Boulder's Summit Middle School recently submitted its formal application for a new charter high school to the Boulder Valley School District, asking the district to help with a school site.
Summit, founded in 1996 as Boulder Valley's first charter school, is proposing a 400- to 600-student high school that would open in the fall of 2019.
Summit Academy students would follow different pathways based on their interests, work with community mentors and complete capstone projects to graduate."We would meet a need in the community for more school options," said Summit Principal Adam Galvin. "We're really proud of the program that we're going to bring in. We're all about creating a school around student passions. Students will be working on solutions to global issues."
Summit first started exploring the creation of a high school two years ago as part of the XQ Super School Project. Summit's proposal made it to the top 50 finalist group, but ultimately didn't win the competition. The plan for Summit Academy is a continuation of that work.
The biggest challenge, organizers say, is a location. Galvin said the best option is to use existing school district land or schools, noting three's a precedent for charters using district buildings. Summit Middle is in south Boulder in a renovated former Boulder Valley elementary school.
"This is a very difficult town to find land or find facilities," Galvin said. "That becomes a large part of your budget and takes away from paying teachers. We're open to all possible solutions."
One of the identified options is to build the school on 10 vacant acres in the Lake Shore Estates neighborhood — surplus land the district has been looking to sell by contracting with real estate broker CBRE. The 10 acres consists of three subdivision lots and an adjacent tract.
As an alternative, if the land is sold, Summit would like to use the proceeds toward building or renovating in another location. Surrounding residents are organizing to protest the potential sale of the Lake Shore Estates property, saying they want the land to remain as open space or, if it's sold, a commitment that it won't be subdivided and will retain its low density residential designation.
The district's plan to contract with CBRE, a broker specializing in high-end commercial development, makes a low density residential development seem unlikely, they said. Boulder Valley planned to sell the property based on a legal opinion from lawyer Richard Bump that the land was purchased by the district, not dedicated as a school site as the district had long assumed. But the school board postponed voting on the contract at its last meeting at the request of board member Shelly Benford, who said her own research shows some, if not all, of the property was donated to the district as a school site. While the district can sell dedicated properties, those in Boulder County first must go through an approval process that includes the Planning Commission and the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee. Because the land is identified as an option by Summit, the district is tabling the broker contract until the board votes on Summit's application.
"Given there is no urgency to sell the land, we believe that it is prudent for BVSD to keep all of its options open at this time," Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said in a written statement.
The school board has 90 days after Summit's application was submitted to vote, with the board set to review Summit's proposal at its April 10 meeting. District staff members and the District Accountability Committee also will review the application and make recommendations before the board vote.
Another possible location identified by Summit is sharing New Vista High School's building at 700 20th St. in Boulder. That option would include renovating and modernizing the building.
A third option is building a high school at Summit's current location, which would require the purchase, lease or land swap of an adjacent parcel from the city of Boulder because there's not enough space on Summit's property. Galvin said co-locating with New Vista would be his first choice.
"We have a vision of transforming that aging campus to a building that's much more innovative," he said. Summit's application is the first new charter school application the district has received since 2009. Including Summit, Boulder Valley now oversees five charter schools, which are public schools that are operated independently.
So far, more than 170 families have signed letters of intent to enroll at Summit Academy, organizers said. Galvin pointed to long wait lists at the district charter and focus, or magnet schools, as well as long wait lists at Boulder and Fairview high schools, as proof that there's a need for another high school option. Summit Middle graduates about 115 eighth-graders a year, with organizers saying they expect half to 75 percent of those students to go on to Summit Academy for high school — leaving room for up to 75 new students. The school would include an open enrollment preference for students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches, according to the application. Along with a personalized learning approach that includes students choosing to pursue one of five learning academies as sophomores, the school also is proposing a different schedule than a traditional high school.
Summit would use a trimester system with students taking four subjects a day in 90-minute blocks and one week dedicated to immersion projects, outdoor education and presentations. The plan also includes internships and summer discovery experiences related to what students are studying.
Cecilia Davis, Summit's assistant principal, said the school's plans are based on Boulder Valley's innovation principles. "We want to advance this idea of an innovation school model," she said.
Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/boundsa