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When it comes to charter schools, I’ve had a pretty steep learning curve here in San Diego. First of all, the charter movement here has an interesting and rich history with strong ties to numerous community leaders and organizations. I’ve also learned that it is a very diverse community that is not easily lumped together in monolithic fashion. There are independent, conversion and dependent charters all with a story to tell about the reasons for their origin. When I met with some of the charter school principals, they told me that they were running from the Blueprint and the “one-size-fits-all” nature of the school district’s curriculum. One charter school argues that they are accelerating student performance using “love” as the vehicle. Others, like Gompers and Keiller, said that it was the district’s failure to improve the academic performance of students, coupled with the rigid transfer and assignment provisions of the SDEA union contract that led them to seek independence.
I want to make it clear that I like what’s going on at some of these charters, and I believe that district schools can learn from them. I’m especially pleased with the developing culture of high standards — dress, behavior and achievement — at both Gompers and Keiller. And I’m really impressed with the strong parental support and the significant engagement of higher education at both of these schools.
At the same time, I’m deeply troubled by a school system that seemed to be saying to parents of color, south of Interstate 8, that they needed to be independent of the school district in order to get what they needed for their children, while at the same time delivering a very different message to La Jolla parents who were exploring charters a few years ago. I believe that we need to fix schools wherever we find them, and that we’ll take that consistent approach throughout the school system. If new conversations are needed with the teachers union on these subjects, I stand ready to help facilitate them as a working partner.