CharterFolk Contributor Don Shalvey – Do What You Love

Hello CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Don Shalvey, CEO of San Joaquin A+.

I provide a bio for Don below.

Don Shalvey is the CEO of San Joaquin A+. He has spent the past 50 years in public education, where he is widely recognized as a leader in public school reform and the charter school movement. From 2009 to 2020, Don served as a Deputy Director for K-12 Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where he oversaw charter schools, teacher preparation, and school and system leadership. During this period, he supported and developed 37 Program Officers and administered grants in excess of 800 million dollars.

In 1992, Don served as the Superintendent of the San Carlos School District, where he sponsored the first charter school in California. The San Carlos Charter Learning Center became a California Distinguished School and has since served as a model for many other charter schools. In 1998, Don and entrepreneur Reed Hastings co-founded Californians for Public School Excellence, a grassroots organization that led to the passage of the Charter Schools Act of 1998, which lifted the cap on the number of charter schools in the state. That same year, Don founded Aspire Public Schools, where he served as CEO until 2009.

Dr. Shalvey is a frequent advisor to policy makers, practitioners, and authorizers of charter schools across the nation. In 2002, the prestigious Ashoka Foundation recognized Don as a Fellow for his outstanding work as a social entrepreneur. More recently, Don was given the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award for advancing the quality of life for Californians, and in June 2009, he was elected to the Charter School Hall of Fame. From introducing President Clinton in 2007 to serving as a critical connector as described in the book The Founders, Don brings a half-century of experience to the boards on which he serves and to his role as a Regent at the University of the Pacific, the oldest chartered university in California.

Don earned a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership & Administration from the University of Southern California, a Master of Education in Counseling and Guidance from Gonzaga University, and a B.A. from LaSalle College.

Why did you choose education as your profession?

I grew up in Philadelphia, with inspiring teachers, who made me better.  I admired teaching as one of the most noble and dignified professions. I believe I had many professional options, and I intentionally choose to be a teacher and educator.

I believe that the most important decision we make is that everyone of us “does what we love and earns what we need in the location we want to live.”

You grew up in Philly, how did you get to the valley?

Wow, what a funny and wonderful story. I wanted to be a teacher when I finished my college degree in 1967 and to do that in San Francisco, so I could live with my cousins who just moved from Philly to SFO to be flight attendants for TWA and United. For those of you who have history, 1967 was “the Summer of Love” in San Francisco.

For those of you much younger, the Summer of Love was a social phenomenon that occurred during the summer of 1967, when as many as 100,000 people, mostly young people sporting hippie fashions of dress and behavior, converged in San Francisco’s neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury.

I was getting recruited by a school district to be a middle school math and science teacher, and I was so happy because the brochure showed that the district was very close to SFO. The middle school principal was wonderful and supportive. Remember, this was years before Google and the internet.

I called my cousins and asked them how close the community was to SFO. They said “We just got here, and we don’t know. We’ll look it up on a map and get back to you.” An hour later they called me and said, “It’s right here, sign the contract, and come live with us.”

I did and flew to SFO. I was thrilled to be a new teacher in Merced. When I arrived, I said to my cousins, “Why did you tell me to sign up, Merced is 132 miles away? They said no it isn’t, and they showed me a local San Francisco map that had “Lake Merced” and that’s what convinced them it was close.

I kept my responsibility because I was so inspired by Tenaya Middle School’s principal and teachers. I moved to Merced. Back in 1967 Philly had 3 million citizens and Merced had about 25 thousand. It doesn’t matter for beginning teachers because we spend all our time learning to be better. Planning all weekend got me as far as prepared for Tuesday.

I fell in love with Merced and the Central Valley. I did that because the community valued teachers as a profession and what the community did then we should do more of now. They helped me find a place to live and another new teacher roommate. They had a teacher bowling league and set of sports recreation opportunities and started the Merced Teachers Credit Union.

What’s your history in education?

I love the fact that I have stayed focused on education and the difference it can make. I am now in my 56th year in public education and my 56th year as a Central Valley resident. Those years have been between Merced and San Joaquin County, and yes, I have loved and worked in other places, but I have always been a resident in the valley and have the honor to marry a native Linden woman who has made me so much better.

