Cherry Creek Schools cancels its contract with Colorado Skies Academy

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

At its regular meeting on February 12, the Cherry Creek Schools (CCSD) board of education unanimously passed a resolution stating it would not renew its contract with Colorado Skies Academy (CSA), a chartered middle school at 13015 Wings Way near South Peoria Street and East County Line Road, after it expires in June 2024. The contract in place is a one-year extension of CSA’s four-year contract that began when it opened its doors in August 2019, and ended in June 2023. The mission of the school from its inception was to use project-based learning with a focus on aeronautics and aerospace.

The content in the resolution pointed to CSA’s steadily declining enrollment since its high of 236 students in October 2020, one year after it began operating. Enrollment has fallen steadily since, dropping to 105 students in February 2024. 

The resolution also said CSA’s evaluations indicated it had not met its contractual obligations during its five years of operations, including its failure “to submit adequate documentation to CCSD demonstrating that its curriculum in reading, science, and social studies aligns with Colorado Academic Standards,” despite CCSD having raised concerns about it with CSA leadership.

At CCSD’s February 12 meeting, three CSA administrators, Meredith Motley, director of aerospace, outreach, and data, Tommy Bryan, president of CSA’s board of directors, and Christa Coryell, former CSA board president, strongly pushed back against CCSD’s decision.

Motley criticized the CCSD board and its superintendent for never once having “stepped foot into CSA,” except for one person, who she didn’t name. She also pointed out that only 45% of CSA students live in the Cherry Creek School District.

Motley noted that, although “30% of our students are on learning plans,” CSA was in the “44th percentile for 6th grade, 43rd percentile for 7th grade, and 50th percentile for 8th grade,” ending her statement with, “I would think that for a charter school to meet a gap, maybe you should support them instead of be hostile.” 

Regarding the decision to not renew CSA’s contract, Tommy Bryan said, “I think it’s unconscionable, and quite honestly, unethical, that you would take action against a school that you haven’t even stepped foot in. To me, that’s not dedication to excellence. To me, that’s laziness, its mismanagement on your part.” 

Coryell pointed out that CCSD’s decision in 2023 to only give CSA  a one-year contract extension was, “seemingly a death sentence for a charter school,” making it difficult to attract teachers “when they believe there’s little job security,” as well as creating challenges recruiting students because, “families are concerned the school might not be there after one year.”

Not one CSA parent spoke at the meeting in support of CCSD renewing its contract with CSA.

The only two CSA parents who spoke at the meeting both agreed with CCSD’s decision to end its relationship with CSA. In each case, they said their daughters were bullied and retaliated against by a science teacher at the school until they removed them back to their home school, despite making numerous complaints to school administrators. Both parents also said their children were now thriving, since returning to their home schools.

CCSD Board Member Anne Egan moved the resolution to end the contract between CCSD and CSA, which was seconded by Kelly Bates. In so doing, Egan expressed, “concerns…particularly around their financial performance and budget. The numbers are much the same as last year and we are concerned the school won’t even be financially viable through the end of this school year. Recruitment numbers continue to decline and, without adding a significant number of new students or a large financial donation, the school will run out of cash,” adding, “There is no plan to meet current financial obligations, including any balloon payments required to meet bond obligations.” 

The relationship between CCSD and CSA started out rocky. In 2018, when John Barry, a former Aurora Public Schools superintendent, began the process to get it open via a contract with CCSD, school board members were uncertain whether it could meet its goals. 

In November 2018, when CSA failed to produce anywhere near the number of enrollment commitments it had projected to open the school–they had 24 letters from parents who said their child would attend, instead of the 225 they expected—CCSD refused to approve the contract.

CSA went to the State Board of Education and asked them to overrule CCSD. The State Board agreed with CSA, allowing the school to move forward. It opened its doors in August 2019.

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