Colorado Board of Education reverses Aurora board’s call to shutter five online learning centers

"We predict the elementary and middle school of HOPE Online will move into year six of turnaround (status) ... we cannot see how this can be in the best interest of parents or students," said Lisa Escárcega, former APS official.

AURORA | HOPE Online Learning Academy Co-Op, a Douglas County-based charter school network, will continue to operate five online learning centers in Aurora Public Schools in the coming years despite recent objections raised by the APS School Board about HOPE’s performance, the State Board of Education decided Thursday, July 7.

HOPE Online Learning AcademyThe State Board unanimously voted Thursday to reverse a previous decision made by the APS school board that was intended to sever the district’s 11-year relationship with HOPE and shutter its five local learning centers.

APS administrators now have 30 days to solidify a contract with HOPE, a stipulation that will extend the district’s relationship with the charter school network for at least an additional three years, according to the state board’s decision, which was guided by existing state statutes.

The state board’s vote stemmed from an appeal filed last month by HOPE, which currently operates a total of 11 online learning centers across Colorado. At its regularly scheduled June 7 meeting, the APS School Board unanimously voted not to renew the district’s contract with HOPE, citing a lack of accountability, poor marks granted by the State Review Panel, subpar test scores and lingering turnaround status.

Lisa Escárcega, the former chief accountability and research officer at APS, told the state board that the district is unsatisfied with growth and improvement at HOPE, which primarily serves low-income, Spanish-speaking students.

“We predict the elementary and middle school of HOPE Online will move into year six of turnaround (status) … we cannot see how this can be in the best interest of parents or students,” she said.

However, more than a half-dozen HOPE administrators successfully implored the state board to keep the network’s Aurora branches open, saying that the schools are, in fact, making gains. More than 100 HOPE students, parents and staffers also attended the board meeting in hopes the board would reverse the previous decision rendered by APS.

HOPE students have made slight progress with their scores on the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) test in recent years, although TCAP scores at the school remained relatively flat and well below state averages, according to Colorado Department of Education data.

Michael Bautista, chair of the HOPE Board of Directors, read a statement on behalf of the Douglas County School District expressing DCSD’s desire for the state board to overturn APS’ decision.

State board members repeatedly voiced their concern with dousing HOPE’s ongoing efforts, with several members saying that APS students need options like HOPE in order to be successful. The charter network enrolls roughly 400 students in APS, about 72 percent of whom are English language learners, according to HOPE staffers.

“I cannot in good conscience close the door to this option for these students,” said Board Member Pam Mazanec, a Republican who represents the state’s 4th Congressional District. 

Despite the wholesale rejection of APS’ decision, board member Angelika Schroeder, a Democrat who covers the state’s 2nd Congressional District, lauded the APS Board’s increasingly tough stance on the district’s underperforming schools.

“I want to give kudos to the Aurora board for saying that, ‘We’re not just going to automatically renew this because the kids are not thriving,'” she said. “I think it sets a very good precedent.”

Schroeder went on to criticize the abbreviated time frame on which APS and HOPE operated.

 “For there to be a thoughtful conversation and objective observation … the timing, I think, was a little bit weak,” she said.