February 15, 2012
This month I had the opportunity to visit with Malka Borrego at Equitas Charter School in the Pico-Union area of Los Angeles, and our conversation touched upon many of the recurring themes of opportunity and challenge that confront California's charter schools. Malka started Equitas in partnership with Building Excellent Schools (BES), an organization that provides year-long fellowships for leaders wanting to establish "gap-closing" charter schools in high-need communities across the United States. California has been fortunate to have had eight BES fellows start schools in our state, including Hrag Hamalian at Valor Academy and Penny Schwinn at Capitol Collegiate Academy, whose outstanding schools I've had the opportunity to visit in recent months.
On the day I visited Equitas, Malka and her staff were hosting over 40 visitors from across the nation who had come to learn about how Equitas has been able to generate such high levels of learning during its very first years in operation. As we toured classrooms observing the school's highly effective teachers at work, Malka told me about the school's plans for the future - her impending move into a new school facility being developed in collaboration with Pacific Charter School Development and the anticipated opening of a new middle school in response to requests from parents to expand her offerings.
As always comes up during conversations with leaders of new and growing charter schools, we discussed the ridiculous hardships that young charter schools face in California - the denial of funding for programs such as class-size reduction, the denial of access to startup loans such as the Revolving Loan Program and other loans to overcome deferrals, and the ongoing difficulty charter schools face accessing adequate facilities. While Malka and I acknowledged that there are certainly reasons for hope - the Governor's budget for one which could eliminate significant portions of the funding inequity for charter schools - we also talked realized the urgent need for California to improve the policy environment for charter schools so that organizations such as BES maintain their long term focus on our state.
Fortunately, Malka, like so many of California's other charter school leaders, realizes that the only way we will be able to address these problems is by increasing our advocacy strength, and, in addition to the great work she is doing at the school level, she is taking leadership on a variety of advocacy matters. Not only did she help Equitas encourage large numbers of parents to participate in the successful "Schools We Can Believe In" rally in Los Angeles, but she has expressed her interest in helping us to advocate on behalf of the movement in other capacities.
It is visits like this, which I have the opportunity to enjoy on a weekly basis, that fill me with even greater confidence that our movement will prove resourceful enough to push through whatever challenge is before us. I hope you think about your place in the movement and how together we can advance the movement.
President and CEO
California Charter Schools Association