History

The History of The Liberty Common School

By Dr. Maureen Schaffer (Founding Parent)

Liberty Common Elementary School first opened its doors in September of 1997, but the story of The Liberty Common School dates back much further.

In the early 1990s, true educational choice was non-existent in Poudre School District. Parents without resources for private school sent their children to neighborhood schools. Nebulous curricula were largely determined by individual classroom teachers, leading to gaps and repetition in student learning. Dissatisfied, small groups of parents began to read, research, and meet throughout PSD in search of better options.

One young couple, with a seemingly insatiable interest in education issues, emerged with a solution. After months of research, Dr. Randy Everett and his wife, Ruth Ann, identified several fundamental elements they believed most parents desired in their children’s schooling:

Parental choice in education
A core curriculum of specific content knowledge
Solid, content-driven skill instruction
Teaching the values of a democratic society
School-based management

History

Ruth Ann and Randy Everett pictured with their youngest boys.

 






Randy and Ruth Ann took their message on the road, placing advertisements in the local paper, and speaking in living rooms and meeting halls throughout the county. Soon, hundreds of parents had joined the cause.

In the spring of 1993, Dr. Everett submitted a proposal to the PSD Board of Education to establish an Elementary School of Choice organized around the Core Knowledge Sequence. The educational community fought the proposal with gusto. District teachers testified before the school board, pronouncing the Core Knowledge Sequence too difficult to teach or learn. In spite of this strong opposition, the school board approved the request, and the Washington Core Knowledge School opened with 125 students that fall. This progressive episode in PSD’s history is documented on pages 62-63 of The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch.

Everett

 

In 1993, Dr. Randy Everett first proposed establishing an elementary “school of choice” organized around the Core Knowledge Sequence




Washington Core Knowledge School flourished. Parents painted the run-down school building and gathered curriculum resources. Courageous teachers joined the team, and students began to outperform their peers at neighborhood schools. In two years, enrollment had nearly doubled, and the waiting list numbered in the hundreds.

Washington Core Knowledge School





Washington Core Knowledge School opened in an old, condemned school building on Shields Street in Fort Collins.







To meet this high demand, the school board allowed Washington Core to further increase enrollment and move into a portion of the old Fort Collins High School building. In a monumental construction effort led by parent volunteer Carol Christ, the high school building was converted to an elementary school over the summer of 1995. Things were going well for Washington Core, or so it seemed.

History

In 1995 Washington Core Knowledge School moved into the South half of the old Fort Collins High School building on Remington Street in Fort Collins. Today the building is owned by Colorado State University.

The school district notified Washington Core that its two-year pilot program had ended. Faculty would now be determined by the district, rather than the school’s parent board. Sadly, the district immediately fired two teachers, replacing them with “tenured excess” teachers from within PSD.
The founding parents were dismayed. How could the school retain its integrity, if PSD brought in teachers who were not committed to the school’s curriculum? Fortunately, the Colorado legislature had provided an answer – the Charter Schools Act.

The huge demand for the educational program offered at Washington Core Knowledge School prompted the school’s founders to begin drafting an application for a Core Knowledge charter school. By the summer of 1995, unresolved issues about the permanence of Washington Core and the authority of the parent board over the academic program spurred a full-scale charter effort.

Meeting after work and on weekends, parents meticulously defined and documented the charter school’s mission, goals, curriculum, governance, budget, facility plan, employee relations, and more. On October 31, 1995, the Core Knowledge Charter School (CKCS) Partnership submitted its application to the PSD Board of Education.

Rather than proceed with negotiations, the PSD board requested more and more information, explanation, and detail. The CKCS board, led by Chairman Phil Christ, diligently responded to each request, but to no avail. On December 11, the PSD board voted to deny the charter application without ever having met to negotiate with the parents.

Undaunted, the CKCS board appealed the decision to the Colorado State Board of Education. In February, the state board sided with the parents and instructed the PSD board to negotiate an agreement in good faith with the charter group.

State of Colorado

 

 

The Colorado State Board of Education consistently sided with the parents who fought to open Liberty Common School.





Weeks of meetings ensued. It appeared the two sides were slowly coming together. However in an 11th hour surprise, the PSD board suddenly voted to “approve” the charter with several major restrictions, not previously discussed: the charter would be limited to two years, enrollment would be capped at 300 students, and the school would be limited to a K-6 program, thereby eliminating the school’s innovative junior high program.

PSD further directed the charter school to find space in a non-district building and execute the charter contract with PSD no later than June 1. The constraints made it virtually impossible to open the school.

