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October 20, 2010 The first charter school in California opened in 1993. That same year, the pioneers of the California charter school movement held the first California Charter Schools Conference in one small hotel conference room. From day one, those first charter school operators realized they would need to work together to fight for charter schools.

And fight they did. Strangers from San Diego to Ukiah banded together to stave off restrictive regulations that sought to doom the growing charter movement. Today, due to their perseverance, there are more than 800 charter schools in California.

"In the early days of the charter movement there were just a few of us fighting for our right to exist. Today, there are hundreds of charter school leaders in California, but the threats facing our schools are just as challenging. The conference has always been the most important event of the year because it provides a way for us to stay in touch and strategize about the constantly changing issues affecting our schools," said Irene Sumida, director of Fenton Avenue Charter School.

Although that first group of relentless charter leaders formed the basis for a strong statewide coalition, we must never take the strength we have built up for granted. The threats to our movement are real and it is more important than ever to show our strength in numbers and our commitment to charter schools throughout California.

Though the years, the conference has been the place where charter leaders have gathered together to strategize, whether it is about pushing a new piece of legislation or sharing new innovations from the classroom. From the very beginning, this movement has been about sharing. One of the main reasons for opening charter schools was for the opportunity to try new things in the classroom, and to share the results with all schools. The California Charter Schools conference has also represented a tremendous opportunity to network with other charter supporters. Year after year, charter supporters have created strong relationships and lifelong friendships will colleagues they never would have met if they did not attend this event.

Today the California Charter Schools Conference is a huge event attended by 2,500 charter leaders, teachers and supporters from throughout the state. In 2011, we will have more than 200 businesses on site as exhibitors. The movement has grown so much that we will now be at the San Diego Convention Center, one of the largest conference facilities in the state. There will be more than 150 breakout sessions covering everything from governance training to online learning. We will also have engrossing sessions about fighting for your school at the local, state and federal level.

But at its core this conference is mostly about you and the opportunity for you to interact and advocate with people just like yourself: risk takers who took a chance on building their dream school from the ground up. Eighteen years into the charter school movement, we are only as strong as our commitment to one another.

If you are returning to the conference this year, welcome back. If you have never been, we promise you that you will be stunned by the scope and power of the charter school movement.

The 18th Annual California Charter Schools Conference will be held March 7-10, 2011, at the San Diego Convention Center. Please remember that the Super Early Bird Registration Deadline is Friday, October 22. This is your best opportunity to save on conference registration for your whole team. Learn more about the conference, and register, at www.charterconference.org.

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