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Embracing the Collaborative Origins of Public Charter Schools

Innovation and collaboration have always been a key piece of the charter school movement.

In 1991, Minnesota adopted our nation’s first charter school law. State Senator Ember Reichgott Junge, author of the first law, describes the important role that charters could play in her book Zero Chance of Passage. Charter schools, Junge wrote, would “give innovation an opportunity to thrive, and the entire public school system can benefit as a result.”

A year later, California public charter schools were authorized by the California Charter Schools Act of 1992 with the goals of improving pupil learning, increasing learning opportunities “for all pupils” and stimulating improvements “in all public schools.”

Unfortunately, despite charter school legislation blasting onto the national stage nearly a quarter century ago, collaboration hasn’t been the norm. According to a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report issued in June 2014, the goal of collaboration between districts and charter schools is rarely realized despite the fact that “more robust communication between the sectors would be beneficial, and leaders of both charter and non-charter schools affirmed their willingness to play a part in that process.”

However, we’re extremely excited to see collaborative compacts begin to gain momentum, especially in the geographic heart of our network.

The Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose is in many ways leading the way with a model of collaboration and partnership with the explicit goal that children in the district will become proficient in English and math by 2020.

According to Matt Hammer, Executive Director of Innovate Public Schools, “this compact could be a model for lots of other school districts and help in closing the achievement gap.”

Under the leadership of Superintendent John Porter, work teams have been formed to develop collaborative approaches to data and progress reporting, teacher leadership and special education. Representatives from charters and community organizations meet with district staff on a regular basis to move this work forward. The district is also working to create a fellowship for teachers and principals who are launching or re-creating schools and developing a peer coaching program pairing teachers from charters and district schools.

The work in Franklin-McKinley has received significant notice and a similar process has begun in the San Jose Unified School District where district and charter participants are currently drafting a compact. This process will identify high-level goals, define participant commitments, prioritize work and develop specific work plans and a governance structure to ensure long-term accountability.

While the compact process is still new and evolving, it is encouraging. As a participant in both the Franklin-McKinley and San Jose Unified processes, it is clear that stakeholders on all sides are committed to successful collaboration in the service of ensuring that all children can excel.

By working together, sharing experiences, talking and getting to know each other as individuals, we continue to make progress and to begin to break down the walls that have separated districts and charters. I am optimistic that these efforts will produce tangible results and am hopeful that other districts will begin to move in a similar direction.

Follow David on Twitter: @DavidKuizenga

David leads Rocketship’s Bay Area’s growth strategy, policy agenda, external relations and community development work. Before transitioning from the east coast back to California where he went to high school and studied at University of California Davis, David was the Chief Administrative Officer for New Leaders for New Schools. David is a cyclist, a frustrated photographer, a backpacker and avid reader. He has three kids through college and lives with his wife, Lauren in the Bay Area.

Published on August 27, 2014

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