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Patrick Mason, founding member of a new Barney charter school in Gallup, New Mexico, and husband of founding member Rachel Mason. Rachel Mason | Courtesy

Hillsdale College plans to open four new charter schools next fall through its Barney Charter School Ini­tiative.

“Every com­munity in the country has a need for — and a deficit of — good edu­cation,” Director of the Barney Charter School Ini­tiative Phillip Kilgore said. “If the objective of edu­cation itself in this country as a republic is to create an edu­cated citizenry…then we’ve got to educate the entire cit­i­zenry. And public schools are how the country edu­cates its youth; 89 percent of kids in the country go to public schools.”

Since 2010, the ini­tiative has helped establish a total of 17 clas­sical charter schools across the nation, and it plans to establish four more next year in Gallup, New Mexico; Douglas County, Col­orado; Falcon, Col­orado; and Mel­bourne, Florida. Every Barney charter school begins through local school founders con­tacting the ini­tiative.

One of these founders, Rachel Mason, is helping start the Gallup school, which is located near a Navajo reser­vation. She said she hopes to open with about 120 stu­dents and seven teachers.

Mason moved to Gallup in 2010 with Teach For America, a group of edu­cators who teach in low-income schools across the nation.

“The whole point with Teach For America is that if you work really hard, you can help the stu­dents,” Mason said. “And I did work really hard, and the stu­dents did really well, but I was kind of frus­trated because I didn’t feel that the cur­riculum did very well for students…All of the inter­esting, beau­tiful content was taken out of the cur­riculum. It was really just teaching specif­i­cally math and reading skills, and even then, it was not teaching in the most effective way.”

Mason said she knew of many suc­cessful schools in more affluent areas that used a clas­sical cur­riculum. She said she thought her stu­dents were just as capable of using the cur­riculum as anyone else, and once her own children became school-age, she and her husband wanted to find a school option in their area that was also effective.

After researching cur­ricula for the new school she hoped to start, Mason dis­covered the Barney Charter School Ini­tiative online and was pleased to find that the ini­tiative uses the same cur­ricula she had been planning to use.  

“I was really impressed with the [Barney charter] schools,” Mason said. “All the schools seemed to be suc­cessful and are doing great things for their stu­dents, so instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, I thought we could replicate that in our area here.”

Another new school is opening just south of Denver, Col­orado, next year. Ascent Clas­sical Academy of Douglas County is the second project in a network of Col­orado charter schools, founded, in part, by Derec Shuler.

“I think there’s a huge thirst and demand from fam­ilies for clas­sical edu­cation,” Shuler said. “We found that a lot of parents may not know about clas­sical edu­cation at first, but they do know that their children are not getting some­thing important in their for­mation.”

Shuler helped to start his first school, Golden View Clas­sical Academy, in Golden, Col­orado, in 2015. After that, he and several others formed a “home­grown repli­cation network” of schools called Ascent Clas­sical Acad­emies, under which he plans to start a new charter school each year for the next 10 years with the support of the Barney Charter School Ini­tiative.

Shuler had been involved in several charter schools before founding his own, and he said the charter school mission became more per­sonal to him when he had his own kids. The network in Col­orado has now become his full-time job.

Kilgore said the stu­dents in Barney Charter schools, even the ones in high-poverty areas,  gen­erally perform well.

“We’ve got three schools that are in neigh­bor­hoods where stu­dents are coming more from poverty,” Kilgore said. “So those schools by these external stan­dards are not quite as impressive, but when you compare them to other similar schools with high-poverty student pop­u­la­tions within that area, they actually look very good…Sometimes they don’t have these amazing results in the first year like a lot of these schools do. But when you actually compare them on a level playing field, they have a good story, a really good story.”