APS: Aurora charter school serving poor, working families faces charter sanction due to enrollment

A flag advertising the Aurora Community School sits on the perimeter of a shopping center at East 6th Avenue and East Centretech Parkway.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | The fate of a brand-new north Aurora charter school has been in jeopardy since early this month, when Aurora Public Schools officials told Aurora Community School it is substantially under-enrolled and violating its contract to operate, according to school district officials.

ACS opened this August, touting a community-centric model staffed with social workers, therapists, food pantries and other resources for students and their families, administrators told the Sentinel last year. Organizers were excited to deliver a small-school environment focused on individual families, they said.

School board members agreed with the concept, and the board approved a contract with the school last year. However, the contract required ACS to abide by enrollment targets that APS says have not been met.

ACS has enrolled 104 students as of the Oct. 2 statewide student count, according to board meeting minutes from that day. That’s less than half of the anticipated student enrollment of about 265 students spelled out in the school’s contract.

The day after the head count, APS told school leaders they had determined the school to be “in breach of its charter contract with regard to financial viability based on the school’s under-enrollment.”

“The school has 14 days from the notice to effectuate a cure or provide a plan to cure the breach,” APS spokesperson Corey Christiansen told the Sentinel. In the case the corrective action plan or cure actions are unsatisfactory, the District may take action up to and including revoking the charter.”

Lone signage for the Aurora Community School is taped to the door of Restoration Christian Fellowship at 15660 E. 6th Ave.
Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

The ACS contract set enrollment targets and required proof of those enrollment numbers for the months preceding the August start date. It also stipulated that “failure to provide this information or meet the mutually agreed upon targets shall constitute a material breach of this Agreement.”

Yanking the school’s charter could mean closing the school, barring intervention from state government.

ACS Board of Director Christine Levy would not say how the school could fix the breach of contract within the two-week remedy period, which ends Oct. 17. She did say the school has a formal remedy plan for APS consideration, but it is unclear whether that involves quickly enrolling more students for this year.

“ACS’ main priority currently is working on our plan for the district and looking forward to continuing to partner with Aurora Public Schools to deliver a high-quality, innovative education that meets the needs of students in our community,” she said.

Levy said the under-enrollment is because the school is not housed in its permanent location until next month. Both locations are near the intersection of Chambers Road and East Sixth Avenue. ACS’ listed address is the Restoration Christian Fellowship church. School officials did not make clear why a change in location would impact enrollment.

The under-enrollment is also a financial issue for ACS. School funding is often attached to individual students and follows them to the school of their choice. Fewer students means less money to run the school.

If its contract remains intact, ACS would eventually become a K-8 school. Currently, it only has grades kindergarten, 1, 2 and 6.

Staff at the school are relatively diverse and aim to serve the diverse student body, staff have said. According to an ACS post on Facebook, the staff are more than 75 percent people of color and speak an average of 3 languages. Some parents have chimed in on social media expressing gratitude and satisfaction with the school.

School co-principal Jessica Martin said last year that ACS would be open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. five days a week, so parents and students could enjoy social services or simply be in a “safe space”.

“For children to be successful, we have to support them as whole children,” Martin said then.