Disappointed, the CKCS board filed a second appeal with the State Board of Education. In an apparent attempt to quash the charter school, PSD unleashed its attorney. A paper war erupted as the lawyer threw legal obstacles in the path of the charter school. The charter group managed to fend off the legal challenges and was finally granted a hearing before the state board.

At the April 23 hearing, the final punch was landed when PSD announced it had filed suit against the State Board of Education and CKCS Board of Directors! Concerned that the lawsuit could result in an injunction preventing the charter school from opening, the state board recommended the charter group try to open a school with PSD’s restrictions.

Dozens of outraged parents criticized the legal shenanigans at the next PSD board meeting. PSD director Bob Bacon denied they had sued parents and accused charter supporters of promulgating a “big lie.” But PSD President Mike Liggett confirmed the lawsuit had indeed named five parents: Phil Christ, Randy Everett, Timothy Gilmore, Cheryl Olsen, and Maureen Schaffer, as defendants.

The clock was ticking down to the June 1st deadline. Charter parent Peter Kast, a commercial realtor, conducted yet another survey of potential properties to accommodate the PSD-imposed school configuration. A near match was identified. However, two adjustments to the restrictions would be necessary:

  1. Increase the charter length to 5 years to amortize building improvements.
  2. Increase the enrollment cap to 364 students to meet the annual lease and maintenance obligations.

The charter group entreated PSD to consider adjusting the restrictions. The PSD board refused to consider the request. “The Board of Education will not take any further action,” came the response in a May 3rd letter to the CKCS board.

Bacon

 

PSD Board Member Bob Bacon and the rest of the PSD Board filed a lawsuit against the parents who were trying to open a Core Knowledge charter school. Bacon is currently a Colorado State Senator representing the Fort Collins area.







The June 1 contract deadline expired, and PSD dropped its lawsuit against the parents.
The clock had run down. There would be no charter school in 1996.

It was June of 1996. Advocates for the Core Knowledge charter school had come up short after being legally out-maneuvered by the school district. The parents faced a $5000 debt for legal filings and newsletters to its growing list of supporters.

The unsinkable charter group wasted no time mobilizing its next charter effort. They “passed the hat” yet again, this time requesting additional donations to hire a lawyer of their own. The parents contacted local attorney Mike Maxwell to assist in rewriting and negotiating their charter. Maxwell was immediately captivated by the critical nature of the school choice movement. He and his partners donated their time and expertise to the cause.

The name of the new school would be Liberty Common. At a common school, students of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds could obtain a common education. But, why Liberty? Liberty stood for parents who would now have educational choice. Liberty stood for teachers who would no longer have to work in a broken system. And most importantly, Liberty would symbolize the true freedom that can only be achieved when a student possesses an educated mind.

On October 1, 1996 the charter application for Liberty Common School was submitted to PSD, along with a file drawer of supporting documents, reports, and studies. The new charter provided in-depth rationale for each aspect of the school the parents deemed non-negotiable. Still, negotiations drug on for months.

Traut Elementary

Liberty shares a common origin with Traut Elementary. The original Washington Core Knowledge School was renamed Traut Core Knowledge Elementary when the school was moved to this new site the same year that Liberty opened.

Finally PSD approved the charter, and a five-year contract signed on February 24, 1997. Now, the real work would begin! The charter group scrambled to simultaneously find a building and hire staff. Teams of parents conducted interviews at Dr. Everett’s Urology Center. Applicants were quite relieved to learn that physical exams were not part of the drill!

Although there was still no school building, one courageous administrator, Dr. Kathryn Knox, took a gamble and signed on as Liberty’s first headmaster. She quickly melded with the team and donated dozens of hours interviewing potential teachers.

Knox





Dr. Kathryn Knox was the first headmaster at Liberty Common School.







A powerhouse staff with a pioneering spirit was assembled, including Connie Behr, Marie Louise Borak, Gretchen Jeffers, Dave Lunn, Beth Olson, Cherie Pederson, Tina Shockley, and Jeff Seiner, some of whom are all still cornerstones of Liberty today. Teachers joined forces with parents to identify curriculum resources and skills programs to augment the Core Knowledge Sequence.

Meanwhile, parent Peter Kast, worked fervently to pull together a suitable building and financing for the new school. Pursuing multiple deals simultaneously, Peter never gave up as each financing option ultimately collapsed. Would anyone lend money to this unknown entity called a charter school?

It was now summer and fall was fast approaching. A building was needed immediately if there was to be sufficient time for renovations. Peter assembled a small group of investors to purchase the Colgate factory near the detention center and lease the building to the charter school. The deal closed in late June.

Viadent

The current location of Liberty Common Elementary School at 1725 Sharp Point Drive in Fort Collins was once a factory where Viadent toothpaste and mouthwash were made.

