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LESSON PLANS: Rocky Mountain Academy hires executive director

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

With an eye toward a leader who is both a principal and more visible in the community, Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen has hired Roberta Harrell as its new executive director.

Harrell has worked in both public and charter schools, so she understands the challenges RMAE faces, according to Alan Scheik, vice president of the charter school's board. Harrell was hired on a unanimous board vote after a search that netted 27 candidates.

She replaces Dan Cohen, who resigned in May to become director of the Ricks Center, a preschool through eighth-grade school at the University of Denver. 

She said the Core Knowledge curriculum that RMAE is known for is one of her passions, along with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. She hopes to empower teachers to give students more individualized instruction and wants to concentrate heavily on improving math instruction.

She is a proponent of authentic learning, which allows students to explore and discuss issues regarding real-world problems. She envisions, for example, a fourth-grade class studying the Revolutionary War to connect using technology with a fourth-grade class in Britain to debate whether the war was justified.

She also wants more authentic assessment of student learning and to get more parents involved by having them help evaluate what students have learned.

She applauded the school’s work with an organization called Random Acts of Kindness that helps children become good citizens. 

Scheik said Harrell’s role also will be to improve RMAE’s visibility in the community and to help the school connect with corporations and other schools to promote learning.

She said Harrell would be looking for grants and partnerships to help the school, which has had some financial issues. Last year, the school asked each family to donate $600 per child to help make ends meet and pay for the school’s mortgage on its buildings.

Harrell sees helping with funding as a big part of her job.

Harrell has a doctorate in administration and policy studies. She taught fifth-grade at Bradford Elementary and was an assistant principal at Dennison Elementary School, both in Jeffco. She also worked at Littleton and American charter schools in Colorado.

She’s married to Steve Harrell, who is the development director for the nonprofit Invest in Kids. She has two grown children, Grant and Austin, and is expecting a grandbaby in October.

Private school for dyslexic children to open

Evergreen has a new specialized private school for children in first through eighth grades who are diagnosed with dyslexia.

Vertical Skills Academy on Castle Court is meant for children to attend for a couple years until they learn the skills needed to succeed in a regular school that is reading based. The student-teacher ratio will be five to one, so students will get a lot of individual attention, according to Audra Chapelski, the school’s principal. The maximum enrollment the first year will be 20 students, she said.

Chapelski and partnerKara Osberg have been talking about the school for three years, and they finally decided to “jump off the cliff,” as Chapelski put it. “We decided, ‘Let’s just do this.’ ”

Students will spend a half day on reading skills and the remainder of the time on science, math and other subjects. The tuition is $17,300 for a full year, and students have the option to attend VSA for a half day.

Chapelski and Osberg are working to obtain nonprofit status so fund-raising can be done to help families pay for tuition. 

Chapelski and Osberg picked the name “Vertical Skills Academy” because students will develop strong skills to learn how to read.

Chapelski said the school can help fill the gap for families with children with dyslexia because other intensive programs are down the hill. 

The school will use the Orton-Gillingham program to teach the children reading. Osberg is certified to teach the program, and Chapelski, a certified teacher, will help teach other subjects. Two other certified teachers will join the team.

The school is hosting two open houses from 6 to 8 p.m. this Thursday and on Aug. 18.

For more information, visit verticalskillsacademy.org or call 303-562-1900. The school is located at 32156 Castle Court, Suite 209.

Have tips about schools in Evergreen? Contact Evergreen resident Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com.