Frequently Asked Questions
Why Classical Education Option in Woodland Park?
Trends in education reveal a desire for choice among schools within districts, no matter how phenomenal or unique that public school system. Local Ute Pass families have also expressed this need. As a classical, Core Knowledge® public charter school, Merit Academy will provide a choice in the district that many families are currently seeking elsewhere: Choice of classical curriculum, choice of greater parental involvement, choice of community governance, choice of charter school flexibility. Merit Academy will give our families a local choice in the Ute Pass Area and may pull families up the pass who seek a classical education in a pristine and beautiful community.
What Is A Charter School?
One question frequently posed is what IS a charter school? According to CO Charter School Act (C.R.S. 22-30.5), a charter school is, “a public school that enters into a charter contract pursuant to Part 1 of this Act”. What is Part 1? It’s a plethora of legislative declarations and oversights by which charter schools are hereby acknowledged as CO public schools. Some of these include:
“1(a) It is the obligation of all Coloradans to provide all children with schools that reflect high expectations and create conditions in all schools where these expectations can be met;
(b) Education reform is in the best interests of the state in order to strengthen the performance of elementary and secondary public school pupils, that the best education decisions are made by those who know the students best and who are responsible for implementing the decisions, and, therefore, that educators and parents have a right and a responsibility to participate in the education institutions which serve them.”
The Charter School Act lists many reasons for charter schools and education reform, which may help to understand what charter schools are. A couple from the list of many declarations include, “2(a) To improve pupil learning by creating schools with high, rigorous standards for pupil performance;” and “2(f) To provide parents and pupils with expanded choices in the types of education opportunities that are available within the public school system.”
There have been myths passed along about charter schools. Considering this community’s unified objective to provide high quality and distinctive education to all of our area youth, it’s important to address some of these false statements so we can work together towards this goal of distinction.
Is Merit Academy A Private School?
No. Merit Academy is not a private school or a religious school. We are a public charter school founded by the grassroots efforts of local families. These individuals saw a need to build a classical, knowledge-rich option for parents who desire Merit Academy's virtues, mission, vision, and education for their students.
Is there tuition to attend Merit Academy?
No. Merit Academy will not charge tuition. It is funded by per pupil rate, like other public schools. However, we will also pursue additional funding revenues, including grants, donations, and a couple of purposeful school fundraisers.
Is Merit Academy funded by charis bible college or other local churches?
No. Merit Academy is a public school and is not founded, supported, funded, or affiliated with any religious entities. We grew from a great need proclaimed by many local parents. Our students come from many faiths and walks of life, and we do not inquire about their religious background or beliefs in our registration or in our classical, Core Knowledge approaches.
Are Merit Academy Educators Licensed or Experts In Their Fields??
Merit Academy follows a guideline often practiced by universities. We seek and hire top experts in their field to teach our scholars.
Most of our teachers are either certified teachers in CO, or are certified in other states. Furthermore, a significant number of our instructors have graduate degrees in their field. We have engineers teaching math and STEM classes. Our English and History teachers are qualified to teach at the post-secondary level within their fields, including college classes for our own scholars.
We will continue to hire staff in this capacity, as it furthers our ability to offer college courses during high school, known as concurrent enrollment courses, free to our full-time and homeschool students.
Because of our teachers' practical application, experience, and mastery, our students are not passive learners. In fact, these pupils actively engage in discussion, exploration, and inquiry with Merit Academy's experts.
What is An Enrollment Lottery? How Does it Work?
Schools of Choice are required to hold lotteries for registration when the number of enrolling students exceeds the number of students allowed by the charter agreement between District and School. So, if the school agrees to cap at 250 students for that particular year of growth, and 270 have signed up to enroll, a lottery takes place. If those extra 20 students are dispersed among 4 grades (and the remaining grades are within limits), then those 4 grades hold a random drawing (lottery) to see which students are selected for admittance. However, those students who are returning students are automatically provided seat. The lottery is for new students on the enrollment list. Siblings of current students, Merit Homeschoolers, and students who have been on our waitlist for a school year or longer are also provided high priority for seating and, if needed, the lottery.
Once the lottery is drawn, families will be notified of their selection and will have three days to commit to enrollment before another student will be notified of the open seat. Registration paperwork will determine further steps within the enrollment process, including FAPE determination meetings with our UP BOCES and student services teams.
Classical schools similar to Merit Academy often have waitlists and lottery enrollments, particularly as the charter school grows. This is why it is important to complete the Intent to Enroll form if you type of education is a fit for your children.
Does Merit Academy Offer Special Education Services?
