Boulder Valley Superintendent Rob Anderson presented a plan at Tuesday’s school board worksession to start 10 micro schools for up to 100 third through fifth graders by the end of the month, but board members said they were caught off guard and aren’t ready to move forward.
While Anderson initially suggested starting to recruit staff members for the schools this week, board members said they need more details and need to vote on the plan. Board members, who first heard the idea Friday also asked for another worksession for more discussion.
“I’m 100% uncomfortable with this,” school board member Kathy Gebhardt said after hearing the proposal and the timeline. “This whole thing has blown me away, and I don’t know what to say.”
The micro school proposal is part of the district’s effort to find opportunities for in-person learning for students. The district recently announced a plan to bring K-2 students back for in-person learning four days a week on Sept. 29, as well as guidelines that schools can use to set up in-person, small group opportunities outside for all grades.
Consultant Emily Puetz presented the details of what would be a yearlong pilot at the meeting, saying micro schools fill a need for students who are not being served well by remote learning or, pre-pandemic, a traditional classroom setting.
Micro schools also could be a solution for families and teachers concerned about coronavirus exposure who are seeking a smaller learning environment, she said.
“This model could serve BVSD very well,” she said.
The multi-age schools would be located in available classroom space or available space in a nearby community organization and be limited to six to 10 students each, for a total enrollment of up to 100 students. Locations likely would be in Boulder, Broomfield, Lafayette and Louisville, based on student counts.
The proposal is for the district to partner with Prenda, an Arizona-based network of micro-schools, to provide training and a learning platform. The district would consider the organization a vendor, paying $100 per student per month, or up to $10,000 a month.
The curriculum wouldn’t be what’s used by the district, but would be aligned with district and state standards. The proposal calls for the schools to be led by “learning guides,” who wouldn’t be required to be certified teachers. Instead, they would report to a certified teacher who would assure “academic outcomes” are being met.
School board President Tina Marquis said her concerns include that the micro schools might not be led by certified teachers and the district would be providing very small class sizes for a select group of students.
“This is a pretty big shift from some of the values we have as a district,” she said.
Anderson and Puetz noted micro schools may encourage families who have left the school district this school year to re-enroll. The state’s official student count date is Oct. 1, though the district has a window before and after that date to count students. Student enrollment numbers determine the majority of the funding school districts receive from the state.
Enrollment, based on a count from Sept. 9, is down about 1,300 students from the previous school year. Most of that loss came at the elementary level, which was down about 1,100 students. Middle schools are down 358 students, while high schools gained about 100 students.
School board member Stacey Zis said she understands the desire to re-enroll families, but doesn’t want to see the district “target” those who have left for enrollment in micro schools.
“To initially discount those families that are sticking with us does not feel right to me,” she said.
As the board meeting ended, Anderson said he would pause fast-tracking the proposal to give the school board and community more time to consider it.
“We need to dig in a little bit deeper,” he said.