History of Peak to Peak
The Colorado Charter School Act
C.R.S. 22-30.5-102, The Colorado Charter School Act, was first enacted in 1993. A bipartisan effort, the Act provides for the existence of charter schools and outlines charter schools’ powers and responsibilities. The Charter School Act also establishes each local school board as the charter school authorizer for its district and provides an appeal process to the State Board of Education. In 2004, the Colorado State Legislature also approved legislation providing for a state-level alternative chartering authority.
In accordance with the charter law, Peak to Peak is a Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) school, with its own Board of Directors. Specific details of that relationship are established in Peak to Peak’s contract with BVSD.
Peak to Peak's Initial Proposal
Peak to Peak was born of the dream of parents who envisioned a school dedicated to outstanding scholarship that would challenge students to achieve their academic potential. The school was first discussed among about a dozen people in November 1997. Those gathered were concerned about possible limits to open enrollment opportunities in BVSD and wanted to offer families a K-12 college preparatory charter school option.
The writing of Peak to Peak’s original charter school proposal started soon after that original meeting, and several more people joined the group. Included in this effort were people who had been involved in a number of BVSD choice schools, including High Peaks Elementary School, Burbank Core Knowledge Middle School, Summit Middle Charter School, Horizons Charter School, and Community Montessori. That group worked over the next several months to write the proposal, which was submitted to BVSD on May 26, 1998.
Peak to Peak’s proposal to BVSD is available on Peak to Peak’s website. It identifies the foundation for Peak to Peak’s vision and contains the school’s mission statement, goals, and objectives. In addition, the proposal outlines in objective terms how Peak to Peak will know if it has reached its goals.
Following the submission of Peak to Peak’s proposal to BVSD, Peak to Peak’s original founders and newly elected Board of Directors worked over the summer of 1998. That work included holding public meetings to inform people about the newly proposed school, inviting others to become subscribers, continuing work on the curriculum, grant writing, searching for a facility, and negotiating with BVSD.
Peak to Peak’s proposal was approved by BVSD in August 1998.
The approval of Peak to Peak’s original proposal meant that the school was approved as a concept, but a contract outlining specific obligations for both parties still had to be negotiated. Many details had to be resolved to complete that contract, but the two most difficult items related to budget and facilities. There were many fine points regarding the budget, from the amount to be received from BVSD’s various funds to the services that BVSD required Peak to Peak to purchase. However, the largest negotiating obstacle was centered on facilities. BVSD had a number of under-enrolled schools at the time of Peak to Peak’s original proposal, so the founders requested that the school share one of BVSD’s underutilized buildings. Unfortunately, the resolution approving Peak to Peak’s proposal specifically stated that Peak to Peak would not be sited in a BVSD-owned facility.
The facilities provision was extremely problematic due to the high price of real estate in Boulder County. Of the previously approved BVSD charter schools, two were located in BVSD facilities and two that were denied district space never got off the ground. The two schools that were not given a facility were unable to secure a building on a charter school’s limited budget. Thus, they never opened.
After nearly a year of negotiations and thousands of hours of work, Peak to Peak’s contract with BVSD was approved by the school board. On May 13, 1999, Peak to Peak was officially approved as a charter school by a five-to-two vote. Supporters included Janusz Okolowicz, Don Shonkwiler, Stan Garnett, Bill De La Cruz, and Julie Phillips. Voting in opposition were Jean Bonelli and Linda Shoemaker. Unfortunately, Peak to Peak still needed a facility.
BVSD and Peak to Peak Policies
As part of Peak to Peak’s contract, the school must follow all federal and state laws and BVSD’s policies unless Peak to Peak specifically waives them. BVSD’s policies can be accessed through its website at http://www.bvsd.org. In addition, a copy of BVSD policies, which includes Peak to Peak’s replacement policies, is located in Peak to Peak's Executive Assistant/Communications Director’s office.
Securing a Site: A Difficult Process
Originally, the founders of Peak to Peak planned to open a high school as the first stage of a full K-12 campus. Following the May 1999 contract approval, months were spent trying to secure a location for that program.
When the facility challenges became too great, the Board of Directors and the “subscribers” who had joined the effort before the contract was signed shifted their focus to opening an elementary school. The group worked with Terry O’Connor, a local developer who was planning a new building in Louisville’s Colorado Tech Center (CTC). Technical issues created problems at that site, and the founders contracted to lease an available CTC building that was owned by the same developer. Site plans, which included a circular drive, a playground, and landscaping, were submitted to the City of Louisville. Unfortunately, a neighbor opposed the efforts and worked hard to galvanize opposition. On July 5, 2000, with 300 students enrolled and an additional 300 on the waitlist, the Louisville City Council turned down Peak to Peak’s proposal.
With only six weeks until school was to start, a group continued its efforts to look for any alternative site. Every area municipality was contacted, real estate was combed, miles were driven, and a deadline for finding a site was established. On July 26th that deadline arrived and no site had been secured. That day, in one of Peak to Peak’s bleakest moments, having run out of facility options, Peak to Peak’s Board of Directors voted to end efforts to open in the fall of 2000, knowing that the vote could mean the end of Peak to Peak.
Early the next morning, before the rest of the community could be notified of the vote, everything changed. An earlier real estate contact returned a call about a real estate sign that had been seen in Broomfield. The realtor indicated that the specific commercial building really would not fit the school’s needs, but mentioned that he was about to list a day care center on Excalibur Street in Lafayette. The wheels were again turning! That morning, a Peak to Peak board member went to the school to determine whether it held any hope, and a showing was scheduled for that evening. While too small to house all of the students who had accepted enrollment into Peak to Peak, it was an option, and, within 24 hours of the initial realtor’s call, Peak to Peak had signed a contract for the disheveled, little day care center.
