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.”