From the New School Development Team
At the League, Kathy Zlomke works with groups hoping to start a new charter school by providing support, documents, referrals, and other resources to help guide them through the application process. Kathy plays a particularly important role in developing, maintaining, and updating the Quality Standards for Charter School Development, a vital resource for new school developers and authorizers alike. She also reviews charter school applications to help new schools edit and refine their applications before submitting them to an authorizer. Kathy has been involved in Colorado chartering for 23 years.
A. I have both an informal and a formal response to this. My informal response starts with the word RESPONSIVE; schools should be responsive to the academic and community needs and requests they receive, including respecting parents’ and community members’ input. Quality charter schools are DIFFERENTIATED to different populations of students and the unique learning styles and gaps that all students have. It is also important to be COGNIZANT of compliance areas and answerable to the people schools are there to serve; this includes using public funds well. Quality charter schools are also RESEARCH-BASED along with being innovative, especially when combining portions of research that has proven effective elsewhere and combining it with different techniques to rationalize or theorize how it will work with their particular population of students. This research basis and resulting theory should also be what is used as a solid basis for making decisions about instruction and the design of the school. All of these quality characteristics should lead to OPPORTUNITY, something I’ve always hoped to see from the charter movement. My formal response involves six words and you can reference those in the 6 Quality Outcomes that we want all charters to demonstrate.
Q. What are some NON-EXAMPLES of quality that come to mind?
A. The first one that jumps out right away is when I think of somebody wanting to open a school for their own personal gains. For instance, they need a job or want a high salary and aren’t really focused on kids’ needs. Another non-example is not establishing good procedures in place so the school can continue to operate well. Policies & procedures are important because they take the subjectivity out of decision-making, making things more workable for everybody involved.
Q. In your expert opinion, what INPUTS are necessary to achieve quality in a charter school?
A. What I see as components that lend themselves to quality results for kids, regardless of the program basis, whether Expeditionary Learning, Project-Based Learning, Core Knowledge, Direct Instruction, etc. include: good content and skills instruction; more time on task with a quality teacher -- this is what charters were first designed for and ones we’ve seen the most success with; data analysis using strong systems that include a Student Information System; assessments to form a Body of Evidence; and a data management system to track and disaggregate data. This would be followed by providing strong supports for staff in the way of professional development and supports for students in the way of instructional changes or supplements supported by what the data say.
Q. What are the most important OUTPUTS that result from quality chartering?
A. If you do all of the above, one major output is sustainability -- sustainability of the academic program and the school itself, making sure you can afford to keep maintaining the program you are providing to students. Next would be continuous academic growth for kids each year; kids would be demonstrating that they are continuing to learn and are continuously improving. Last would be good policies, something critical to keeping everyone on track, combined with good oversight by the board and strong operational practices.
Q. You have been involved in Colorado chartering for at least two decades. How would you say that our conceptions of what quality in charters is has changed over that time?
A. The bar has definitely been raised as to what authorizers are looking for, in order to make sure they are providing good oversight of public funds. At first, the focus was just on trying to get charters open; schools would promise to do certain things but didn’t necessarily have to describe HOW they were going to accomplish those things. The focus now is changing, and authorizers are asking for more information on how their model is going to look in practice and how they are going to plan implementation to get a glimpse of what it will look like in the classroom with students. This kind of glimpse, combined with those research-based innovative practices, provides great insight into the potential charters have to serve students today. This also helps with planning and schools being even more prepared to open now as the practical implementation of their design has been thought through more. As this type of detail is more requested, people need to be aware of this when writing their applications and also know that there are additional supports for this kind of planning and design than before, so it will benefit school designers in the long run.