Rays of sunshine for indie charter schools in the midst of a pandemic

With our attention almost entirely focused on the international health crisis and our responses to it nationally, locally and personally, we need, perhaps more than ever, reminders of our resilience and of people and institutions that continue to work for the greater good in the face of adversity. That greater good is the larger landscape that educators traverse and the needs of young people under our tutelage are far greater under their enforced absence from school than anything we may ever have imagined.

So let’s take a few minutes to bask under several rays of sunshine from out west in hopes that it gives us more courage to carry on. On last Thursday, March 12 at the monthly meeting of the Utah State Charter School Board, three independent charter schools which had been facing potentially fatal disciplinary action were granted reprieves and an additional school, which had already had its charter revoked, was granted an appeal hearing. We are as ecstatic as our three schools are for the recognition of their overriding need to persist, and we’re also happy that a number of indie schools in Utah have begun to feel the need to collectively address their relationship with the state’s principal charter school authorizer.

Meanwhile, further west, on the very same day, a school at the very heart and mission of CPICS was making their final appeal for charter renewal before the California State Board of Education. Academia Avance, a terrific 6-12 school in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and whose ED, Ricardo Mireles, is our very own Board Chair, had been turned down for renewal by LAUSD and had lost their first appeal for a trivial under-enrollment issue. It didn’t seem to matter that Academia Avance’s college enrollment and college persistence rates far exceeded the district nor did the school’s powerful social justice and community engagement program hold much sway in a city that was becoming increasingly polarized in the rancorous debate over ed reform. At the end of the day, however, Academia Avance won their appeal and we all gave a huge sigh of relief.

It goes without saying that it shouldn’t have to be this way. Schools that are doing great work shouldn’t be forced to the edge of a plank because they have fallen short of a narrow metric. We can’t overstate the importance to the entire community of self-managed charter schools of not having yet another of our schools shuttered. The unique learning environments that our schools provide have stimulated education innovation especially for the needs of diverse learners and young people facing extreme life circumstances.

Perhaps, once our present health crisis is in the rear view mirror and kids start returning to schools, we’ll all be better able to take a clear-eyed look at our entire ecosystem of education—district, charter, parochial, private and home-school—with greater appreciation and less fear of the ones that don’t fit our favorite narrative. Because right now we are depending on all of them to help us reach the other side.

by Steve Zimmerman, CPICS Director


© 2020 Coalition of Public Independent Charter Schools

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