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Do You Know the Four Pillars of Charter School Sustainability?

Charter School Capital

April 19, 2019



charter school sustainabilityDo You Know the Four Pillars of Charter School Sustainability?

Editor’s Note: For this CHARTER EDtalk, our own Charter School Capital Advisor, Ryan Eldrige, was honored to be joined by Jeff Rice, Founder and Director of APLUS+, The Association of Personalized Learning Schools & Services, to discuss the Four Pillars of Charter School Sustainability. Jeff is passionate about the charter school movement and because of his dedication, APLUS+ has been a leading voice to raise awareness and understanding of the critical need for parent and student choice in public education, and specifically for a personalized learning option in education for the growing number of students for whom a rigid, classroom-only model is not a good match for success.
To learn more about the Four Pillars of Charter School Sustainability, please watch the video or read the transcript below for the full story.

Ryan Eldridge: Hello and thank you for joining this episode of CHARTER EDtalks. I’m Ryan Eldridge, Charter School Capital Advisor, and I’m honored to be joined today by Jeff Rice, director and founder of the APlus+ Personalized Learning Network Association, and we’re going to be talking about building strong community engagement. So, welcome Jeff. Thank you for joining us.
Jeff Rice: Well, thank you. It’s an honor to be here as well.
Eldridge: Why don’t we just kick it off. I’ll ask you a couple of questions, and we’ll just dive right into it. So, can you tell us a little bit about APlus+ and the APlus+ network and your theme for this year?

About APLUS+ and Personalized Learning

Rice: APlus+ is the first and currently the only association whose mission and vision is to advance personalized learning and to support all schools, but particularly charter schools whose mission and vision is to personalize learning.
When we talk about personalized learning, because that tends to be a phrase that can be used to represent a wide variety of things, we’re talking about a model of education that provides choice and flexibility in how, what, when, where and with whom each student learns. So, it is incumbent upon every school, who supports that mission and vision, to provide a wide variety of choices. Sort of a buffet menu that can be matched to the needs of each and every student.
We were founded 17 years ago in 2002, so this is our 17th year in operation, and we have built a strong reputation as the pioneers in education for personalizing learning in the 21st century. Our theme for this year is Strengthen That Which We Can Control, and the reason we chose that theme is obviously because of the consequences of the 2018 elections and the choice (of some within the status quo education system) to use charter schools as scapegoats for all of the financial troubles, the academic issues that the district schools are experiencing, and they’re using charter schools as the reason for their fiscal mismanagement and academic failures, of course, all of which is false.
But what we can control is to strengthen our schools in four particular areas, which we call the Four Pillars of Sustainability. If you’d like me to-

The Four Pillars of Charter School Sustainability

Eldridge: That was my next question. Now, I was just going to ask you can you go into the Four Pillars of Sustainability?
Rice: I jumped right into it.
Eldridge: That’s great. Please do.
Rice: Okay. So, the Four Pillars of Sustainability, which are the four primary areas in which we have direct control over are as follows.

PILLAR 1: Accountability and Transparency

Rice: Obviously with the recent signing into law of SB 126 by [California] Governor Newsom, requiring charter schools now formally even though most charter schools were already complying with these requirements, but formally, legally, to comply with the Brown Act requirements, the Public Records Act requirements, the Political Reform Act requirements, and sections of Government Code 1090. It has intensified the requirements for charter schools to be very transparent in those areas. So, with regard to governance, charter schools now really have to step it up to make sure that they are following all the requirements now that are being required of them.
In addition to, of course, what they’ve been required to do all along, and that is make sure that they follow their charter school petition in their administration that they meet their LCAP goals and do their reporting mechanisms as they are required to do to make sure that their finances are in order and that they are fiscally responsible and prudent that they have the required reserves set aside as well as legal compliance to make sure that they are very familiar with charter school law, very familiar with all the areas in which they are required and being scrutinized to follow. As we know, the scrutiny has intensified in the last couple of years. And as a result of the 2018 elections, has intensified even more. That is the first pillar, accountability and transparency.

