Recently I told you about my Education Policy Center friends’ visit to Liberty Common High School in Fort Collins — which principal just so happens to be outgoing State Board of Education chair Bob Schaffer (whose farewell dinner earned a nice tribute in the Colorado Statesman). Well, if you’re going to make the 2-hour round trip from Denver, does it not make more sense to visit two great schools in one fell swoop?
I might say visiting Ridgeview Classical Academy — a rigorous K-12 charter school — was a no-brainer. But the truth is you need all the brains you can get to succeed there. Talk about a place where knowledge, intellectual curiosity, and academic work are neither repressed nor scorned, but embraced by students as part of the school culture? How many other high schools you know would see as the norm three sophomore-level students solving advanced geometry proofs as an elective activity?
While Liberty Common picked up the distinction of having the state’s highest average ACT score, Ridgeview was not far off the pace. But success on a standardized test comes far more as an afterthought than as the focus of the curriculum and program. A better sense of what sets the school apart would be achieved by sitting in on a Socratic-style exchange with students offering informed opinions about a detailed section of Homer’s Iliad. Or by observing a thoughtful, teacher-led class discussion of tactics and strategy in the American Revolution’s Yorktown Campaign.
Ridgeview Classical Academy was founded in 2001 as an offshoot of the original Liberty Common, affording its students the opportunity to continue the rigorous academic journey through the high school years. Through its brief history, the school has been no stranger to lofty rankings and academic accolades. Ridgeview has had its share of challenges, too, but continues to press forward — attracting the interest of hundreds of families who occupy a waiting list for a chance to enroll.
The classical program (which is used by a handful of other Colorado schools, including The Classical Academy) isn’t for everyone. For good or for ill, the near absence of digital technology and the minimal emphasis on athletics apparent on the Ridgeview campus demonstrates a view that runs contrary to the rushing torrent of American educational culture. But it would be inspiring to see more Colorado high schools adopt this approach. Because in an educational landscape rife with “progressive” values, an hour spent observing the classrooms and hallways at Ridgeview offers a breath of fresh air.
Special thanks to staff member Peggy Schunk for guiding the tour and for arranging time with school leaders to sit down and answer questions.