Chief: Holding all accountable will ease divisiveness
For decades, both Republicans and Democrats in Colorado have embraced charter schools.
And it can stay that way if the state continues to hold all schools accountable and push for better quality, said the new director of school choice at the Colorado Department of Education.
Bill Kottenstette, the former executive director of Jefferson County charter school Compass Montessori, is settling into a role at the department that includes overseeing a $36 million grant program to help launch charter schools.
Kottenstette, a father of five who also worked with charter schools in Denver, started in June. In an interview with Chalkbeat, he spoke about the controversy over the term “school choice,” whether charters need to work harder to be integrated and what’s next for the charter sector.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
A: We have two primary roles. The big role is to administer the federal charter school startup grant. The other role is to serve as the point of online and blended learning for the state. We also work with innovation schools.
A: I’m fortunate enough to have been a teacher, a school administrator and also a district administrator. I’m excited that those formative experiences will help shape my thinking for this office.
Primarily, I look forward to finding where I think this office could help in supporting school administrators. An example of that: We’re working on our annual school finance seminar where we provide technical assistance and information sharing between business managers, school administrators and charter boards. I know as a former administrator that it would have been helpful to have an expert on facilities who could speak to strong financial metrics for school bonds.
A: I’d say the similarities aren’t even all that unique to charter schools. Public schools in general have similar challenges: They want do right by their community. They want do right by all the kids that they serve. They’re really looking at, “How do individualize education today?”
Charter school supporters aren’t monolithic. But there appear to be two general camps. One camp believes charter schools should be held to high standards by the government that funds them. The other believes the market — families — should decide what a quality school is.
A: At the national level, there are broader issues that are playing out in dif- ferent states. In Colorado, school choice can still be a hot-button topic. But it’s much more embraced here than in other areas. As I’ve seen conversations around charter and innovation schools, typically they’ve been supported in a positive, bipartisan way. We’ve avoided a lot of controversy at the national level. My optimism is that we in Colorado can stay in that space.
A: Last week there was a report on blended learning that came out — a road map. A lot of that conversation was looking at the idea of blended versus an online school.
We know and recognize the impact that technology is having on education. The great benefit is that technology increases access to information. A student in rural Colorado can access Chinese classes, even if the expert isn’t in their community. But I think in general, where people are falling, is that it needs to be in balance. If I’m a school, I’m asking, “How do we introduce technology in our environment while anchoring our practice in the education philosophy we have?”