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An in-depth look by I-News - a Colorado-based nonprofit investigative news collaborative, Education News Colorado, and KUNC at the state’s online K-12 schools. Topics include: online K-12 school performance, state- and district-level oversight, and for-profit Education Management Organizations, such as K12 Inc.

Troubled K-12 Virtual School Receives 1-Year Charter Extension—With Conditions

Grace Hood

The state’s largest K-12 virtual school will stay open for one more year.

Struggling with poor academic performance, compliance, and board governance issues, 12-year-old Colorado Virtual Academy had faced opposition from its authorizer, Adams 12 Five Star in January. The district’s board agreed unanimously Wednesday night that a one-year extension of the school’s charter would be beneficial to students and their families.

The arrangement comes with conditions.

The one-year charter renewal, which has yet to be inked, would require that COVA find a new charter authorizer by June 2014. At that time, Adams 12 Five Star will be off the hook for overseeing COVA’s improvement.

“I like the resolution. It’s tight, it’s specific and it gives you the chance you need to turn the ship around,” said Adams 12 Five Star Board of Education Vice President Norm Jennings.

Board of Education members spoke to a packed audience, half of which were at the meeting to support COVA. The other half came because of a Fox 31 investigative report into the district’s accounting practices.

In recent weeks, Adams 12 Five Star Board of Education members have received hundreds of emails, cards and letters from COVA parents and students pleading to keep the school open. At Wednesday’s meeting, COVA High School student Sarah Fanning summed up their perspective during the public comment period.

“COVA means the world to me it’s been my school for five years. It’s been perfect for me,” she said. “I hope that you take this decision seriously. COVA doesn’t work for everyone.”

The school’s 22 percent graduation rate, high student turnover, and questions about COVA’s management company, K12 Inc., originally led Adams 12 Five Star staff to recommenddenying the virtual school’s multiyear charter application.

The one-year extension, proposed by COVA officials at a January 16 meeting, seemed to be an easier pill to swallow. Board Member Frederick Schaefer said he came to the meeting prepared to vote against it, but changed his mind because he believed supporting charter schools was important.

“You of all people are incredibly motivated to produce right now,” Schaefer said to COVA Board Member Randy DeHoff. “I’m expecting some pretty amazing things.”

While it wasn’t a multiyear agreement, the unanimous vote from board members pleased COVA parent Venicia Bradley, who drove from Colorado Springs with her husband Tim, and her son Gabriel to attend the meeting.

“I’m relieved,” she said. “COVA stands behind us and we stand behind them because the staff there is really great. They do take the time. It works for individuals.”

COVA and Adams 12 have until February 15 to finalize their agreement. Then the real work begins.

Ultimately, COVA Board Member Randy DeHoff says he thinks the outlook for the school is positive.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, but we know that and we’re confident that we can get there,” he said.


You can read more from our series: Investigating K-12 Online Education

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