PILLAR 2: Student Data, Growth, and Achievement

Rice: The second pillar has to do with student data, growth, and academic achievement. Of course, student data is an area in which we can significantly improve, particularly around student intake data. In my nearly 20 years of experience, I hear countless stories about how students who have been struggling in district-operated public schools are coming to charter schools, and their first or second year state testing results, of course, are far below proficient, the reason being because they are inheriting the failures of those district schools with those particular students who upon enrollment with the charter school are several grade levels behind, are credit deficient, are having all kinds of challenges that are not the fault of the charter school at all.

The Importance of Data to Demonstrate Growth

Rice: But the charter schools can do a much better job of documenting that information and translating it into a reportable document that shows that they didn’t start on an even ground when they enroll that student. Well, to use this starting gate analogy, they weren’t at the starting gate. They were hundreds of furlongs behind the starting gate and had to play several years of catch-up in order to bring those students to proficiency in all of the core subject areas. But yet the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) results don’t show that. CAASPP results do not reflect that at least until year three or year four.
If the student stays that long with the charter school, the students’ testing results start to reflect the great work that the charter school is doing. So, we need to do a much better job of documenting data and then recording data and reporting it. In addition to that, we need to do a better job not only on the CAASPP results and the dashboard indicators but also using internal assessment data to show internal growth. There are a number of effective tools out there that every charter school should be using regardless of the type of model the charter school is to be able to document internal growth where a one-year snapshot test by the state does not provide all of the story.
Then in addition to that, we want to make sure to use other types of indicators that demonstrate success, college and career indicators and so forth, some of which the state is finally after all these years adopting formally, but to the degree to which the charter school can show those additional indicators. Even post-secondary placement indicators will help in the mix of demonstrating success.
That is the second pillar. Those are more internal pillars by the way. The other two pillars are more external. I believe that charter schools across the board need to recognize that they assume the role of dual educators.
They are equally responsible for showing positive successful results with their students as they are in educating their greater communities and the public.

PILLAR 3: Brand Identity and Sharing Your Success Stories

Rice: We know that still after 26 years of being a movement in California, that the majority of the public still doesn’t know what a charter school is. When most of you say, “We are from a charter school,” the first question out of their mouth most of the time is, “How much does it cost?” That is a mirror that reflects back to you their lack of knowledge in what a charter school is.
In fact, it tells you that the majority of the public still after 26 years believes that charter schools are private schools because how many people in the public think that there is a tuition fee for a public school?
Unless they’ve been living in a cave, they know that public schools are tuition free. So, for them to say, “How much does it cost?” tells you that they believe that charter schools are private schools.

Unless they’ve been living in a cave, they know that public schools are tuition free. So, for them to say, “How much does it cost?” tells you that they believe that charter schools are private schools.

That is a huge public relations disaster for the charter school movement where the majority of the public still doesn’t recognize that charter schools are part, an integral part, of the public school system. Now, our opposition is taking advantage of that by going out and using false propaganda and talking points to say that charter schools are stealing public school students. Charter schools are stealing public school dollars from the public education system.

Rebranding Charter Schools

Rice: So, they’re using that lack of knowledge in the public to their advantage to use charter schools as a scapegoat and to demonize charter schools and to sway the public against charter schools even though charter schools are an integral part of the public education system. In order to turn that around, not only do we need to educate the public about charter schools being an integral part of the public education system, but charter schools need to adopt a strong brand identity. A brand identity is a way to, in layman’s terms, describe who you are, what you do, and how you do what you do.
What is the end result? The end goal is to create value and distinction in the mind of the public, so they recognize that you are an essential part of a vibrant and healthy public school system in their community that you are serving students whose needs are not being effectively met by other types of public schools. Now, that’s not to say that we should get rid of all district schools and go all charter. This is not about charter schools versus district schools. This is about having a healthy and vibrant and diversified public education system that provides equal access and equal opportunity to all students, to find the school and the program that is best matched to them to ensure their best chance at succeeding and going on to a productive life through career and college pathways.

This is about having a healthy and vibrant and diversified public education system that provides equal access and equal opportunity to all students, to find the school and the program that is best matched to them to ensure their best chance at succeeding and going on to a productive life through career and college pathways.

