The History of our Fort Collins Charter School, T.R. Paul Academy
The vision for T.R. Paul Academy (originally known as the Northern Colorado Academy of Arts and Knowledge) began in March 2005 when founder Annette Riesel Winkler began to explore possibilities for starting an arts-focused charter school to serve the Ft. Collins and Loveland area. Ms. Riesel Winkler, who lived in Ft. Collins and had previously helped co-found three charter schools, was serving as a charter school principle in inner-city Denver but had always dreamed of having a school where the arts were a core foundation of the academic side of education. She emphatically believed that the advantages of academics reinforced by the arts benefits all students in ways that allows children to excel in school and life.
Knowing that facilities are always a challenge for new charter schools, her dream began to gain momentum when she noticed a vacant three-story former government building near Harmony Road. She immediately contacted the owner and described the vision for the new school. Her initial contact with the owner, T.R. (Ted) Paul of Pittsburgh appeared to be in vain when he reported that he had just recently accepted an option to lease the building. However, the next day, Mr. Paul re-contacted Annette and said that he and his daughter, who was a co-owner of the facility, really liked the idea of an arts-centered school and that if she could get a charter approved they would reject the other person’s option for the building. Mr. Paul assured Annette that they would help with the conversion of the 47,000 square foot facility into classrooms if she could obtain approval.
At that point Ms. Winkler made contacts with several community leaders and established the founding board. That board included Ms. Riesel Winkler; Fort Collins Attorney, Ramsey Myatt; Fort Collins Forum Publisher John Kirsch; and retired Loveland Educator Stephanie Benkendorf. Ms. Riesel Winkler successfully applied for and received a $230,000 Walton Startup grant for the school and worked with Mosaica Education to fully develop the arts integrated program. At the same time, Mr. Paul, who was confident that Annette would be successful obtaining a charter through the state’s Charter School Institute (CSI), began developing plans for remodeling the facility at 4512 McMurry in Ft. Collins. He had also committed to help with the financing the project.
In October 2005 the Charter School Institute, by a 5-1 vote, approved the charter and retrofit of the building began in earnest. After the charter approval, the board, working with Mosaica Education, began the process of arranging financing for the $6.7 million building project. Despite some major construction cost overruns that negatively impacted the financing, Mr. Paul and his daughter’s corporation agreed to contribute $1.2 million toward the construction costs and also offered to buy the 30-year bonds, which financed the building. The process used to obtain the financing for the building was overseen and reviewed by several independent attorneys and the Colorado Educational and Cultural Facilities Authority (a state non-profit agency).
On August 15, 2006, the new school opened with more than 300 students and in honor of Mr. Paul’s contribution toward the facility Ms. Riesel Winkler asked the board to approve renaming the school the T.R. Paul Academy of Arts and Knowledge. As the school continues to grow and develop, Ms. Riesel Winkler’s original vision of the arts being integrated into academics is becoming a reality, and it further supports the research that has shown that art is a foundational pillar in the success and academic achievement of children.
Information about Charter School Institute can be accessed here: http://www.csi.state.co.us/pages/Charter_School_Institute