The Colorado Charter School Institute Act was signed into law 15 years ago this summer. The Act established a statewide charter authorizer with a mission to foster high-quality school options with a particular focus on service to at-risk students.

In preparation for this important 15-year milestone, CSI staff dug into the archives and interviewed folks from around the state and nation to capture the memories and to tell the story of CSI’s establishment and early years.

We were honored to speak with key political leaders, including Senator Keith King, Representative Terrance Carroll, and Senator Peter Groff, who played instrumental roles in passing the important legislation. We heard from those who first took the helm, including founding board members and leadership. We also had the opportunity to get a national perspective from the President and CEO of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, Greg Richmond, as well as others.

An account of our creation and early years and snippets from these interviews are included in our 15th anniversary publication, Expanding Frontiers in Public Education, as well as in a ten-minute video. I hope you enjoy them!

Rather than recount the great stories and details you can find in our publication and video, I’d like to share my top three reflections from the work to record and celebrate our history:

  1. CSI’s work is based upon the enduring belief that all students deserve access to high-quality school options.

The mission of CSI is called out in statute: to foster high-quality school choices with a focus on serving at-risk students. The membership of the CSI Board is also called out in statute. Membership should be mission-driven, politically balanced, and reflect the geographic diversity of the state. The statutory foundation of our organization has bestowed upon us clarity of purpose. Despite the changes in the charter sector and the educational landscape more broadly, CSI continues to prioritize high-quality options and focus on underserved populations.

A focus on high-quality options continues to be a priority for us. CSI currently oversees 41 charter schools in 10 towns and cities across Colorado. CSI schools offer 15 diverse educational models, including Classical, Core Knowledge, Early College, Montessori, Project-based Learning, and Waldorf models. Collectively, these schools serve over 18,000 students. Our schools range in size from 25 students to over 1,800 students.

A focus on at-risk students also continues to be a priority for our organization. CSI continues to utilize its Screener Tool and Tiers of Support to initiative conversations and supports related to access and equity. This year, CSI has expanded its Special Education initiatives in a variety of ways, including increasing financial resources for schools and directly hiring SPED Coordinators.

  1. Putting students first is not a partisan issue.

CSI Board Chair, Luke Ragland, summarized it best when he shared, “CSI has had a long history of bipartisan support, not only the charter sector in Colorado, but even the very origins of the Charter School Institute come from bipartisan agreement around what’s best for kids.” As our publication retells, the very creation of CSI was made possible because of the collaboration of folks on both sides of the aisle. Bipartisan support for our mission continues today.   

  1. We need to share our stories.

As school leaders, board members, and staff doing the important work on behalf of their students and community, sharing our stories is a top priority without question. Even though CSI has been around for 15 years, there is still much misinformation around and opposition to what CSI and CSI schools do for kids. That is why we must continue to share our stories with the community, stakeholders, and legislators.  

Earlier this month, we kicked off our 15th year with a small celebration. We were fortunate enough to host Governor Jared Polis and NACSA president Greg Richmond, who each shared their reflections about the significance of CSI and this important milestone. We also honored Senator Keith King and Representative Terrance Carroll, as well as the school leaders of the very first CSI schools, Colorado Springs Charter Academy and Ross Montessori.

We are excited to be in our 15th year, and we continue with the same resolve and excitement in fulfilling our mission of fostering high-quality school choices across the state with a focus on serving at-risk students. We couldn’t do it without our amazing school leaders, staff, and board members, so thank you for all you do!

Current School Leaders of the first two CSI-authorized schools: Sonya Hemmen, Ross Montessori; Dan Ajamian, Colorado Springs Charter Academy

CSI Executive Director, Dr. Terry Croy Lewis; CSI Chief of Staff, Janet Dinnen; NACSA President & CEO, Greg Richmond; Former Senator Keith King

Former Senator Keith King; Former Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll

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