Agreeing to send your child to a brand new school is a daunting prospect, and it raises all sorts of questions. As a parent who’s considering sending my daughter to Compass next year, I sat down with Compass founder Jan Harrison this week and asked her a few questions. We talked about the school, the philosophies behind it, and some practical, brick-and-mortar type questions. Here are a few of my questions, along with Jan’s answers.
Hi Jan. So what’s Compass Community Collaborative School all about?
Jan Harrison: At Compass, we’re going to have a school culture that supports kids in an environment of student-centered accomplishment. Our students will be explicitly taught the skills they need to try harder, to get more out of their education, and to build the confidence and skills they’ll need to succeed in life. We want them to thrive as adolescents, as high school graduates on college campuses, and in the workplace.
What’s the “Collaborative” part of the school’s name?
JH: Collaboration is a key part of our approach and it starts with the classroom environment. Students will work together as teams under the guidance of their teachers, who we’re hiring for a spirit of entrepreneurship and collaboration. For example, an English teacher and a science teacher might work together with students and community partners on a climate change project.
A big part of the collaborative approach is that it’s social, which is really important in keeping students engaged. Collaboration can also provide practical experience. One major example of that is with our internships. To accomplish their own academic and professional goals, each student will design and complete at least one semester-long internship — usually with a local company or organization — before they graduate.
We’re also collaborating through community partnerships with CSU, Front Range Community College and other organizations. Our school library is going to be CSU’s Morgan Library and the Poudre River Library District, and we’ll be part of programs like the CSU Writing Project, which is led by a CSU English professor.
What is a charter school and how does it work?
JH: Here in Colorado, charter schools are public schools that are authorized by a local school district or a state school district called the Colorado Charter School Institute. They’re like all other public school in terms of things like funding, accountability and educational standards, but they’re allowed to have different rules for things like busing, food, hiring and clothing policies. Charter schools are a way for public schools to innovate techniques that could eventually be used by other public schools. Like any public school, charter schools are free but there are fees that can come up. In a given year at Compass there might be $300 in fees for technology and trips. These can be waived for qualifying families.
Will Compass graduates be as prepared for standardized achievement tests as students that go to regular PSD schools?
JH: We will cover state standards, and Summit Learning Platform will be our open source curriculum, including exams. Our students may be better prepared for standardized tests because our students are not only learning specific subjects but also applying their academic knowledge in projects and internships and actually teaching subjects by being mentors to younger students.
What can you tell me about your teachers?
JH: We have some highly experienced teachers who know that this approach works and are passionate about empowering students. Our teachers are all certified — that is, they’ve completed a teacher education program and passed content-area tests for the state. We believe in the public teaching profession and we want to support it. That’s one thing about charter schools that often concerns parents, because Colorado charter schools aren’t required to hire certified teachers.
How do I know that this kind of school works?
JH: A lot of schools are moving to this kind of competency-based, student-centered style of education. Some established schools with similar approaches are High-Tech High, Summit Public Schools and Big Picture Learning. Students are graduating successfully from these schools and they’re succeeding at higher rates than other high school graduates: things like having a career path, knowing what they want to major in, and graduating from college in four years.
What if my child has an IEP, a 504 plan or special needs?
We’ll be able to handle children with mild special needs, along with their IEPs or 504 plans. We’ll also work with students that have English language learning needs and we’ll have a special education specialist on staff.
Are you on track for opening next August?
JH: We’re on track. We have 131 students enrolled of the 160 we need to have by January 19. We’re working hard to get a physical location, which will hopefully be along the Max bus line for access to CSU and many of our other community partners. We’re working with an architect to design a space that suits our needs and we’re expecting to sign a lease in January.
Thanks Jan. How do I get more information about the school?