To establish a brand identity is to succinctly describe who you are, what you do, and how you do what you do in a way that the public understands and recognizes the tremendous value to society and to the public education system that they’re currently not seeing by not even knowing that what a charter school is. So, it’s incumbent upon every charter school to establish a strong brand identity, and from that foundation to then tell your success stories and tell your success stories through a wide variety of avenues, from social media, to traditional media, to developing relationships in the community, which gets, then, to our fourth pillar of sustainability, and that is to develop strong relationships and allies out in the community.

PILLAR 4: Building Community Relationships and Allies

Eldridge: Please elaborate on this one. This is important, I think, for a lot of charter schools.
Rice: That’s right. Because charter school leaders wear so many different hats, they tend to really have little or no time to reach out to their greater communities, and yet that is equally as critical as serving the needs of their students, especially in today’s very contentious climate where we’re really facing some of the most anti-charter legislation and anti-charter perspectives and sentiment and downright attacks that we have experienced in 26 years of existence.
So, the heat has been intensified. It is incumbent upon charter school leaders to reach out, not operate in isolation, not operate as separate islands, but to reach out and develop strong relationships with community leaders and community organizations that make a difference.
And in so doing to build allies so that when we are challenged by the status quo system that believes in a monopoly ahead of the best interests of students and ahead of parent and students’ school choice, which should be the foundation that everybody agrees on.
But yet that is not what we’re currently facing. We need to have those local allies to influence decision-makers and elected officials are responsible for making policy at the state level, to remind them that the most important focus is what is in the best interest of students, and how can we together create a vibrant and healthy education system that offers diverse choice and opportunity for all students to ensure that all students succeed? That should be the goal for everybody, but yet it’s not.
So, developing those community relationships by reaching out to individuals, engaging with them, educating them, inviting them to be a part of your school community, of your greater concentric circles of influence, makes all the difference in the world, and that needs to be integrated into the culture of every school as vitally as important as is integrated into the school, the goal of academic excellence.
Eldridge: Yeah, can you provide some specific tips on how they can actually engage the community and create those allies? Is that inviting authorizers out to board meetings? Is it holding community events? How do you suggest they do some of those things?
Rice: Well, I think first and foremost, it’s to invite them to be part of your interview informational distribution network. Get them on your email distribution list. Develop an email newsletter or other ways of distributing and disseminating information on a regular basis, some of which may include invitations to all school events whether those events are open house events; they’re events that honor and recognize community leaders for their support, which are very important. Community leaders love to come and receive awards, and to find excuses and reasons to honor and recognize their leadership and their support in your school and in what you’re doing is vitally important.

RELATED: How to Host a Successful Legislative Visit to Your Charter School

Rice: That also includes events that may showcase student talents and student achievements and student results, everything from theater to spelling bees, to robotics team results and those kinds of things. Use those opportunities to reach out to your community and invite folks to join you. Also, use organizations such as Chambers of Commerce and rotary clubs and Elks lodges and other organizations that are parent-driven, that work with troubled youth and teens, that work with families such as real estate agencies, such as church groups and so on. I have a whole list here. I’m trying to remember off the top of my head what a lot of them are.
Eldridge: You’re doing great.
Rice: But certainly, elected officials. Go out and meet with elected officials, staff at the regional offices. Go visit them in Sacramento. Bring students along to tell their success stories. In addition to the newsletter, use social media outlets. Use traditional media outlets to talk about your student success stories, to talk about your academic results and how you’re making a difference for students who otherwise would not have been successfully served had you not been in existence.
That is what ultimately creates value and distinction. You are providing a school model and results that other types of public schools and even private schools are not able to offer, which means you are an essential ingredient and component to a, to contributing to a healthy and vibrant public school system.
Eldridge: Great. Jeff, always passionate. Really appreciate it, it’s great information. Appreciate you coming again today.
Rice: Thank you so much for having me.
Eldridge: And hopefully everybody else out there enjoyed it, and that wraps up this episode of CHARTER EDtalks. Thank you.

Charter School Capital logoSince the company’s inception in 2007, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We provide growth capital and facilities financing to charter schools nationwide. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!



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