Right now in San Diego, more than 1,000 families are on waiting lists to enter charter schools. Many of these families live in lower-income neighborhoods with under-performing schools. Others believe their children would thrive in a nontraditional learning environment.

Commentary - in-story logoSan Diego Unified School District has generally been supportive of families’ desire for expanded options and has approved charter schools that meet their strict criteria.

But last month, the district’s board of trustees signaled a sudden and significant policy shift when, in a 3-2 vote, they denied the establishment of Thrive, a charter school I’m leading. The board said the district needs to “re-examine” its approach to charter schools.

The SDUSD board has every right to review the district’s policies on charter schools. But to have changed the rules on us in the end zone — after I’d spent years on the school’s formation and worked closely with district officials to make sure we adhered to every letter of the existing rules — was simply unfair.

In denying our charter, the board bucked its own district staff’s recommendation for full approval, including months of research and combined efforts with my team to develop a K-8 charter school in Mission Valley. They also disregarded a large group of community members, teachers, state officials and private foundations that support this school, as well as the experience and excellent track record of Thrive’s team of leaders.

In the 45-minute discussion that took place during the board meeting, very little was said about Thrive’s 500-page petition for a charter. Instead, board members discussed general charter policy — deciding, apparently, to make an example of Thrive. This made a mockery of the entire charter-approval process, which I worked diligently to navigate.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

At no time could the dissenting board members offer a legitimate reason for denying Thrive’s charter petition. Grasping for one, they actually suggested the changes I made to the petition at the direction of district staff – all in an effort to best serve families — were evidence that I acted in “bad faith.” They then claimed we are “demonstratively unlikely to be successful.”

This is somewhat insulting given our previous success as part of the teams at numerous nationally recognized, groundbreaking charter schools, including High Tech High here in San Diego, and the support we have from superintendents and other organizations who worked with us and know our track record.

READ MORE: Why a New High Tech High Could Complicate the School Choice Equation

Further, one of the board members said that we “lack commitment to the local community.” How can this be? We’re part of the SDUSD community. My team and I were raised here, went to school here, taught here and are now raising our own families here.

It was not the finest hour for the SDUSD board of trustees, which ignored district staff diligence and its own existing policies to deny a school that would have served the influx of families in Mission Valley. The neighborhood, by the way, does not currently have a single public elementary school. Families drive miles to get to their “neighborhood” school.

Thankfully, the County Board of Education has an opportunity to right this wrong when our appeal comes before them next week. We and the many families who indicated they want to send their kids to Thrive are counting on the county board to make their decision based on the merits of our charter petition and the need our school would serve.

The denial of Thrive’s charter by the SDUSD board was unusual – the board has never gone against district staff’s recommendation. It was so clearly unfair that, since the meeting, I’ve received dozens of calls and messages from people familiar with school board politics, suggesting that Thrive is being used as a sacrificial lamb.

I’m an educator, not a political animal. So I’m struggling to understand what would motivate three members of the board to deny our petition. Thrive is well-funded and its curriculum well-designed. It will provide a public neighborhood option school to families that have none.

I can’t argue with SDUSD’s intention to reassess its charter-granting process. It’s the board’s responsibility to set policy direction for the district. All I ask is that they have that discussion in an appropriate forum, instead of piggybacking on our petition.

Remember: If they can pull the carpet out from underneath a school like Thrive, they can do it to anyone. Our schools and the families they serve deserve clarity, consistency and a spirit of service.

Nicole Tempel Assisi is founder and chief executive of Thrive Public School. Assisi’s commentary has been lightly edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

    This article relates to: Charter Schools, Education, News, Opinion, School Leadership, School Performance

    Written by Catherine Green

    Catherine Green is deputy editor at Voice of San Diego. She handles daily operations while helping to plan new long-term projects. You can contact her directly at catherine.green@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. Follow her on Twitter: @c_s_green.

    Marilynn Gallagher
    Marilynn Gallagher subscribermember

    why are you pulling comments...where is freedome of speech?

    Catherine Green
    Catherine Green moderator memberadministrator

    @Marilynn Gallagher  Hi! We haven't permanently removed any comments - those from 2014 are still being migrated over to our new system. Everything should be back by the end of the day!

    Marilynn Gallagher
    Marilynn Gallagher

    This Harkens back to a year and a half ago when OXFORD PREPARATORY ACADEMY tried to establish a charter in Carlsbad, where it is so desperately needed.
    Tthe attorney for CUSD (Shinoff-Sweetwater) contended that OPA should not be approved based on criteria such as :

    1.lack of adequate Curriculum
    2. ability to hire competent teachers
    3. Demographics would not match the school districts
    4. lack of meaningfully interested parents.

    So, even though OXFORD is THRIVING in Chino and SOC, and that the waiting list up there is 800-1000 kids, the school could not provide that here? The proof is in the pudding. The trustees, who apparently are averse to doing any research on their own relied on this biased and absurd info fron their superintendent (who by the way comes from CAPISTRANO, the district in which OPA SOC is thriving and the number one school.)

