2008, Caprock had more students at or above proficiency levels in nearly every grade than their School District 51 counterparts.

"I think they're pushed and the standards are set high," said Hirschbuhl.

"[My daughter] was at another school and she's learning a lot more," said Cook. "I can see her progressing."

While School District 51 can't control who enrolls in the schools, isn't able to be as flexible with curriculum, and can't require as many things as a charter school, they say the success rates of alternative learning forms has definitely caught their attention.

"We know that children learn at a different rate," said Jeff Kirtland, spokesperson for School District 51. "That children have different needs."

Kirtland says that's why the district started a dual immersion academy, launched an International Baccalaureate program at Palisade High School, runs gifted-talented programs at middle schools, and even funded a charter school of their own.

"We really over the last six years have embraced this growth of choice options for students who just maybe need a different option," said Kirtland.

With plans to add more students and more grades, and build a permanent school in the future, Caprock says it hopes to continue inspiring and set the bar high for years to come.

School District 51 says it is always looking at new learning options and could possibly fund another charter school in the future.

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