Chief: Hold­ing all ac­count­able will ease di­vi­sive­ness

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Ni­cholas Gar­cia Q : I don’t think a lot of peo­ple in the ed­u­ca­tion com­mu­nity know this of­fice ex­ists. What do you guys do? Q : How do you hope to shape the depart­ment into your own? Q : You worked with char­ter schools in both Den­ver and Jef­fer­son Co

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?”

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