Carlyn Obringer explains the ABCs of Charter Schools

Carlyn Obringer seems to be everywhere in Concord. One day one might find her presiding over the Government Affairs and Economic Development Committee of the Chamber of Commerce. Another time would see Obringer leading the Wine Walk fundraiser for the American Association for University Women (AAUA), or acting as master of ceremonies for a dinner event for Assemblywomen Susan Bonilla.

Carlyn ObringerObringer also is involved with the Concord Ambassadors, Sister City Exchange with Kitakami Japan, Chairperson for the Concord City Planning Commission, President of the local Soroptimist Club, not to mention being an alternate on the Contra Costa Democratic Party Central Committee. She also finds time to play the organ on Sunday morning at Queen of all Saints Church.

Civically, this Concord resident is one busy cup of tea.

Growing up in the small town of Greensburg, PA, Obringer earned her bachelor’s degree and migrated West to work on an MBA she earned from the Monterey Institute of International Studies. From there she eventually settled in Concord with her husband Justin.

Coming from an education family (her Mom is a retired school teacher) Carlyn ended up getting involved in the same field. For her day job she works for the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA). With Charter Schools being so controversial, the public in most cases does not have an informed view of what Charter Schools do and how they function. Being an expert in this field, Obringer sat down with Halfway To Concord to lend her expertise concerning what her organization does and how Charter Schools operate.

What does your company do in putting together Charter Schools

The (CCSA) provides:

* State and local advocacy for quality public school choices, fair treatment and equal resources for charter public schools, and the advancement and growth of successful charter schools.

* Leadership on accountability.

* Technical assistance via the Help Desk and an online resource library that contains reference materials, sample documents, hundreds of FAQs and information on topics ranging from board and governance to facilities and finance.

* Updates on funding opportunities, upcoming events, important deadlines, and more, delivered to schools each week through the CCSA Member Digest eNewsletter.

* CCSA Public Charter Schools Job Board, connecting the most highly-skilled administrators, principals, teachers and other professionals from across the nation with California’s best public charter school employers. This is a FREE resource for CCSA members.

*Free public webinars to help individuals learn more about how to start a charter school.

What is your source of revenue for doing this?.

70% of CCSA’s revenue comes from contributions from foundations and donors that support education reform, and 30% is generated from CCSA’s programs such as membership, conferences, and other services provided on behalf of our member schools.

There is a group of CCSA funders that strongly support education reform in California and nationally. The Broad, Chamberlin, Michael and Susan Dell, Rogers Family, Charles and Helen Schwab,  Weingart Stuart, and the Walton Family Foundation. There are other large contributors including the Doris and Donald Fisher and Hastings/Quillin Fund.

Facts about Charter Schools

Is it true that in general the teachers’ unions don’t care for Charter schools? If so why?

It depends. Some charter schools have collective bargaining agreements, some adopt the agreement of the local school district, while others do not – this is a decision that the school community makes as the charter school is developed. At charter schools, teachers and support staff are involved in the governing structure of the school – so they have a direct voice in the operation and management of the program. Sometimes that means joining/forming a union, sometimes it does not.

Is the topic of Charter Schools political? Are they favored or opposed from the right or left or it is of no relevence?

While a high quality public education for every child should not be political, charter schools tend to be favored by those on the right, and demonized by those on the left.

Why are charter schools gaining in popularity?

When parents and students make the decision to seek a better education at a public charter school–which comes at no cost to them–they do so because they are dissatisfied with the status quo of traditional education.

Charter schools–which are created and operated by parents, organizations, or community groups to fill an educational need not otherwise offered by traditional schools–can direct their resources where their students need them most. Charters have more flexibility than conventional public schools in exchange for being held to additional standards to make sure they are meeting their student goals. It is for those reasons that public charter schools are part of the solution to a better education system; they offer an alternative to the monopoly that is leaving so many students behind.

parents involved in charter schools

What are the expectations for parental involvement?

While parental involvement is a critical key to student success, no student would ever be punished or lose their place at a charter school based on a parent’s volunteer hours. Decisions about parental involvement often involve an agreement between parents, teachers, and administrators that all parties are asked to sign at the time that the student enrolls at the charter school.

Are charter schools more expensive to operate than conventional schools?

No, they’re not, and they usually don’t receive as much funding as traditional public schools. I think that the information available here will help you understand the funding issues that charter schools face: http://www.calcharters.org/advocacy/funding/

How are Charters different from regular public schools?

