In late 1996, Terry Croy Lewis and a small group of parents decided they wanted a different choice for their children’s education. They wanted a Core Knowledge concept that would provide a clear channel marker for student progress and a uniform curriculum — something she said they couldn’t find in the Douglas County School District at the time.
So, in two vacant buildings that used to be an Indian restaurant and a pool hall at University Boulevard and County Line Road, Platte River Academy was born.
“Douglas County was a very different world back then,” Lewis said. “While they were open to school choice and liked the idea of providing alternatives for students, it was still new. There were different expectations and still worries — lots of worries about what these charters would do to the district.”
Lewis has had children at the school for 17 of the 18 years it has been open. And she has seen attitudes shift over that time.
“Many years later, I do believe Douglas County stands on the forefront of choice and has found ways to not only work with charters but see it as something that is beneficial for the community and for parents,” she said.
While the debate over the role and number of charter schools in the Douglas County community continues, Lewis said she sees DCSD as a place where the charter and neighborhood school worlds are coming together.
Richard Barrett, executive director of SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch, suggests that one way to do that is to bring charter schools into the district’s open-enrollment process. While most charter schools operate their own lottteries to decide who gets to attend, SkyView will be part of the district process beginning in the 2017-18 school year.
“You can click on Skyview in the district process now,” he said. “I want to show district-run schools that we’re the same. We’re a public school —we’re funded the same. Unifying the enrollment process would be a step in the right direction.”
Penny Eucker, executive director of the STEM School Academy in Highlands Ranch, said that by dispelling some of the myths surrounding charters, distrust could give way to understanding.
The biggest misconceptions are that charter schools are private or religious schools, she said.
“I used to be a principal and an administrator in a district school and I used to resent charter schools until I became part of the charter world,” Eucker said. “I realized that all of the reasons I hate charters were false. I know a lot of people hold those beliefs that I used to hold.”
Eucker spent eight years working in Adams 12 Five Star Schools district and helped start the Magnet Lab STEM School in Northglenn. She said the experience opened her mind to new possibilities in education and showed her the value of new ideas.
“Neighborhood schools must increase their appeal to retain students with more charters opening in DCSD,” Eucker said. “That was the original thinking behind charters two decades ago — bring competition to slow-to-improve public education for better opportunity for all students.”
Stacy Rader, director of communications for the Colorado League of Charter schools, said she hopes the community will eventually view charters the same way they view neighborhood schools.
“Charter public schools have been in Colorado and Douglas County for nearly 25 years now,” Rader said. “They are a valid, important and permanent part of the public school community. And I hope we can get to a point where charter school students are seen as part of the public school family.”