DENVER - Trying to be unique is something at the essence of every charter school. When Sally Sorte founded Academy 360, she joined a movement 20 years in the making.
"I think it's really exciting that we get to be a part of that movement after 20 years," Sorte, founder and school director, said. "We've seen the choices expand tremendously."
Twenty years ago, the first charter schools opened in Colorado as a new breed of public schools. Twenty years later, more than 97,000 students attend charter schools making up about 13 percent of the total kindergarten through 12th grade population in the state of Colorado. This fall, 15 new charter schools are opening around the state.
"I think it's a demand," Nora Flood, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools, said. "We talk about schools that have wait lists of hundreds of kids."
Flood says there is demand for schools that do things differently than traditional public schools. Academy 360 is just two weeks old into being a Colorado first.
"Academy 360 is really about can we use health and wellness and character to help stimulate academic achievement," Sorte said.
Dorothy Shapland is the director of curriculum and instruction at Academy 360. She says creating a new school is big challenge.
"It's always hard to start from nothing and invent something completely new," Shapland said. "We're convinced that this model is going to do something different than other schools have done and I think every charter goes into it with that idea."
According to ColoradoSchoolGrades.com, charter schools rank at the top for middle schools and high schools around the state. For elementary schools, traditional public schools show more academic growth. Flood says the Colorado League of Charter Schools has changed its stance holding more charter schools accountable.
"It's 20 years later, we can't have failing charter schools," Flood said.
Even though it's been two decades, charter schools still face major logistical challenges. Often times, young charter school programs close after suffering financial problems often related to finding a suitable facility.
"Even now, we're sharing space with a church," Sorte said.
Flood says some districts still shun charter schools. Charter schools are usually left out of school district ballot questions for more money in the form of bond issues and mill levy overrides.
"It's really my dream that charter school students finally become seen as public school students that we are no longer the political football that we are no longer the stepsister across the tracks," Flood said.
Sorte believes charter schools can finally be fully accepted, yet still be unique.
"We still don't have it all right. We're still not serving every single of our students," Sorte said. We continue to need new models that can try strategies that can be successful."
(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)