In short, I believe that being a teacher is noble, dignified, and the core of any position you do in education. Since 1967 I have held the following positions: teacher, counselor, vice principal, Title I coordinator, teacher preparation mentor, principal, assistant superintendent, superintendent, school system founder, and deputy director of philanthropy that supports education, teachers, and leaders.

I feel so fortunate that I am doing what I love and living in a location that is so wonderful. Here in the Central Valley, we produce the most wonderful and healthy food, and we are committed to having the same results for our youth.

People say you only care about charter public schools, is that true?

Thanks for asking this question. I am a huge fan of every school and devote my time to doing all I can to make every school in the Central Valley/San Joaquin County the very best for youth.

Here’s what I believe is critical. To make a better future for every youngster we must play on “common ground” and not create “battleground.” I spent my entire experience as a student in Catholic Schools in Philly and here in the Central Valley. I believe that every school – public schools, private schools, charter public schools, and religious schools – succeeds.

Here’s my history, as the Superintendent in San Carlos, I was one of the founders of charter school #1 in California and the second in the nation. In 1971 we the district, the board, the San Carlos Teachers Association (with an 81% positive support), and the community choose to start an essential part of the system and there was nothing to model after because we had the privilege of innovating. Yes, charter one in the nation was in Minnesota but now the San Carlos Charter Learning Center is the longest running charter school and a critical part of the community along with all the other district schools and more.

There was no “battleground” about this in San Carlos. The school is part of the system but has a certain degree of independence because that is needed to be innovative so that our teachers could benefit and so could every student.

Our goal was to have schools that do both the common thing uncommonly well and the uncommon thing also. Think about the time, it was 1991 and our teachers wanted to have a lab where they could learn technology and how to better serve multiage classrooms because the new 20-1 primary class size called for multiage instruction.

Our teacher association teachers had the opportunity to be “visiting educators” to learn the new models and bring them back to their schools. They were guaranteed their roles back at their schools and became leaders with new expertise. This was one of the purposes for charter schools.

In short, we are “better together” and know that one size doesn’t fit for all our youth.

What do you believe and why?

I’m so grateful to share what I learned from so many others for so many years.

  1. Teaching is a noble and dignified profession and critical to improving every part of our nation.
  2. Teachers are real and concrete models for citizens who “do what they love and earn what they need.” We all have to address the second half of this statement for every teacher.
  3. The critical quality of a teacher is to be a “lifelong learner.”
  4. I grew up with the Beatles and John Lennon’s learnings. I have to “think globally and act locally.” That’s my goal to be a colleague making a difference in California’s Central Valley.
  5. To “Brighten the Future” we must “blur the lines” where everyone works together in new ways on the common ground. Think about the school systems (Pre-K through graduate school), business, non-profits, and government as collectives. All sounds and talent are better together. To be difference makers let’s think that the four sectors are the collective soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices that are better together.
  6. “Blurring the Lines” means employers are not just consumers of talent, they are creators of talent in concert with schools. That’s one example of what they must be to make a difference.

Why are you positive about the future?

I am now in my 56th year as an educator/teacher. I’ve never been more optimistic, and that’s because of how we work together, and how we are focused on a few critical and measurable results.

What’s going on in the Central Valley and San Joaquin County?

Here’s the reality. For the last 30 years, 70% of our high school graduates stay in San Joaquin County. Currently, only 19% of adults 26 and older in the county have earned a BA or greater.

Currently, we do not have enough youth under 26 years old “doing what they love and earning what they need,” and we must change that, which can be done through AA’s, AS’s, certifications, local training, and the social capital of employers. We can increase that by working together.

To do this we must have an extraordinary teacher in every classroom in every school in San Joaquin County.

What are the biggest roles that must be increased here in the county?

We must increase the number of local youth and beyond doing the following professions:

  • Teachers
  • Health professionals
  • Ag with a focus on the wine industry
  • IT roles
  • The essential trade professionals in the areas of construction, mechanics, and industry

What are some examples of “Better Together”?

This is a small set of individuals to show the collective effort. Please know that the total number of citizens and organizations are remarkable.

