The Learning Curve is a weekly column that answers questions about schools using plain language. Have a question about how your local schools work? Write me at maya@voiceofsandiego.org.

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Chula Vista Elementary School District has a different kind of relationship with some of its charter schools.

The Learning CurveThe district authorizes two kinds of charters: dependent and autonomous.

Autonomous, or independent charters, are common in most districts. A district authorizes the charter but the schools operate largely on their own. Dependent charters are more closely tied to their district authorizer.

Chula Vista Elementary School District has five dependent charters and two independent charters.


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At four of the five dependent charters, the superintendent of the district chose the school principal. District representatives have a seat on the school board of the dependent charters. These charters also outsource many operational services, like human resources.

“It’s definitely more of a partnership,” said Chula Vista Elementary School District Superintendent Francisco Escobedo. “Traditional public school organizations and charter school organizations can come together and learn from each other in programs and how to best create a learning environment. We have a great exchange of ideas between our public schools and our charter schools.”

Escobedo said he also views the charters as a sort of research and development laboratory for the district, since charters can try new things on a small scale.

I reached out to all the dependent charters in the district, but didn’t hear back from any of them.

I did get to chat with Josh Stepner, the director at the Leonardo da Vinci Health Sciences Charter School, an autonomous charter in the district.

Although his school has more independence, Stepner said he feels the same collaborative relationship with the district.

At other districts he’s worked in, “we were kind of the red-headed step children. We got services last, looked at last for substitutes. Hard to get things going, Not really an open relationship in terms of communication,” Stepner said.

But Stepner said he’s always invited to participate in professional development and feels that the relationship is more open than at other districts.

“Charter school principals, in my opinion, are honestly left to find their own professional development,” he said. “And it can be challenging, because when you’re in a charter, you’re immersed in your school. When you’re in a district, all the principals are brought to professional development to exchange ideas.”

It’s helpful to have open communication with the district in other ways too, such as being able to sit down with the district’s finance department when you have questions, he said.

“There are certain times when you need the district and certain times when you don’t,” Stepner said. “When things get rough at your school, say you have an incident where student brings a weapon, that’s a big deal for a school of 300. That’s where the district comes in.”

While Stepner is happy with the relationship with the district, he said he doesn’t think he would want to be a dependent charter.

“Dependent charters have to do everything that the district does, and cater to the charter community,” he said. “That’s just a lot.”

Anthony Millican, the district’s director of communications and community development, said part of the reason the district works closely with its charters that the district doesn’t view charters as competition.

“There’s always been a great deal of confidence in our public schools,” Millican said. “We haven’t been threatened by the charter movement because we’re confident that our schools can hold our own.”

Enrollment at Chula Vista Elementary School District has been increasing for some time because of its reputation and thanks to residential growth, said Millican, though he thinks enrollment is beginning to level out.

“I think we take a whole different paradigm,” said Escobedo. “They teach the kids in our community. Every child within the community of Chula Vista is our customer. I find that as being important that I’m connected to the charter schools. There also is movement of students between charters and public schools.”

But Escobedo said he has one issue with charters: when they aren’t community-grown.

“The spirit of the charter movement is that it should be locally grown by parents, teachers or community members,” he said. “They shouldn’t be working in isolation when they’re in our community, so I do have a concern with for-profit or outside entities authorizing charter schools.”

Local Ed News

• The principal of Perkins K-8, a school in Barrio Logan where the population of homeless students went from 4 percent to 33 percent in just three years, took me on a tour and explained how teachers there have changed the way they teach in light of the school’s shifting demographics.

• VOSD’s Kinsee Morlan wrote an op-ed about how cut-off dates for transitional kindergarten drive inequality.

• EdSource rounds up what happened with some of the big education bills in this year’s California legislative session.

• The president of the UC system and former head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, is fired up about DACA and Betsy DeVos. (Politico)

• A state bill would end remedial courses at community colleges that extend the time it takes to earn a degree and instead have colleges concurrently enroll students who need extra help in college-level courses and a remedial break-out course – something Cuyamaca College and Mesa College have already started doing. (KPBS)

• Los Angeles Unified will provide $150 million in additional funding to 50 high-need schools over the next three years as part of a settlement to a lawsuit that alleged district officials misspent hundreds of millions in state funding intended to help English-learners, foster youth and students from low-income families. There have been questions raised across the state about how those funds are being used by districts. I tried to figure out how San Diego’s largest district uses them, too. (EdSource)

Other Ed News

• There’s a pattern across the globe: Wherever girls have access to education, they eventually outperform boys. In the Middle East, it happens by a greater margin than almost anywhere else in the world. (The Atlantic)

• After the 2016 presidential election, high school English teachers are rethinking the reading lists and assignments they typically give students. (Politico)

• Failing charter schools in several states have gone private and use voucher programs to tap into public funds. (ProPublica)

• The heartbreaking account of a school that collapsed in Mexico’s earthquake. (New York Times)

• EdWeek did a Q-and-A with Betsy DeVos.

• Researchers looked at the connection between low-income students’ performance on math tests and the time of month when their families run low on food stamps. (NPR)

    This article relates to: Charter Schools, Education, Must Reads, The Learning Curve

    Written by Maya Srikrishnan

    Maya Srikrishnan is a reporter for Voice of San Diego. She writes about K-12 education with a focus on equity. She can be reached at maya.srikrishnan@voiceofsandiego.org.

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