This fall, Encore High School for the Arts will enter year 13 of operation as an independent public charter school in Southern California. Encore was started by three founders with an idea and a kitchen table to write a plan on. When the school opened, the founders relied heavily on community for donations of everything from desks to textbooks. In all, a total of $35,000 cash and a lot of supporting handshakes were used to open the school on 08/08/08 before any state or federal funding started for a school with 580 students.
Encore High School is a grass roots charter startup. This means that the charter was not started by a school district as a "Dependent Charter." This also means that Encore was not part of a charter conglomerate (CMO Charter Management Organization) that had years of experience or a reputation or funding or surpluses. Encore was just three people that organized a community of artists and artist parents that wanted to give opportunities to students that may otherwise not have the chance to combine or afford extensive arts classes with pre college academics.
According to the National Alliance for Public Charters, "a charter school is an independently-operated public school that has the freedom to design classrooms that meet their students' needs. ...Charter schools provide families with options in public education, allowing parents to take a more active role in their child's education."
Charter schools are free for students to attend and require no interdistrict transfers within the state of California. They are publicly funded, and in the case of Encore, are a nonprofit corporation. They are governed by an independent board (Encore currently has five volunteer board members - a retail manager, a retired fireman, a doctor, a bank manager, and a retired school district employee) that oversee and vet the operations of the school. Charter schools are also overseen by a local district (in Encore's case Hesperia Unified School District) where the school is responsible for annual reporting to the District, including an annual third party audit.
The development of charter schools in general is about 30 years old. In the fabric of education, the grass roots development of schools to meet specific needs of specific children has been controversial. In the growth of charter schools over the last 30 years, accountability measures have been strengthened and organizations like the CCSA (California Charter Schools Association) and the CSDC (Charter Schools Development Center) have worked directly with state government to try to level the playing field for good charter schools in the state of California. While inequities of funding and oversight exist in the charter world, overall understanding that charters are a viable option for students is becoming more and more accepted. Charter schools have been the most revolutionary change in education in a hundred years.
Myths about charter schools include a gammet of misinformation that can taint what people think about charters. Since all charter schools are different, it is important to ask questions before enrolling or forming opinions about charter schools. Especially with the recent changes to state testing, some of the information put into the web universe is skewed based on charter schools general small populations and specific demographics based on student interest. (An example of this at Encore would be Encore's higher female student population and attraction of students interested in arts.) Here are some basic facts about charter schools:
Charter schools are accredited - While accreditation really applies to high school, just like any public school a charter can and should be accredited. Charter authorizers and the students demand it. Plus, being an accredited institution is just best practice for a school. (Encore is accredited through Western Association of Schools and Colleges.)
Teachers are credentialed - Charter schools are publicly funded schools. While there are some freedoms and opportunities given to charters so they can be diverse, it is still required that if a person is teaching a core academic class that they are credentialed in Encore's case, by the California Teacher Credentialing Commission. Charter schools do have some fluidity in courses that are not considered core, but in Encore's case, those instructors are immediately enrolled in a credentialing program.
Charter schools offer pathways to college - There is an ongoing fear that if a student graduates from a charter, the colleges will view them as not attending a "real school." High school charter schools are required and offer several classes that are approved through the University of California UC Doorways A-G Management. The University of California UC Doorways https://hs-articulation.ucop.edu/agcourselist offers a full list of all courses that are available for admissions to UC and CSU programs by every school in the state of California. Schools must submit course curriculum to the college board for approval.
Charter schools are owned by the state - Over the first twelve years of operation, it is misguided everyday that Encore is "owned" by someone. The nonprofit organizaton is a state organization.
Charter schools are free to attend - In the state of California ALL charter schools are free to attend and are open to anyone that lives in the state of California. There may be enrollment waitlists and certain criteria that has to be completed prior to enrollment, but every student in the state of California is welcome to attend a public charter school for free (Certain program fees not dealing with core instruction may occur.)
Charter schools undergo more accountability reporting than a traditional district school. - Charter school management spend a great deal of time reporting to multiple entities all the time. While reports are similar, each report for a charter school must be done in compliance with each specific entity requesting the information. There are parts of reporting that also can be confusing because Charters have to report as a public school, an LEA for the purposes of SPED, a nonprofit corporation, a regular business, and an employer. In general, charter schools undergo two to three audits each year of at least some portion of their organization including a full attendance and financial audit by an independent third party every school year. Dependent on authorizing district, charters have several reports that need to be given to the charter authorizer annually. They also report to county and state offices of education. In addition to external reporting, Charters also report to their independent board monthly.
Charter school management teams and their staff wear many hats. - Without a big district, charter schools have to spread the duties of several district staff members over a smaller group of people. While this can be taxing at times, it also means that the people that are overseeing your child's education and the budgets tied your child's education likely have met your child and have more hands on time with students and how the operations work at their schools.
The CEOs of Charters scrub toilets and review classrooms. - People that start charter schools do so because they want to provide something different for kids. In the case of Encore when the CEO and COO started the organization, they wanted kids (that could probably otherwise not afford arts classes) to have the chance to explore their passion for their art. They do not have a job. They have a way of life. Charter school operators are running the schools with the hearts of small business owners but they do not own the business, they do not turn a profit, and they make the same salary as lateral district employees do.
Charter schools are labors of love. - No school is perfect. Charter schools, however, are run by people that love kids and want to see kids thrive. They want to make a difference in their community and at some point, they saw a way to be a part of the change in the world. Charter school "people" love what they do and they work hard every day to help be a part of the change in the world. Charter school "people" are a different breed all on their own.
Petey the Pirate is the author of this blog for Encore Education Corporation. Part of Encore Education Corporation is Encore High School, a free public arts regional high school in Southern California grades 7 - 12. Encore's Arts program is currently taking applications for the fall 2020 enrollment. Transportation is available through the Inland Empire (15 and 215 freeway) and the high desert. www.encorehighschool.com. Where arts and academics grow together. WASC Accredtied. Copyright 2020.