The facility question was answered, but substantial reconstruction was necessary to convert the former toothpaste and mouthwash factory into a school. Thirteen Liberty families put up personal assets as collateral for the million-dollar construction loan. It was now July. Amazingly, the Neenan Company completed the massive remodel in less than 60 days!

The concrete floors were uncarpeted, and the upstairs remained unfinished. A support column stood in the middle of the small gym. The performance hall was non-existent. But none of that mattered.

In September 1997, a dream became a reality as Liberty Common School opened its doors to more than four hundred eager young students in kindergarten through 7th grade. And the rest is history!

History

Liberty Common Elementary School, 1725 Sharp Point Drive, in Fort Collins, Colorado has consistently produced Colorado’s top academic-performance scores and has received state and national recognitions for its exceptional academic achievement.


The History of Liberty Common High School

By Bob Schaffer, Director of Secondary Schools (Founding Parent)

By 2008, The Liberty Common School had been awarded numerous state and national commendations for academic achievement. The school’s students consistently earned top academic-performance scores in the Poudre School District and across Colorado.

Liberty’s reputation as the top-performing school naturally attracted the attention of new parents throughout the region. Enrollment had swelled to 581 students in grades K-9. The school was completely full. The number of families waiting on the lottery list to enroll their children at Liberty numbered well over a thousand.

That year, the Board of the Poudre School District voted to change the grade configuration for neighborhood junior high schools and high schools throughout the district. Where the district’s high schools previously consisted of grades 10-12, high schools would now expand to include 9th graders. This had a direct, threatening impact on Liberty.

The change in the district’s configuration would apply direct competitive pressure on our 9th grade. The writing was on the wall: Liberty either needed to expand to include a high school, or watch its 9th grade wither on the vine. Liberty’s Board of Directors appointed an Expansion Committee to study the feasibility of both options and design a plan for expansion – upward and outward.

The Expansion Committee ultimately recommended expanding into high school, but the question of feasibility required further evaluation. The highest goal was to avoid any compromise of The Liberty Common School’s core mission – teaching the kids already in its system.

On February 5, 2009, Liberty’s Board petitioned the Poudre School District to amend the Charter and to add a third track of K-6th grade and add a 10th, 11th and 12th grade.

A resolution of the Board said it all: “The purpose of completing our high school program is to offer high school education that is college preparatory in nature, specifically builds on the Core Knowledge Curriculum, effectively continues to foster the reading, writing, mathematical and thinking skills particular to Liberty’s current offering, continues the Liberty approach to character education, is small in size, extends the economics, history, science and mathematics foundation that Liberty has established, and makes use of learning opportunities inherent in the thinking framework currently employed at Liberty.”

Though many exchanges and meetings between the district and Liberty were necessary, in August of 2008, Liberty received a letter from PSD’s Board president Larry Neal indicating the district was pleased to move forward on an addendum to the Charter allowing the expansion and the new high school to go forward.

Even though the district had approved the expansion, it wasn’t a done deal. A serious economic recession had stricken the nation and hit Colorado’s School Finance Act pretty hard. All public schools in the state were notified of a financial rescission of allocated funds. Furthermore, they were told the next school year would come with a spending reduction on the order of 6% or more.

Tim Ricketts, Liberty’s business manager was asked to run multiple versions of financial numbers anticipating every conceivable budget scenario. The Board had to make a serious decision involving a long-term financial commitment in the midst of volatile economic uncertainty. The central question was obvious: Now that Liberty has the authorization to expand, can it afford to actually do it given the economic downturn at hand?

Ricketts

Tim Ricketts, business manager at The Liberty Common School worked with the BOD finding complicated financial solutions that allowed Liberty Common High School to become a reality.





Convinced there is no greater priority than the education of their children and buoyed by the strong support for expansion among the Liberty parent population, the Board decided to go forward with the plan. Though optimistic, the Board instructed the administration to build a high school while pinching every penny in order to make the finances work. Salaries for all Liberty personnel were frozen until further notice.

Peter Kast, who negotiated and secured Liberty’s current building, was called again to help find a suitable building, this time for a high school. Peter agreed to help and the search for a new high school was on. Several buildings were considered in the neighborhood of the elementary school, but none of them were panning out.

Kast


Obtaining suitable classroom facilities for The Liberty Common School would not have happened without the leadership of Liberty parent and charter-school champion Peter Kast.







What shall the high school be called? After convening student focus groups and consulting the parent population, it was decided to stick with a brand name that carries with it a reputation for academic excellence: Liberty Common High School.

The school would offer a classical liberal arts curriculum building upon the Core Knowledge Sequence and it would accentuate math, science and engineering. Committees of parents were convened to further develop the curriculum and the course schedules.