No two charter schools are alike; some offer thematic or specialized curriculum, others focus on the basics. Some charter schools look like traditional public schools; others offer online classes and may not even have a physical campus. What charters do have in common, though, is that they are places where meaningful parental involvement is encouraged and valued.

Charters get results for students because they have:

  1. - More flexibility on curriculum, budget and staffing
  2. - Greater ability to make quick and effective changes to meet a student’s need
  3. - High level of accountability with review and renewal every 5 years
  4. - Engaged teachers who are empowered to make important decisions to benefit students
  5. - Parents encouraged by the school to work as a team with teachers to advance their child’s academic progress

How have Charter Schools faired in Contra Costa County and the East Bay?

We only have two charter schools within the Mount Diablo Unified School District–Eagle Peak Montessori Charter School (K-5 in Walnut Creek) and Clayton Valley Charter High School (9-12 in Concord)–both of which are high-performing schools with long waiting lists. Eagle Peak was just renewed for another five years.

 And are there more being planned locally? If so where?

Yes. Efforts are underway to start a college preparatory K-5 charter school to serve the Monument and Greater Concord Community, with the goal of opening in time for the 2015-16 school years. Antioch’s Dozier Libby Medical High School is also trying to convert to a charter school: http://antiochherald.com/2014/02/p12395/, and a recent post about Dozier Libby here in Halfway To Concord.

What is the process for the creation of Charter Schools?

The resources that are available here can say it much better than I can: http://www.calcharters.org/starting/ And, you’re more than welcome to participate in any of our free, online “How to Start” webinars that you can sign up for here: www.calcharters.org/events

What role does the school district local Charter Schools?

California empowers three public governing boards with the authority to approve charter schools: local district school boards, county school boards, and the State Board of Education.

By far, the majority of charter schools are authorized by their local school district. Some authorizers have well defined charter policies and procedures. It is important for charter developers to learn the expectations of their authorizing district; it may be to their advantage to research past school board actions. They might also visit your district website; some post approved petitions and accompanying school board hearing minutes.

Charter schools can be approved directly by a county board of education or the State Board of Education and are referred to as county-wide or state-wide benefit schools, but there are some restrictions. For consideration at the county level, the proposed school must demonstrate that it provides instructional services that are not generally provided by the county office of education. (See county-wide benefit charter Ed Code 47605.6. (a) (1))

The bar at the state level is much higher; it requires demonstrated success in an existing charter school(s) and for all intents and purposes is not an option for new charter school developers.

A charter school developer might find themselves in front of a county or the State Board of Education if they are denied at the local level. Although state law is written to “encourage” charter schools, district authorizers sometimes have the opposite perspective. In the case of denial, charter law allows for an appeal to the county board of education and if denied there, to the State Board of Education. Developers need to be aware of the appeals process and expectations before they submit their charter petition to their local district.

What do you see in the future for Charter Schools?

Charter schools have been in existence for over 20 years, and over 500,000 California students currently attend California charter schools. In fact, while the number of students attending traditional public schools is declining, charter schools are the only growth industry within the realm of K-12 education. With that said, I don’t see charter schools going away anytime soon. In fact, by the end of the decade, approximately 1 million California students are projected to be charter school students.

It has been said by critics that Charter Schools lose their luster in a few years and tend to fall apart? Is this a valid criticism?

This is not a valid criticism at all. Not all charter schools succeed, but many do. And, some charter schools, such as the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, have been operating for 20 years, and consistently performing well that entire time. This link goes into detail about the results that charter schools are getting and some charter school successes: http://www.calcharters.org/understanding/results/

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Comments

  1. Rich C says

    I’ve been following the launch of a charter school in Van Nuys that one of my cousins (Brad) is involved in launching, Valley International Prep. It’s a STEAM focused school that looks unlike any of the school options available in central Contra Costa County. With the demise of GATE or any sort of support for kids that are smarter than the mean within MDUSD we really do need an option. I have two kids in a “California Distinguished School” in PH and even though they have good teachers, I’m really worried about how they are being prepared.
    There is a lot of room to improve the schools and they should be able to do better with the budgeted $8750 per student (directly from the MDUSD site. $280M budget / 32,000 students).
    There is a nice lot next to PHMS which would be a great place to build a STEAM school. If the district had competition, they might step up their game…