Cody man plans charter school

Posted 12/10/09

Charter schools have more freedom from state requirements, including hiring staff, scheduling and some curriculum requirements, than regular public schools. Students would attend the school without cost, just as they would public schools.

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Cody man plans charter school


A Cody man plans to open Park County's first charter school when the school year starts next August.Michael Cox has scheduled an informational meeting next week for anyone interested in learning more about the school, The McCullough Peaks Charter Academy. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Park County Library in Cody on Wednesday, Dec. 16.A charter school is a publicly-financed school that operates independently of the school district in which it is located.

Charter schools have more freedom from state requirements, including hiring staff, scheduling and some curriculum requirements, than regular public schools. Students would attend the school without cost, just as they would public schools.

Charter schools have been touted as a way to provide choices for students and are being heavily encouraged by the Obama administration.

Anyone wishing to start a charter school must submit an application to the local school district, which is required to evaluate the application and may reject it if they find short-comings. If they reject the application, the decision may be appealed to the Wyoming Board of Education.

Cox said he is in the first stages of completing the application, and the meeting is part of that process. The application requires proof of community interest in establishing such a school.

Cody School Superintendent Bryan Monteith confirmed that an application packet was sent to Cox “within the last 10 days.”

The application is a first for Cody, Monteith said, and he said the application is a complex process.

“I've never done it before, but the application is very lengthy and requires very specific responses,” Monteith said.

Among those requirements, applicants must show they can provide something “at least as good as or better than the public school,” Monteith said.

Cox said the school would provide “personalized education in a supportive and caring environment, bringing students, parents and teachers together in a shared collaboration focused on learning.”

“MPCA is a school of choice with an open-enrollment policy,” Cox said. “Its educational-study program offers small group instruction that focuses on building skills within the state standards.”

Among the options for students would be working under “a university model” taking classes three days a week, and online education, tutoring and small group instruction would be available.”

“Choices are the key ingredient,” Cox said.

Cox said he is working to make internships and other work and volunteer experiences available through Cody businesses and the community.

Cox said he grew up in Cody and returned recently from Southern California, where he has been an educator for eight years, both in regular public schools and in two charter schools, where he served as principal.

He and his wife, who is also from Cody, brought their family back to Cody recently, and in looking at local schools, he said he saw a need for an alternative.

“Some kids are falling through the cracks,” Cox said.

Cox said a charter school is “not for everybody.” He does not see his school as competition for the Cody schools. He expects the school probably would never have more than 150 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The process of starting a charter school is more difficult in Wyoming than in most states.

Recently, a Washington, D.C.-based group supporting charter schools, the Center for Education Reform, gave Wyoming a D for the state's charter school law. There are only three charter schools in the state — in Laramie, Casper and Fort Washakie.

Cox, however, said he doesn't mind the difficulty. It shouldn't be easy to start a charter school, he said.

While charter schools have been promoted as a way to improve education, their success has been called into question, according to Monteith. While some charter schools have produced higher test scores, others have actually produced lower test scores than public schools. Monteith said there are both good and bad charter schools, just as there are good and bad public schools.

Monteith added that the Cody schools already work to provide alternatives for students, and he questioned the need for a charter in a small community.

Powell Superintendent Kevin Mitchell also is skeptical of the need for a charter school given the low population of the Big Horn Basin. He noted that Wyoming has been working to eliminate small schools, and in the last few years has effectively eliminated small elementary schools in Deaver and Byron in favor of a larger school in Cowley.

“Why would we want to start a school for 30 kids when we are trying to eliminate smaller schools that are too expensive?” Mitchell said.

Cox, however, said he believes he will bring “a quality educational option to the students and parents in the Big Horn Basin.”

“Alternative education has a strong track record of success for providing kids that need something different an option to traditional education,” Cox said.