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The History of Liberty Common High School (Part 1)

The History of Liberty Common High School (Part 1)
Mrs. Michelle Provaznik and Headmaster Bob Schaffer, Founding Parents
In May of 2013, Liberty Common High School graduated its first senior class. This was the culmination of an epic effort started in 2008 when Liberty Board of Directors Chairman Craig Horton and Board Member Michelle Provaznik attended a charter-school conference in Denver.
Information the pair gathered at the conference, along with general statewide excitement about the growing success of charter schools in Colorado, provided the impetus to explore expanding Liberty Common School to a full k-12 school. Also attending the same conference was LCS founding parent, Laurel Van Maren, who was on the Ridgeview Classical Schools Board of Directors at the time. The three discussed moving forward with a Liberty high school and began meeting for the purposes of laying out general plans for the school.
This was not the first time Liberty's parent leaders considered a high-school expansion. In fact, the idea had been pondered twice before but failed to garner enough support from the Board of Directors or administration due to a variety of issues including financial feasibility.
In 2008, things were different. Liberty Common School's kindergarten through ninth-grade program had been awarded numerous state and national commendations for academic achievement. The school's students consistently earned top academic-performance scores in the Poudre School District and across Colorado. The school had achieved national "Blue Ribbon" status and was regarded as a premier nationwide example of excellence by the Virginia-based Core Knowledge Foundation.
Liberty's reputation as a nationally-known, top-performing school naturally attracted the attention of new parents throughout the region. Enrollment had swelled to 581 students in grades k-9. The school was more than completely full. The number of families on the lottery list waiting to enroll their children at Liberty numbered well over fifteen-hundred.
That year, the Board of the Poudre School District voted to change the grade configuration for neighborhood junior high and high schools throughout the district. Where the district's high schools previously consisted of grades 10–12, PSD’s high schools would now expand to include ninth graders.
The change in the district's configuration would apply direct competitive pressure on Liberty's ninth grade. The writing was on the wall: Liberty either needed to expand to include a high school or watch its ninth grade wither on the vine.
Horton and Provaznik, with the support of Van Maren, presented their high-school ideas to their colleagues on the Liberty Board of Directors. Though the initial response was lukewarm, the Board formed a committee to explore and evaluate the feasibility of expanding the school through twelfth grade. Horton was selected to chair the Expansion Committee.
The Committee's first step involved holding a community meeting. In October of 2008, a notice went out to all parents about the idea of creating a high school. Over 80 people attended the meeting.
Not only were parents of Liberty students interested in the formation of a high school, but prospective Liberty parents were also interested in the addition of more K-8 classrooms (one additional classroom per grade) in the hopes their children might be called from the extensive lottery list to fill new slots (30 new students per grade) that would be created.
The goal of the Expansion Committee was to create a comprehensive business plan to prove the feasibility of the whole-school expansion. Seven subcommittees were formed, involving over fifty parent volunteers. The subcommittees were chaired by the following parents:
  • Athletics: Dan Knab
  • Character Education: Mark Sutherlin and Kendra Mosely
  • Curriculum: Michelle Provaznik
  • Facilities: Tricia Diehl and Peter Kast
  • Finance: Dan Provaznik
  • Marketing/Enrollment: Melanie Seilbach
  • Scheduling: Angela Horton and Krissy Kopren

The subcommittee’s efforts centered on creating a high school from the ground up. At the time, there was no blueprint or instructions to refer to, so the committees performed extensive research to develop curriculum, sports programs, campus policies, facilities, etc. The highest goal was to avoid any compromise of Liberty Common School's core mission—teaching the kids already in its system.

Mr. Tim Ricketts (deceased), former business manager of Liberty Common Schools, worked with the BOD to find complicated financial solutions that allowed the high school to become a reality. 
Another public meeting was held on January 6, 2009 to gauge community interest. Many parents were interested in the expansion and signed their students up for the waiting list. Several members of the Poudre School District (PSD) Board of Directors also attended the meeting. Their initial reaction seemed supportive. That mattered. If the expansion was to occur, PSD's approval would be required.
Ultimately, at a meeting of the Liberty Board of Directors, administration, and parents on February 5, 2009, the Expansion Committee recommended Liberty expand and add a high school. The Committee's presentation showed that not only was the expansion feasible, but that Liberty would, in fact, be in financial jeopardy if the ninth grade was lost at the hands of PSD’s plans for grade reconfiguration.
With very conservative enrollment estimates, the findings showed that expansion of grades 9-12, simultaneously with the addition of a third track of k-8 was not only possible, but would allow Liberty to thrive. The Expansion Committee was thrilled to have founders Dr. Randy Everett and Dr. Maureen Schaffer speak in favor of the expansion.
On February 19, 2009, Liberty's Board petitioned the Poudre School District to amend Liberty's Charter and to add a third track of k-6th grade, to also add a tenth grade, and to phase in an eleventh and twelfth grade in subsequent years.
A resolution adopted by the Liberty Board of Directors said it all: "The purpose of completing our high-school program is to offer high-school education that is college preparatory in nature, specifically builds on the Core Knowledge Curriculum, effectively continues to foster the reading, writing, mathematical and thinking skills particular to Liberty's current offering, continues the Liberty approach to character education, is small in size, extends the economics, history, science and mathematics foundation that Liberty has established, and makes use of learning opportunities inherent in the thinking framework currently employed at Liberty."
Many exchanges and meetings between the district and Liberty ensued. Craig Horton, Michelle Provaznik, and Mr. John Rohrbaugh were asked to present the case for the Liberty expansion at a PSD Board meeting.  Ultimately, the PSD Board agreed to pursue negotiations with a vote of 6-1. Final negotiations proceeded.
In August of 2009, Liberty received a letter from PSD's Board president Larry Neal indicating the district was pleased to move forward on an addendum to the Charter allowing the expansion and the new high school to go forward.
Even though the district had formally approved the expansion, implementing it was hardly a foregone conclusion. An acute economic recession had stricken the nation and hit Colorado's School Finance Act pretty hard. All public schools in the state were notified there would be a punishing rescission of previously allocated state funds - funds upon which Liberty was counting. Furthermore, it was announced the state would reduce spending for the next year on the order of 6% or more. 
Mr. Ricketts was asked to run multiple versions of financial scenarios anticipating every conceivable budget situation. The Board had to make a serious decision involving a long-term financial commitment amid the funding rescission, the budget reduction, and a precarious economy.
  • History of Liberty Common School