The next step was working with the City of Lafayette to obtain a zoning change. The City’s application deadline was fast approaching, and the approval or denial vote would not occur until August 28th, two days after other BVSD schools had already begun classes.
Peak to Peak was determined to provide a school to those who were willing to take a chance on the Lafayette’s approval. Nine days after the real estate contract was signed, a complete zoning application including a site plan, landscaping plan, traffic analysis, and a summary of how Peak to Peak complements Lafayette’s Comprehensive Plan was submitted at 4:58 p.m., two minutes before the application deadline. The Mayor of Lafayette, who lived in the neighborhood that housed the little day care center was there, waiting to see if Peak to Peak made the deadline. Several weeks later, on August 28, 2000, after much work answering questions to the City and organizing for the public meeting, the Lafayette Planning Commission approved the zoning request and Peak to Peak had a facility!
We were elated to have a building. Unfortunately, the facility would hold only 200 of the 300 students enrolled for the upcoming school year. Options were considered and a creative solution was developed. Peak to Peak held a meeting for all of Peak to Peak’s families and informed them that the school would prefer a regular school year calendar but was willing to move to a year-round calendar in order to accommodate all of those enrolled. As a result of this announcement, a number of families voluntarily left, leaving just the right number of students of 197 to start in September on a regular school year calendar.
During all of the uncertainty that summer, Peak to Peak founders and subscribers, now joined by the newly enrolled families, had to continue their incredible work. If a building was miraculously secured, the school had to be ready to open in the fall. So, work continued. Curriculum continued to be developed, grants continued to be written, administrators and teachers were hired, and the furniture and textbooks needed to start a school were acquired. All of this happened with no certainty that a building would come through. The Acquisition Committee continued to follow every lead in an effort to furnish our building on a very limited budget. That first year, they hit the jackpot and nearly filled the entire school with used white boards, teacher desks and chairs, conference tables, filing cabinets, and bookcases for a total price tag of $600! Teacher desks were purchased for $20 a piece, and the accompanying chairs each cost $20. Only $10,000 was spent on the first library. That money went toward the purchase of a set of Core Knowledge books and a cataloging/circulation system that included a scanner and computer. Yet, the school opened with a collection of 3,000 donated books. After purchasing new student desks, lunch tables, and several miscellaneous items, this amazing team furnished the school for under $35,000. No money was spent on storage, and only $1,000 was spent for moving and labor. This compares to the roughly $450,000 normally spent at other public schools of comparable size.
With remarkable tenacity and immeasurable hard work, the Peak to Peak community cleaned and renovated the newly acquired building in one week. This hard work enabled Peak to Peak to begin its first day of school on September 4, 2000, one week after receiving approval from the Lafayette Planning Commission to operate in the newly renovated day care building.
This building worked well for Peak to Peak’s first year of operation, but was not large enough to house the school’s growth. So, efforts began immediately to accommodate Peak to Peak’s expected enrollment. Another real estate search began, and two attempts were made to secure a site before Peak to Peak successfully located a 26-acre site on Merlin Drive in Lafayette. A contract was signed to purchase the property for the permanent facility, while work simultaneously continued to accommodate the next year’s student growth. To temporarily house its 607 students for the 2001-2002 school year, Peak to Peak operated on two sites. The school obtained Lafayette's approval to place an 8,000 square foot modular building next to the former day care building to increase that site’s capacity from approximately 200 to 300 students. Approval was also obtained from Lafayette to place three modular buildings on the new Merlin Drive campus site to house the additional 312 students in grades 4-9. However, those temporary buildings were only approved for one year. With the impending one-year deadline to build a new campus and remove the temporary buildings on June 22, 2001, Peak to Peak again submitted a site application to the City of Lafayette to construct a comprehensive 97,000 square foot K – 12 campus.
Concern about whether an approval for the final campus could be obtained arose when Lafayette indicated that Peak to Peak needed an additional driveway to accommodate expected traffic. There were only two ways that another drive could be built, either through BVSD property to the north or over a railroad track to the east. Neither seemed feasible and Peak to Peak was again faced with the possibility of not being able to house its students. BVSD turned down the request to build a drive through its property, but indications from the railroad were positive, and in July of 2001, Lafayette approved Peak to Peak’s application with the condition that the second drive be constructed.
Financing for the new school was obtained on July 26th, with the sale of an $18.8 million bond. Peak to Peak made history as the first charter school in the country to sell bonds after one year of operation; the bonds were oversubscribed and sold out within two hours. The bonds, underwritten by Kirkpatrick Pettis, were to be repaid out of Peak to Peak’s operational budget over 30 years. In 2004, Peak to Peak reduced our bond’s interest rate and saved over $1 million over the life of the loan. When Peak to Peak issued its original bonds at 8.31%, the bonds were rated speculative by Moody's Investor Services. Standard & Poor's has now rated Peak to Peak's bonds investment grade. With the State of Colorado’s moral obligation backing and the purchase of bond insurance, Peak to Peak issued bonds with a AAA rating at a new interest rate of 5.18 percent.
Following the end of the 2001-2002 school year, the original building on Excalibur was sold. In September 2002, one year after construction began, Peak to Peak proudly opened the doors of its newly constructed three-building campus to its approximately 1,000 students. The buildings were completed on time and under budget.
With each growth year, parents, teachers, and staff worked together and an amazing volunteer effort was staged. Working with staff, volunteers wrote and organized the City of Lafayette applications, managed the site development, hired teachers and staff, wrote grants, sought supplies and furniture at free or reduced rates, scrubbed buildings and equipment, and moved classroom supplies into the rooms.