    AT OPA< all kids are enrolled by lottery, and they teach all kids as if they are GATE. So,
    The Demographics argument was ridiculous because the #1 school in Carlsbad (Pacific RIM) does not even reflect the demographic of its Own school district...it has 3% ESLS, while Carlsbad sits closer to an 8% average. Lottery does not recognize race. so, assuming this will have the same trend as the others, there is no way to "discriminate" enrollment-wise.
    Oxford Prep acquired interest sheets from over 800 parents who filled out the name, address, age and current schools that their child attends. Carlsbad (and their Attorneys) then took action:..to make sure we did not have the statistics necessary to take over a school they had the principals of most schools call the interested parents and tell them that if they were interested in OPA, (and wanted to keep their application as a yes vote) that their spot in their neighborhood school might be gone the following year. This is not protocol, and intimidated many parents to retract their vote. Through PSAC and PTA and a Website called Carlsbad UNIFIED they brainwashed parents into thinking that Oxford would ruin the current schools in Carlsbad by taking an inordinate amount of money from the district to educate out of district children. I guess it is OK for our neighbors at Pheonix, (Encinitas) Guajome, (VISTA) High Tech, (San Marcos) and Classical, (Oceanside) Charters to harbor kids from Carlsbad, but not OK for Carlsbad to provide a great charter for their kids... No JOKE.
    Funny how these same Trustees voted to raise class sizes for our kids, raised our Mello Roos taxes,
    and have ignored falsified statistics from their employees/contractors to "green light" PROPOSITION P Projects.
    Cronyism and Conflicts of Interest are Rampant in Carlsbad. It is amazing how a school can neglect childrens needs so egregiously, and Children are academically neglected.

    Good luck with your charter. OPA is thriving in San Marcos.

    emmy subscriber

    @Marilynn Gallagher  As a parent of CUSD, I would like people to know that most of the parents do not share this same view.  Many claims made are not substantiated by fact, but personal feelings/emotions.  Students' needs have not been neglected (exaggeration).

    I originally signed an interest for OPA and was not pressured by my principal in anyway.  I went to OPA's "sales pitch" and liked what they had to say.  However, I was skeptical.  It turns out, this "thriving" school is not exactly living up to the hype as I had predicted (based on those who have returned their students back to their home schools).

    OPA OC  and chino are doing well, but they have a very desirable student make-up.  I applaud those charter schools that focus on helping the student populations that need them most (as was intended by charter movement).

    I have not been brainwashed, btw.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    Regardless of the factual details, Ms. Assisi, whom I have never heard of before, makes a powerful pitch for her proposed school. I can't wait to hear the other side.


    So sorry that Thrive has to endure this process. But for those of you who have faith that the San Diego County Board of Ed. will right this wrong or really make an educated, vote think again. Two comments made by board members as before the board vote to deny Oxford Prep. was that one board member said, "This is above my pay grade". Another said, "This is not my full time job so I depend on the recommendation by the County". So they do not do their due diligence before they vote. They do not research or reach out for independent information, they vote on what their peers tell them. Only one board member voted to approve OPA, but it did not matter by the time he voted. Curious to see how they vote for Thrive since the District wants it and the Board denied it, sort of a strange twist in the world of Charter approval, usually it is the other way around if they get approved at all. But this is the most crooked political game played at the expense of our children. If a school is good/great and has good track (prior years of success) LET THEM EXIST and let us choose to send our children. If Thrive has experienced people who have a good plan and LET THEM EXIST. GOOD LUCK THRIVE!

    David LaRoche
    David LaRoche subscriber

    Let's end the argument on who is right or who is wrong. The S.D. County Office of Education should be approving or denying charter schools. The school districts look for reason to non-renew and deny charters because they are bought-out by the unions. Charter schools make district look bad through competition - Damn the kids as long as district employees get paid! The County Office of Education will be a neutral entity that works well with district and charter schools; they want to actually help all children. Whether it moves to the county level this year or next, they will someday be the authorizor of charter schools - stop the corruption and let parents and students choose!

    Catherine Green
    Catherine Green

    Hi D, we reach out to folks involved in or engaged with the key narratives we follow - Mario's been checking into charter schools, and I thought it'd be an interesting perspective to hear from a founder who'd had her idea rejected.

    The district board's rationale was pretty well covered in Mario's original stories (http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/01/14/3-curious-reasons-a-charter-school-was-shot-down/ and http://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/01/21/the-charter-school-tipping-point/) but of course, I'd love to hear from groups or community members who want to offer more in the argument against charter schools. catherine@vosd.org3 Curious Reasons a Charter School Was Shot Downhttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/01/14/3-curious-reasons-a-charter-school-was-shot-down/Nicole Tempel Assisi, founder and CEO of a proposed charter school called Thrive, showed up Jan. 7 at the San Diego Unified school board meeting expecting good news. After all, Thrive's petition to open a charter school in Mission Valley looked good.Tipping Pointhttp://voiceofsandiego.org/2014/01/21/the-charter-school-tipping-point/The San Diego Unified School board recently shot down a proposed charter school, opening the door to questions about how many charter schools are too many, and whether the district is on the road to creating a parallel school system. At the Jan.


    Amazing how VOSD is selective in "who and what" gets onto the Opinion Page. Can VOSD explain and post the policy and procedure?


    Jim Jones
    Jim Jones subscriber

    Yea Bill, if she hadn't used SDUSD and "strict criteria" in the same sentence I might have taken her seriously.