Dear Boulder Valley School Board Members,
I would like to relay our family story of attending a classical charter school, GVCA, very similar to the Ascent school up for charter approval by your board.
Our family took a leap of faith, not dissimilar to the one you should take, when we enrolled our first grade daughter in GVCA. Let me take you back to what led up to that decision.
Our family was dissatisfied with the leadership and education quality in the private religious school where our daughter attended two years of preschool and one year of kindergarten. It broke our hearts to walk away from that community, but a severe lack of focus on allowing teachers to do what they do best by the administration had finally convinced us to look elsewhere. The tipping point for us was the day the wonderful career teacher, a state-certified teacher and 20-year employee of the school, fled the campus in the middle of the day after the umpteenth time a student of wealthy donor parishioners assaulted her physically with a chair. The administration refused to do anything about it. It had gotten THAT bad.
Having been on my local city council for eight years, and active in our district’s school governance community, I knew well the neighborhood schools in our area. I had guest lectured at one of the elementary schools. I had attended dozens of school board meetings, cut the ribbon at the joint venture playground at our local elementary, sponsored the funding by the city of all our local sixth grade classes to attend outdoor lab for free, attended local community meetings, and carefully watched the policies of the district. I knew the schools and teachers well. As supportive as I was to improve those schools, I knew they were not yet improved to a point where I could trust them with my daughter’s education – not if I had a better choice.
I also knew how bright but fragile my daughter was. She was born drug-addicted to a woman unable to care for her, and placed into the foster care system at one day old. Her first six months of life, living in a foster home, taking drugs to help wean her from her heartbreaking drug addiction, were very hard on her. She was deprived by her circumstances of the natural attachment humans need to their mother and father. She was denied by her addiction the opportunity to have her brain develop normal stress responses and self soothing behaviors – her therapists have been very helpful over the years in helping us understand how to modify our parenting to meet her needs. Despite all this, she is smart, friendly, perceptive, deeply empathetic, and behaves well above the average 9-year-old – I ascribe some of this success to her classical school, but I am getting ahead of myself.
After much discussion with her private school’s principal, and deep reflection within our family, we made the choice to look elsewhere. We wanted what every parent wants – the best opportunity for our child to grow up with the tools necessary to live a good and happy life. There were two schools in our district we chose to trust with our daughter. We completed the necessary paperwork to open-enroll in GVCA, and Dennison Elementary. Perhaps you have heard of Dennison? It is a blue ribbon school, a Jeffco option school, with mostly classical teaching methods in the classroom, and one of the best schools in Colorado. GVCA was a brand new school, but we attended many of the information sessions, carefully evaluated the curriculum, and knew the hearts and minds of the school’s founders. The day we got the rejection letter from Dennison – their waiting list is unimaginably long and the lottery barely scratches the surface – we were neither sad nor trepidatious about our daughter’s future. We believed GVCA was going to be great for our family.
Still, GVCA was a first-year charter school. We knew how much work setting up a school was. We volunteered when we could, of course, but by and large we left it in the capable hands of the school’s founders. To say we were stunned and delighted our first year would be an understatement. The seriousness with which the founders approached their duties meant that the faculty and staff hired were incredibly talented, energetic, and deeply serious about their task. Having now attended four years of curriculum nights, dozens of speeches by faculty and guest lecturers, and countless parent-teacher conferences, I can say unequivocally that the school hires the finest human beings and educators available.
As described earlier, my daughter’s circumstances require constant vigilance by our family – keeping her on the right track towards a good and happy life is a task we both cherish and take very seriously. Her school has been everything we could ask for and proven time and again worthy of our trust. A few examples are:
- The time in first grade she was diagnosed with an astigmatism after complaining the chalkboard was fuzzy. No doctor’s note necessary – the teacher moved her right to the front row.
- The time in second grade when her teacher volunteered to stay late and tutor students who were struggling with the challenging curriculum.
- The time in third grade when, seeing our daughter upset, her teacher leaned in to a conversation and they shared a special moment as her teacher revealed that she had an adopted child like my daughter.
- The time in fourth grade when, watching her continued struggles with math, the teachers and staff rallied with us on an action plan – no IEP required. She was placed into an intensive math class during the time of the day normally dedicated to gym. She has since caught back up thanks to the very talented and creative teacher. I can tell you that she would never have been excited or even willing to participate if any stigma were attached – none was.
- The time the principle mentioned our school’s excellent SAT scores in one of his regular speeches, yet downplayed their importance because high scores are not the school’s chief goal.
- The time our daughter wanted to watch the old black and white movie about the death of Socrates, so she could understand more about the painting in the school atrium labeled with her favorite of the school’s virtues: justice.
- The countless times we have incorporated the school’s core virtues into our family life, such as moderation in consuming sugary foods, justice in accepting the consequences when homework is not completed on time, courage to sing a difficult song for the talent show when success and failure are equally likely, prudence and responsibility to self-govern her actions when she earns a privilege that prevents direct parental oversight.
But, where does all this lead? Right to where we, the parents, want. A child who possesses the tools to live a good and happy life. Still skeptical? One more thing you should know: a thesis is required of every student before they graduate – one they must defend to their teachers and the community. The topic of that thesis: What is the good life?
Our experience has been so wonderful, that we never hesitated to enroll our son in Kindergarten. He’s had a wonderful first year in classical school, and the school has shown every indication they will be as supportive of him as they have been of my daughter.
In closing, I believe it would be deeply irresponsible to not offer the families of your district the choice to attend an Ascent classical school. I encourage you to approve the charter. Taking a leap of faith toward good requires courage. Be courageous.