Charter school Ascent Classical Academy of Douglas County withdrew its application to build in a residential area of Highlands Ranch prior to an Aug. 15 Douglas County School District Board of …
Charter school Ascent Classical Academy of Douglas County withdrew its application to build in a residential area of Highlands Ranch prior to an Aug. 15 Douglas County School District Board of Education meeting. School board members had been scheduled to vote on whether to approve the location.
The decision surprised a group of residents in opposition to the site, which is located in Eastridge Terrace, an area between University Boulevard and East Wildcat Reserve Parkway with dozens of single-family homes along streets and in cul-de-sacs. Neighbors argued the K-12 charter school would increase traffic, risk family safety and hurt surrounding neighborhood schools that are already struggling with enrollment.
After talking to parents and the school board, Ascent Classical Academy has decided to look for another location in northern Douglas County, where half of the interested parents reside, said Derec Shuler, director of Ascent Classical Academies and founder of Golden View Classical Academy.
"Rather than having a big public showdown, we thought it was better to look for something else," Shuler said. "We are committed to opening in fall of 2018."
At the board meeting, about a dozen people spoke during the public comment portion and thanked the school board for listening to their comments - some board members emailed back and forth with concerned residents - but also pleaded for better communication between the school board and its communities. Many neighbors found out about the proposed school through social media less than two weeks before the meeting.
"This probably will not be the last school that asks for available land," resident Tim Schumacher said at the meeting. "I was hoping that there might be a way within your authority to partner with the local community to figure out what types of land is available to suit different types of uses going forward."
The board of education approved Ascent Classical Academy in late June, despite a recommendation from the district's Charter Application Review Team to deny it. The review team denied the academy's application because of questions about its education program, governance, financial viability and the structure of its education service provider, Ascent Classical Academies, CART's report says.
Board members who voted in favor of the school were board of education President Meghann Silverthorn, board Vice President Judith Reynolds and board members Jim Geddes and Steven Peck. Ascent Academy would be one of three classical-based learning schools in the district. SkyView Academy in Highlands Ranch and Leman Academy, expected to open in Parker in 2018, have a classical emphasis, according to the school district.
The charter school models the curriculum of Golden View Classical Academy in Jefferson County. It uses the Barney Charter School Initiative, a project of Hillsdale College in Michigan that teaches "moral character and civic virtue," according to its website.
Board members David Ray, Wendy Vogel and Anne-Marie Lemieux voted against the school, raising concerns about its financial model and impact on other schools in the district.
In late May, Ascent Classical Academy submitted an application to build on a 10-acre parcel west of Cresthill Lane and south of Adelaide Circle. When word spread to surrounding neighbors in late July, they created a grassroots effort to fight the location. Residents weren't opposed to a school being built -Douglas County set aside the land in 1996 for that purpose - but they were against the size of the charter school. Ascent Classical Academy would eventually bring 728 students through grade 12 to the site, the school's charter application says.
The group of residents in opposition knocked on doors, passed out fliers and initiated a petition that garnered 569 signatures in 10 days, Jenny Allert, a neighbor, said at the board meeting.
"Our community came together and it worked," she said. "With collaboration, we managed."
Other neighbors who spoke at the board meeting shared their view of the charter school's location proposal and how it was handled by the board of education.
Katherine Beck, who lives right next to the site, called the situation "emotional and frustrating."
Breanna Hume applauded board members for their hard work and for responding to her requests on the matter. She concluded her comment by asking the crowded room who was in opposition of the school. Dozens sitting in the rows of seats raised their hands.
Residents' message on the issue was clear:
"It's about communicating," Karin Schamberger said to the school board. "It's about working together with the community. It's vital."