Public meetings were held to describe the school, its goals and plans. Administrators described the kinds of teachers they would hire and who from the current school would go to the high school building. A relaxed high-school Dress Code was developed and elated 9th graders were allowed to try it out for their second semester at the old Liberty Elementary School.

The House System was developed. Ninth and eighth graders committed to attending LCHS were assigned to one of three Houses: Domus Scientiae, Domus Virtutis or Domus Prudentiae. They began working on House projects such as House crests, logos, mottos and events.

Still, one question loomed over all of these discussions and activities: Where would the new high school be located?

Hopes for a high-school property adjacent to the current school were fading. Visions of a single Liberty campus were becoming dim. All options considered turned into dead ends. The school was now well into 2010 – the year the high school was scheduled to open, but there was no building in hand.

A building located about one mile south of the elementary school had been occupied by a charter high school for a few years and had been abandoned for a few years more. Would that building work?

Peter Kast approached the building’s owners, got a key allowing the Board to wander through the dusty vacant facility. After the walkthrough, the Board huddled in the parking lot looking on the abandoned school as the winter sun set over its roof. The group began mulling numbers and options. If the price came down and with some minor remodeling, this facility could work. The Board decided to pursue the building at 2745 Minnesota Drive.

It quickly became apparent the poor economy looming over Liberty’s expansion was simultaneously working to the school’s advantage as a buyer in the real-estate market. The price of the building was, by the month, dropping further below its original asking price. With the help of an investment corporation FCCS, LLC, headed up by local developer and charter-school backer Troy McWhinney, a solution materialized allowing The Liberty Common School to lease the building and purchase it a few years later.

Tenancy stretched the Liberty budget to its limit, but the numbers added up – barely. With solid enrollment and aggressive fundraising, the Board believed it could make ends meet.

Churchill





Director of the Elementary School, Casey Churchill organized the move from LCS to LCHS and the expansion at LCS. It was an enormous undertaking of brilliant coordination.





A Letter of Intent was signed in February of 2010. Once an agreement was finalized, the landlord opened the building right away so parents could take a tour. From that moment, excitement punctuated all the work and countless hours required to get the building ready to open by August 18th of 2010.

Teachers needed to be hired. After attending numerous job fairs and accepting applications from around the world, a first-rate team of LCHS educators was assembled.

The high school’s roster of inaugural instructors was announced: Jared Dybzinski, Dr. Charles Hubbeling, Dawn Karr, Marques Kem, William Kranz, Kay, Kay Lannen, Jerry Lavin, Torgun Lovely, Duane Staton, Dr. Barbara Werner, Ken Vetter, Sarah Aguilar-Francis, Megan Ellis, Connie Logsdon, Dave Lunn, Susan Porter, Donny Reeves, Wade Torgeson and Erin Voorhies.

SpicerSchaffer

 

LCHS opened under the direction of Headmaster Russ Spicer (left) and Director of Secondary Schools Bob Schaffer.







Chairman of the Colorado State Board of Education, former U.S. Congressman and State Senator, and founding parent Bob Schaffer, who had been hired as project manager for the high-school expansion, was named Director of Secondary Schools. Along with Headmaster Russ Spicer, the pair would direct the opening and operation of Liberty Common High School.

Architects and contractors worked throughout the summer remodeling the building. The administration shopped at auctions for used school furnishings and equipment. New lockers – cherry red ones – were ordered that would eventually line the empty hallways. New lunchroom tables were ordered, too. There was no turning back now. LCHS would open on time.

The night before LCHS was set to open, students grades 7 – 10 came together at Liberty Elementary School for the last time. Elementary Director Casey Churchill lit a lamp that was carried by students at the head of a 2.2-mile long procession along the Poudre River then West up to the high ground upon which Liberty Common High School sits.

Lamp


Fire

On August 17, 2010 the “Lamp of Liberty” was carried 2.2 miles from Liberty Common Elementary School to Liberty Common High School. The flame lit a ceremonial campfire at the high school and was later carried into the building to illuminate the high school.

The flame from the lamp was used to light a bonfire on the school grounds. The ribbon was cut by the Board of Directors. Flags of the United States and Colorado were posted in the entryway. The lights in the school came on. LCHS was opened.

At 7:45 a.m., on August 18th, 2010, 250 scholars in grades 7 – 10 began the first day of school at Liberty Common High School. Two U.S. Flags flown over the U.S. Capitol that day in honor of the opening of the high school are on display in the school.

History

Liberty Common High School is the Poudre School District’s clearest path to college. It is a tuition-free, public, charter high school. The school is part of The Liberty Common School and was first opened on August 18th, 2010.

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