The Cortez City Council recently approved a conditional use permit for an alternative online high school, allowing students and staff to continue operations at their new Main Street building.
Goal Academy is an alternative, public charter school operating in Cortez and other Colorado cities. Although its classes are taught primarily online, Goal Academy is defined as a “school” and it requires a conditional use permit to operate at the new location at 2531 E. Main St.
It opened at the site by Denny Park at the beginning of the school year. The permit was approved unanimously at the council’s April 23 meeting, with Councilman Ty Keel recusing himself from the discussion and vote.
According to Sam Proffer, director of the Cortez Planning and Building Department, the city initially thought the site would be used for administrative office space. When staff realized this year that students were using the building on a semiregular basis, they asked for a permit application.
Having the permit will not change Goal Academy’s operations, however.
Goal Academy serves Colorado high school students and uses a blended learning model, combining online curriculum with face-to-face instruction at the 28 drop-in centers across the state. It is accredited by the Colorado Department of Education, and funding is provided through state taxes, like any other public high school.
The school has been in Cortez since 2008 and especially caters to at-risk students and those facing challenging life circumstances who might benefit from flexible scheduling, such as young mothers and students with jobs.
Previously, the alternative school’s physical site was on North Linden Street but moved to 2531 E. Main St. because it’s a larger space.
The new site already had a facility to be used for instructional purposes – a 5,367-square-foot building that housed the High Desert Head Start program. The new building is more spacious than the previous location, according to school staff, and includes a main classroom, student lounge, quiet areas and a covered outdoor patio.
The Cortez campus currently supports about 83 students, associate planner Neva Connolly wrote in a staff report. But according to school staff, the site only sees on average about 11 students a week – since no classes are taught on-site, enrolled students only appear on campus for tutoring and support.
Land use code requires the school to have eight parking spaces, based off the 83-student enrollment count. The code dictates there be two spaces for every 20 students. Goal Academy meets this requirement, since its new campus has 14 parking spaces, along with one ADA-specific spot, Connolly said.
The new site is in an area zoned as “commercial highway,” although schools need a conditional use permit to operate in any zoning district.
The application prompted discussion at the council meeting about what constitutes a “school.”
“It’s a little bit confusing to me, because they’re getting a conditional use permit as a school, and yet it seemed like they kept saying, ‘But we’re not a school,’” said Mayor Karen Sheek. “I realize they’re not a school in the traditional sense, but for zoning purposes, we will consider them as a school?”
City Attorney Mike Green clarified that Goal Academy qualified as a school under state law.
“What this is, is it’s a charter school authorized by another school district, because it’s primarily computer-teaching methods,” Green said. “It’s actually the same in some aspects as SWOS (Southwest Open School), and so it falls under the state definition of, ‘What is a school.’”
Ryan Mathews from Goal Academy also spoke at the meeting during the public comment section of the discussion.
“The biggest thing is that we can’t require students to be on-campus as an online school,” she said. “And we can’t even require or request that they’re there, it’s optional. And some students do come in for services, but we cannot actually require their attendance.”