Absolutely. Charter schools serve students on IEP’s, 504’s, READ plans, ALP’s, ELL plans and the like. The lotteries for entrance are blind, so schools are not aware of a student’s differing ability until a seat is offered and parents submit the plans. Once a plan is received by the school, a Fair Appropriate Publication Education meeting is set with the special education team ( this includes UP BOCES, Merit Academy, and the parent(s)).
UP BOCES is the special education services provider for schools within Woodland Park School District (including Merit Academy), Cripple Creek Victor School District, and Manitou Springs School District. UP BOCES provides the oversight and additional services needed, beyond the typical special education teachers hired by each school. Merit Academy and the other schools and districts do not receive SPED funding, as it is funneled to UP BOCES for said services, even though all of these schools do provide special education services to students. If, after UP BOCES expenses are paid, there are revenues remaining, they are split up amongst members, based on number of pupils. UP BOCES provides a deeper level of services, ensures programming for greater student needs, and provides the oversight and mentoring in each school.
As with all the districts who are members with UP BOCES (Cripple Creek/Victor, Manitou Springs, WPSD and Merit Academy), if one of their student’s needs, as written in the IEP, exceeds the programming or resources available within their school, the student is served through the school but within the programs provided by UP BOCES.
For instance, if Cripple Creek/Victor has a student in need of an Affective Needs center-based program, they pay the tuition for that student to be served in the program available to the UP BOCES members, which happens to be in a program in the WPSD schools. It was set up this way years ago because Cripple Creek/Victor and Manitou Springs districts were small districts and WPSD was barely large enough (at nearly 3,000 students) to afford and monitor their own centers and moderate/severe needs programs. In this, the resources are combined and are provided in the most central and the largest district of the UP BOCES members: in Woodland Park.
In this, all of our students across the numerous schools (including Merit Academy) within the three districts are served and provided FAPE education. However, sometimes, it happens to not be in the original campus of residency or of registration.
Larger districts run this same way, but without a BOCES, because they have over 8,000 students and are able to set up their own similar program within-district, directing students between schools to the program that provides FAPE for students per their IEP.
What Does It Mean to Have State Waivers?
Merit Academy does have state waivers, allowing us to function with a level of autonomy, while also adhering to the accountability required of public schools. As mentioned in the last column, we assess student performance and we evaluate employees, with the goal of excellence in academics and conduct.
Waivers allow charter and innovation schools to create their own calendar, to establish their own school day system (Merit Academy has more instructional hours than the other schools in the district), to select their curriculum (Merit’s is an intensive classical, knowledge-rich curriculum), to establish and adhere to their own vision, mission, and purpose statement (Merit Academy’s is listed at www.Merit.Academy), to develop their own staff evaluation system (reflecting the school’s virtues, expectations, and curriculum), to determine staff pay (within their budgetary constraints), to gather their own bids (if small work or consulting is needed), to establish their own governance (Merit Academy has our own Board and Headmaster, parallel to WPSD’s Board of Ed and Superintendent), and more. Waivers do not allow charter or innovative schools to negate assessments, student disability plans, accountability, or the like.
These waivers are not unique to charter schools. They are also available to innovative schools, districts of innovation, or (with a small number of “waivers”) rural districts (like WPSD) based on new flexibility for rural districts. Some of these waivers are not necessary in a school district, because there is a level of school autonomy in some areas (for instance, different curriculum may be selected between Columbine, Gateway, and Summit or secondary schools may establish different processes regarding student conduct).
What is the policy regarding grades and homework?
In alignment with our virtues, particularly perseverance, goodness, and responsibility, Merit Academy includes homework as part of the learning process. Not only is it sound practice to further deepen understanding of the concepts, it also informs guardians of what is being taught. Furthermore, homework and exam preparation are tools to teach students the lifeskills and habits of self-discipline, responsibility, organization, and meeting deadlines.
Reading is proven to be one of the strongest indicators of college and career success. It is important for students to experience the wonder of words, the magic of transforming to another world or story and getting lost in characters, symbolism, plot, etc. In that, students of Merit Academy, at all levels, are encouraged to read at least 20 min. a day, outside of the school day. Reading to young students is a great way for parents to model and engage with their children.
Students are expected to learn and display the virtues of perseverance, goodness, and responsibility when it comes to school work. Students are expected to give their best effort. Grades are not the primary result, they are secondary to learning and mastery. However, people need feedback and measures to gauge where they are in the process and provide guidance on what may be done to further develop skills and thought. Included in grades are the cornerstones of perseverance and responsibility, which support timely submission of required assignments. Upon feedback from parent and educator committees, the Board will design policy regarding late submission, grades, and description of these connections to habit, perseverance, goodness, and responsibility.
