April 17, 2012
As we move into the 20th anniversary year of the passage of California's charter school law, we continue to see emerge new trends demonstrating that charter schools are constantly evolving in ways that poise our movement for even greater impact in the years to come. With that come challenges, such as the regular phenomenon of ongoing efforts to describe our movement in simple categories that set limiting parameters for the level of impact that charter schools can have. But again and again, we see charter school leaders embracing a kind of dynamism and creativity that defies conventional definitions and allows for ongoing innovations that enable charter schools to provide even greater educational alternatives to even greater numbers of students.
Over the past several months, I have been particularly struck by the conversations and school visits I have been having with leaders of conversion charter schools, who are forging new territory and finding ways to leverage their impact more broadly. Examples include conversations I have had in San Diego with Vince Riveroll at Gompers Preparatory Academy and Jonathan Dean at O'Farrell Community School, two leaders whose original conversion charter schools have expanded to serve more students in response to overwhelming demand from parents and their local communities. Both organizations started out as middle schools but are expanding to serve additional grades, embracing a pace of growth rivaling what is happening in many other charter organizations across the state.
There are also exciting developments happening in Los Angeles, where Fenton Avenue Charter School, one of our earliest and most successful conversions, is now in the process of "adopting" the charter of Santa Monica Boulevard Charter School, a conversion that has struggled academically. Similar dynamics are at play in Oakland where Education for Change (EFC), a long-standing charter school organization, has had two traditional district schools agree to "convert into" the EFC organization. So, here we have non-profit organizations holding the charters for multiple conversion charter schools. Existing classifications of charter schools fail to accurately describe such organizations. Should we call them "multiple conversion operators (MCOs)," "conversion management organizations (CONVMOs)," or something else entirely?
Or maybe it is best that we not worry about what to call these organizations at all but, rather, simply appreciate the incredible dynamism, creativity and innovation flourishing throughout our remarkable movement. We have seen in the past few years how many single site operators have opened new schools blurring distinctions between what are single sites and what are CMOs. We have also had many strong leaders who used to work in CMO schools "jumping the fence" by opening their own single sites schools. We have had several leaders of bricks and mortar charter schools migrate into the "hybrid" space integrating a whole new independent study component to their program. And we have seen online providers opening up new facilities allowing them to deliver their computerized instruction while providing students greater in-person contact with teachers and peers.
These are the kinds of "line blurring," "myth busting," "limit-ending" changes that are being pushed forward on a daily basis by charter schools in communities across California. And it is part of the reason why we at the Association marvel at the great progress our schools are making and remain committed to doing everything we can to help our members continue to unleash greatly needed new education solutions throughout our state.
President and CEO
California Charter Schools Association