The History of Liberty Common School (Part One)
Dr. Maureen Schaffer, Founding Parent
Liberty Common Elementary School first opened its doors in September of 1997, but the story of The Liberty Common School dates back much further.
In the early 1990s, true educational choice was non-existent in Poudre School District. Parents without resources for private school sent their children to neighborhood schools. Nebulous curricula were largely determined by individual classroom teachers, leading to gaps and repetition in student learning. Dissatisfied, small groups of parents began to read, research, and meet throughout PSD in search of better options.
One young couple, with a seemingly insatiable interest in education issues, emerged with a solution. After months of research, Dr. Randy Everett and his wife, Ruth Ann, identified several fundamental elements they believed most parents desired in their children’s schooling:
- Parental choice in education
- A core curriculum of specific content knowledge
- Solid, content-driven skill instruction
- Teaching the values of a democratic society
- School-based management
Randy and Ruth Ann took their message on the road, placing advertisements in the local paper, and speaking in living rooms and meeting halls throughout the county. Soon, hundreds of parents had joined the cause.
In the spring of 1993, Dr. Everett submitted a proposal to the PSD Board of Education to establish an elementary school-of-choice organized around the Core Knowledge Sequence. The educational community fought the proposal with gusto. District teachers testified before the school board, pronouncing the Core Knowledge Sequence too difficult to teach or learn. Despite this strong opposition, the school board approved the request, and the Washington Core Knowledge School opened with 125 students that fall. This progressive episode in PSD’s history is documented on pages 62-63 of The Schools We Need by E.D. Hirsch.
Washington Core Knowledge School flourished. Parents painted the run-down school building and gathered curriculum resources. Courageous teachers joined the team, and students began to outperform their peers at neighborhood schools. In two years, enrollment had nearly doubled, and the waiting list numbered in the hundreds.
To meet this high demand, the school board allowed Washington Core to further increase enrollment and move into a portion of the old Fort Collins High School building (now the CSU Center for the Arts at 1400 Remington Street). In a monumental construction effort led by parent volunteer Carol Christ, the vacant high-school building was converted to an elementary school over the summer of 1995. Things were going well for Washington Core, or so it seemed.
The school district notified Washington Core that its two-year pilot program had ended. Faculty would now be determined by the district rather than the school’s parent board. Sadly, the district immediately fired two teachers replacing them with “tenured excess” teachers from within PSD.
The founding parents were dismayed. How could the school retain its integrity if PSD brought in teachers who were not committed to the school’s curriculum? Fortunately, the Colorado legislature had provided an answer – the Colorado Charter Schools Act.