How involved are parents/guardians?
Family involvement is imperative to build the strongest foundation for learning, thinking, and wonder. It is strengthens an education culture. Modeling the virtues and becoming involved in the school community not only engages the child in their own learning journey, but it builds support for both family and school.
If guardians are unable to volunteer in the building, in the classrooms, through committees, or chaperone events, they can support students during reading and homework time. There will be other ample opportunities to support a scholar's education and educational organization, and these will be shared throughout the term of the school year.
Don't Choice Schools Steal Money From Districts?
(These families are also taxpayers in our community)
It is important to address the natural, albeit misinformed, concerns that independent public schools will steal money from the public school district. This is not accurate. Traditional budgeting is based on per pupil funding and it is held in the overall district budgeting funds. Districts in cities like Denver and San Francisco realize the shifts in education also mean shifting budgeting practices, and many have distributed per pupil funds to the public school where the students attend, in order to more efficiently manage enrollment adjustments and ensure non-instructional costs properly flex with student population within that district. This is how the choice school works: the funding follows the student. The student is still a local student, at a public school, and the per pupil funding goes to the school of attendance.
This is important when one considers that choice-in school families are also tax payers (district owners) of our community. Remember: Public school districts do not own students, nor can they dictate to parents to which school they should send their children. This premise is cited in the Charter School Act.
In all public school settings, families choice-out of district, and one rarely hears the argument that "out of district" choice is stealing funds from in-district, especially when districts do not have other educational options like charter schools, but that is the argument to be made. In fact, WPSD has lost over 1,500 students since 2003. Additionally, Merit Academy's students are not all coming from WPSD, so Merit Academy is working to bring families back into WPSD.
The goal for enrollment is to keep local students in our area by providing an educational choice in Merit Academy. Another objective is to bring families up the pass who seek a classical school option, founded, run, and governed by local families and experts, in a beautiful setting.
Let's say a set of resident families suggest opening a small locally-owned Italian restaurant in Woodland Park. Folks who enjoy the larger, dominant hamburger spot protest. They cite that the main eatery, the hamburger restaurant, is managing and serving those faithful patrons, therefore, there should be no need for the small Italian restaurant. Worse, if the small Italian restaurant opens, it will be the sole cause for the larger hamburger restaurant's decline. In a free market system, this lacks common sense.
The enrollment and movement of students for the past several years suggests Woodland Park needs the "Italian restaurant" to draw more patrons and improve the overall "dining numbers" and experiences in the area. In this, Merit Academy is actually returning revenues back into the district (including local revenues) through our employment, as well.
What is Merit's policy on screen time?
Absent the extreme case of virtual schooling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most classical education institutions rely on the written word and copies of original works in hand. Even through the closures, many schools continued teaching great works found in classical literature, science, and mathematical proofs, while connecting, presenting, and discussing through virtual means.
There is a vast amount of evidence through scientific studies regarding improved learning and neurological response by writing with pen vs. typing on a keyboard. There is also tremendous neurological research on the significance of reading paper books vs. spending time on a computer screen. However, this is not to say we will not use modern technology or don't offer computer sciences or other technology courses. Screen time is strategically used in the classroom and with purpose. Technology science courses offered are the most updated, providing a classical education for modern times.
The traditional classroom limits outside distractions to support a better focus on the lesson being taught in a disciplined environment. In this, the school will have a no-cell phone policy for students.
I see many classical schools require a uniform. Does Merit Academy require a uniform?
Yes. There is a strong correlation between student appearance and perception of excellence. Additional reasons for the uniform dress code include:
Foster a distinct and positive Merit Academy appearance
Increase commitment to MA's core values and beliefs.
Discourage divisiveness or cliques and encourage core cohesion and respect
Increase student parity
Please see UNIFORM GUIDELINES
How big are class sizes?
While it is hard to project at these early stages, our goal is to have smaller class sizes, typically 16-22 students per class in K-5; 20-24 per class in grades 6-12. The younger grades will fall on the smaller spectrum of class size. We will also have educator support through paraprofessionals and volunteer parents to further allow quality attention to our students.
What Is Your Stance on Vaccines?
We believe vaccines are a parent's choice. We will not push or try to persuade our parents to vaccinate, or to not vaccinate. That is a parental decision.
The State does require parents to complete a vaccination waiver, if they choose to not vaccinate children. We would encourage parents to complete the form, as a declaration of their parental rights to not vaccinate their children.