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New high school raising fears

Heather McGregor

Compass, the nonprofit Woody Creek organization that runs the Aspen and Carbondale Community schools, will ask parents tonight if they’ll help start an upvalley “social justice” charter high school.

An organizational meeting is slated for 7 p.m. at the Given Institute, 100 E. Francis St., in Aspen.

The move has alarmed Roaring Fork RE-1 School District officials, who fear a new school would draw students and lead to cuts in funding, teachers and class offerings.

“It isn’t fair to offer choice for a handful at the expense of the rest of the kids,” said Robin Garvik, president of the Roaring Fork School Board.

She said that for every 18 students lost to the new school, the school district will have to cut one teaching position and three class offerings.

In a practical sense, that could mean some classes could only be offered at one school, and students would have to travel to take certain classes.

The situation would increase the strain in a district already running three traditional and two alternative high schools for 1,500 students, she said.

“RE-1 sees it as competition. I see it as another alternative. And I don’t see that as a bad thing,” said Dave Throgmorton, executive director of Compass.

Compass envisions opening a school in Aspen or Basalt by fall 2001 for up to 100 ninth- through 12th-graders, though it may start with about 30 students in the first year.

Compass has offered the position of principal for the new school to A.O. Forbes, a longtime faculty member of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School, a private high school in Carbondale.

If he takes the job, Forbes will work over the next year to draft the school’s charter, seek charter status through the Aspen or Roaring Fork school district, craft the curriculum and hire faculty.

“We’re looking at a permanent staff of eight to ten teachers and a rotating staff of experts to lead seminars in social justice,” Throgmorton said.

As a charter school, it would tap 95 percent of the per-pupil state school funding from the school districts where students live.

“Compass would make up the difference, and then some. We are committed to a twelve-to-one student-teacher ratio,” Throgmorton said.

He expects the new charter school to draw from both the Aspen and Roaring Fork school districts, from the valley’s private elementary schools, and public school dropouts.

“We’re willing to work with the Aspen School District and RE-1 to mitigate the financial effects. But I think they’ll see that the financial effects aren’t that great,” Throgmorton said.

He discussed the idea directly with Roaring Fork School District officials at the school board meeting last week and in a private meeting on Friday with Garvik, fellow school board member Trsi Houpt and Superintendent Fred Wall.

Like the Aspen and Carbondale Community schools, the new high school would emphasize social justice, responsible citizenship and involvement in social issues, he said.

“We have a dogged determination to be democratic. Students participate fully in the decisions of the school, including curriculum,” he said. “We like to grab a kid’s passion and form an educational program around that passion.”

Throgmorton said admission to the school will be handled by a lottery, but Compass plans to “heavily court” Latino students, so the school has a diverse student body.

That diversity may be easier to achieve if the school is located in Basalt rather than Aspen, he said.

At tonight’s meeting, Throgmorton hopes to accomplish three things:

n Plumb the depth of parental support for the charter high school. “We’re going to need operating money for this first year, and we hope they’ll foot the bill,” he said.

n Decide on the best location for the school.

n Identify the concerns of the Roaring Fork School District. “We want to work with them. We want this to be an educational partnership,” he said.


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