Aerospace middle school Colorado Skies Academy opens at Centennial Airport

Charter adds new aspect to flight campus of Wings Over Rockies


The awkward middle school years got an exciting boost for many students last week when Colorado Skies Academy opened at Centennial Airport.

“It was very exciting the see students actively engaged in project-based learning,” said Robert Olislagers, the airport’s executive director. “This morning, I saw students learning about gravity using — I think — coffee filters for homemade parachutes. Several students commented that it was the best first day of school ever!”

The aerospace-focused middle school opened under the Cherry Creek School District after some bumps in its start. The district halted the school’s application in November, only to have that decision remanded — or sent back — by the Colorado State Board of Education in January.

The school district said it supports the tuition-free public charter school, but the school had failed to meet a necessary condition. Colorado Skies on Nov. 15 was required to provide documents indicating prospective students’ intent to enroll, but the school submitted only 24 letters of intent at that point. The school’s application said it intended to open with 225 students.

The current enrollment is 130 students “and quickly growing,” said Dave Cieslak, a spokesperson for the school. Colorado Skies agreed to provide enrollment status updates to the school district and has been keeping officials up-to-date, Cieslak added.

After getting past the regulatory hurdles, Colorado Skies held its first day of classes Aug. 19, kicking off an educational program that focuses on STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.

The school — launched by iLEAD, a California-based charter school entity — aims to prepare students for aviation and aerospace careers, its website says. The school is open to all residents of Colorado, not just those in Cherry Creek School District.

Suzanne Acheson, Colorado Skies’ director, said CSA is continuing to grow “and the sky truly is the limit!”

“We are overjoyed that hundreds of families from across our community have embraced Colorado Skies Academy and enrolled their learners at our school,” Acheson said in a statement. “The overwhelming interest — which spread quickly through the community via social media and word of mouth — shows that parents want their children to benefit from our project-based learning curriculum and participate in our unique aerospace programs.”

In the right place

The school is located at the 15-acre “Exploration of Flight” site at Centennial Airport, a new location for the nonprofit Wings Over the Rockies, which focuses on education about aviation and space.

Wings Over the Rockies points to a great need for personnel in the air and space industry — pilots, aircraft maintenance workers, engineers, air-traffic control and the like — and the Exploration of Flight campus wants to be part of the solution. Spokesperson Ben Theune has said the nonprofit wants to make the site “an ecosystem for aerospace education.”

Wings’ site also features the Boeing Blue Sky Aviation Gallery, the campus’ first facility, which opened in July 2018. It’s a 19,000-square-foot hangar that offers visitors a chance to use flight simulators and even experience flying in a real plane.

The Ozmen Black Sky Space Gallery, the next addition, will likely open in 2021 or later, Theune said. It’ll be based around cutting-edge space technology and concepts.

Facilities aside from the Blue and Black Sky galleries and Colorado Skies Academy are to be determined, and there will be space left to build on the site after Black Sky is finished, Theune said.

The Wings nonprofit also runs the Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum at the former Lowry Air Force Base grounds in Denver.

Aviation pipeline

Colorado Skies Academy sits at 13015 Wings Way near East County Line Road and South Peoria Street, on the southeast side of Centennial Airport.

The airport is mostly in unincorporated Arapahoe County just south of Centennial and extends south into Douglas County. The airport’s name predates the city’s.

Cherry Creek School District also offers aviation-focused education at the nearby Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, which opened this month.

That 117,000-square-foot campus offers many areas of study — from construction management to cooking, from airplane maintenance to cybersecurity.

The Innovation Campus will offer both college credit and industry-recognized certifications for students looking to go straight to the workforce.


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