So I’m sitting in the dentist chair and the hygienist asks “What kind of work you do?”
The first thing I think is that this is not going to be easy to explain, so I start with some simple statement: “I work in education.” The conversation continues.
“Oh, so you’re a teacher?”
“Do you work in a school district?”
“Well, not really, I authorize charter schools.”
Well, that stopped the conversation and left the hygienist incredibly confused and thankful that I couldn’t continue the conversation.
So what is an authorizer? Essentially, an authorizer is the legal entity that does the work of overseeing charter schools. In Colorado, authorizers include school districts (there are currently 45 school district authorizers) and the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI is a statewide agency that authorizes charters). Simply put, the authorizer decides who can start a new charter school; sets expectations and oversees school performance in academics, operations, and finances; and decides which schools should continue to serve students or not. Charter school authorizing is complex work that requires a great deal of expert knowledge.
When trying to conceptualize authorizing, think of it as a public school that has entered into a contract with a legal entity that serves an authorizer. Beyond the contract, the relationship between the two parties is critically important and if we want our schools to be successful, then authorizers must create the conditions for them to thrive while preserving their autonomy. For the CSI staff and board, we strive to be a high quality authorizer, and we are working hard with our colleagues within Colorado and across the county to learn from the best and share our expertise with others.
To ensure that everyone at CSI has the essential training to engage effectively in this work, we are consistently focused on professional development, and we often turn to the National Association for Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) for support. NACSA has provided CSI with valuable technical assistance, training and support over the years, which has been incredibly helpful in improving our practices. In fact, next week is the annual NACSA Leadership Conference, and many of us will be there immersing ourselves in authorizing best practices and working with authorizers across the state and country. A couple of us will be presenting on topics such as customizing expansion applications and effective governance oversight.
Here in Colorado, we have worked closely with our district authorizers in developing an organization that is modeled after NACSA, but has a Colorado focus: the Colorado Association of Charter School Authorizers (CACSA). This group meets at least quarterly to share best practices in authorizing and to provide training and support to authorizers throughout the state. As the only statewide authorizer in Colorado, CSI is mandated to serve as a model authorizer, and we embrace that mandate. We have partnered with district authorizers in various ways over the years, and we have taken the lead in bringing district authorizers together in Colorado. In fact, we recently received a three-year, $2.6 million National Dissemination Grant to strengthen authorizing by school districts and small and rural authorizers, and by doing so, improve outcomes and expand quality choices available for all families and students. While Colorado has taken the lead, this project is a tri-state effort between Colorado, California, and Florida. One important outcome of this grant initiative will be the creation and dissemination of replicable best-practice resources to support effective authorizing and charter school oversight by school districts, including small and rural authorizers. Exciting work for those of us in the authorizing world!