In October, several CSI staff and board members attended the 2022 National Association of Charter School Authorizers conference. Every year, our staff looks forward to the opportunity to learn from and network with other charter authorizers and leaders from around the country! They had a great time representing Colorado charters and sharing best practices

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Not only did CSI staff attend the conference as learners, but a few members also gave presentations to share their knowledge, resources, and experiences. I am deeply grateful for CSI’s team of experienced educational professionals who are dedicated to creating and supporting the ongoing success of our charter schools in Colorado and sharing their insights to improve outcomes for students beyond our sphere.

Below is a brief summary and reflection from each CSI staff member who presented at NACSA:  

Authorizing Evolved: Case Studies in Authorizing Diverse School Models

Presenter: Janet Dinnen, CSI Chief of Staff, and Clare Vickland, Cadelo LLC

Session Summary: NACSA’s Pipeline Project highlighted the steady demand for and approval of diverse school models nationwide and the urgency for authorizers to develop the capacity and tools to evaluate a wide range of charter proposals while maintaining high standards.

We discussed evolving authorization practices that were used in the approval of:

  • Kwiyagat Community Academy: The first charter school on an Indian reservation in Colorado,
  • Prospect Academy: the first charter school in Colorado with a program specifically designed with a special focus on supporting students who learn differently, and
  • Colorado Early Colleges Online: the first charter network expansion to a multi-district online school authorized by the Institute.

Attendees were presented with questions to consider and tangible takeaways from pre-application, application, contracting, Year 0, and opening.

Reflection: NACSA is rethinking the new school application process, hosted a session at the conference on the topic, and will be rolling out more information and guidance in the coming months. It was great to see strong alignment in the experiences we had and decisions we made in authorizing and supporting these unique school options and the considerations NACSA is sharing with the field.

From Micro to Macro: Individual Success and Systemic Changes to Charter School Accountability in Colorado

Presenter: Ryan Marks, CSI Chief of Authorizing & Accountability

Session Summary: CSI has embarked on a multi-year effort to update and evolve our accountability system and practices to support different yet still rigorous ways of evaluating school quality and support continuous improvement. This session highlighted the ways in which our approach to accountability and authorization, specifically using rubrics, has been informed and shaped by the authorization of unique school models, such as:

Additionally, we shared our experience of making systemic changes to our accountability system as we updated our performance framework to include quantitative measures of organizational performance to better align with authorization decision-making, focus on more nuanced and relevant school performance information, and increase the role of equity.

This session moved from “the micro” to “the macro” and focused on individual successes and systemic changes. Through a case study, we displayed how by centering on communities and the experts working in schools and implementing incremental changes, authorizers can pragmatically engage in meaningful and authentic accountability. We shared the individual measures that have been co-created with schools as well as the newly revised CSI Performance Framework.

Reflection: NACSA has long been working to evolve and update how authorizers hold schools accountable and some of the work discussed in this presentation came about through an action-research partnership we had with NACSA a few years ago. Additionally, some of the early thinking for revisions to our framework came through participation in the NACSA framework update working groups. Additionally, NACSA, through the Quality Practice Project, has also lifted up and emphasized the role of professional judgement. All of that work was reflected in this presentation and was well-received by those in attendance. In particular, our approach to looking at the impact of the model on school accountability and the relationships we’ve developed with schools in order to better understand the school model were highlighted as practices others were interested in implementing.

Novel Approaches to Mental Health: A Supportive Colorado Charter School Approach

Presenter: Betsy Basch, CSI Mental Health Programs Specialist, and Clare Vickland, Cadelo LLC

Session Summary: With school mental health crumbling in school leaders, staff, and students, and no resources for support in a traditional charter authorization model, CSI flew into uncharted territory to support our schools in novel ways. By centering our communities’ feedback, we created an entirely different way of supporting our schools’ astronomical mental health needs through the pandemic. I discussed our initiatives to leverage personnel, training, resources, and support to meet their needs and relieve stress for our schools. I discussed the topic of moving beyond compliance to provide support in a high-stakes area to center our communities’ desperate pleas.

Reflection: It was an incredible experience to present at NASCACon for my first time. People seemed to really respond to the unique topic and reflect on how support for mental health concerns could look from an authorizer’s standpoint. Many attendees talked to me afterwards and throughout the conference about building up their resources and how to build up relationships to develop grants and services for their schools.  

We look forward to continuing our partnership with organizations like NACSA and will cultivate more opportunities to both share our expertise and learn from the experiences of others.

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