  • Assembly Member Villapudua
  • The San Joaquin County Supervisors
  • The Stockton City Council
  • Stockton Mayor Lincoln
  • Stockton City Manager Black
  • County Superintendent Brown
  • District Superintendents:
    • The SUSD newly elected and re-elected Board majority
    • Moore
    • Robeson
    • Pecot
    • Washor
  • Higher Ed Organizations
    • Callahan
    • Humphries
    • Lawrenson
  • Public Charter Schools
    • Solina
    • Lee
  • The San Joaquin Business Council
    • Grupe
    • Trezza
  • The San Joaquin Community Foundation
  • United Way Stockton
  • Stockton Scholars
  • The Lodi Wine Association
    • Bolton
    • Spenser
  • LAIC
    • The Tipton’s
  • IYT
  • San Joaquin A+

A picture is worth thousands of words – Here’s what we look like, and I’m optimistic about our future.

One more picture and thank you, Patti!

Thank you, Jed, for the privilege to share.


The More History is Brought to Light, the More We See It’s On Our Side

Good day, CharterFolk.

I start with some very encouraging polling data. Thanks to Yes Every Kid for running the poll. I remain convinced that going on offense regarding educational redlines represents an area of great opportunity for us.

In fact, it runs the risk of becoming one of our greatest missed opportunities.

Here we are doing decades of work to create schools that do not make use of redlining attendance boundaries or selective admissions criteria, but because we’re too timid to articulate a criticism of the supposedly public system that redlines as a matter of course, we go silent, which registers as indifference on this issue in the public realm. So rather than being seen as the vanguard of public education pushing for fundamentally fairer allocation of educational opportunity in our country, we let ourselves get presented by our adversaries as somehow worse than the appalling status quo.

It’s allowing ourselves to be identified as cherry pickers when the broader system is engaged in orchard-harvesting.

And then we wonder why young social justice warriors have a wrong understanding of what charter schools are all about.

Come on, CharterFolk!

The polling is with you.


Let’s get on to today’s post.

The More History Is Brought to Light, The More We See It’s On Our Side

Per my post last week about the Denver school board shifting from being 7-0 in support of charter schools to 0-7 opposed over the past couple election cycles, this story …

… buries the lede.

Yes, the DPS Board voted to close a charter school, but there was no controversy there. The school itself said it hadn’t met its own goals and thus wasn’t planning to appeal, even though it was within its rights to do so.

The noteworthy development here is the fact that the board voted to renew 19 charter schools, with only one board member voting no.

Last year, the board renewed 16.

It’s germane to our consideration of the news in Los Angeles.

Last week we began to see the supposition surfaced in this article …

… confirmed.

It does not, I’m afraid, bode well.

Because really CharterFolk, from a public record standpoint, it’s simply not possible to find a more prominent policy maker who has a more virulently anti-charter school orientation than Jackie Goldberg.

Her comments during this interview from the 2019 campaign with a fawning supporter from the Westside are representative.

The problem is that districts like LA Unified have too many charter schools to administer, to hold accountable.  And so they are often only visited once a year, and they’re told in advance when they’re coming …. That’s a big problem because some of these schools are doing some pretty disgusting things. I’ve visited a charter school in a church that used the balcony where the choir sang, without partitions, for four classrooms.  And my student teacher was supposed to be teaching in one of those classrooms. I had to take him out of that placement because there was no way you could hear. I wouldn’t have left a child in that school for a day. I think that charter school is probably still open today.  I mean that’s an unbelievable situation. So basically, the system is set up not to be monitored right and … so actually they get away with just about anything they want to unless on that one day they happen to get caught.

The statement comes from the 43rd minute of the video, and it’s no more extreme than many other things she says throughout the entire interview, which is essentially an hour and a half of nonstop anti-charter school vitriol along the lines one would find on the Diane Ravitch website.

It explains why Ravitch on her site …

… literally professes her love for Goldberg.

The interview, and Goldberg’s entire campaign, and indeed the vast majority of her public positioning over the past decade, aside from regularly saying that public education needs a lot more money, has consisted almost exclusively of charter school attack. It’s one of the most transparent examples of charter school adversaries’ updated strategy for destroying our movement …

… which is to divert attention away from the failings in traditional public schools and to cast whatever negative attention they can on the supposed shortcomings of charter schools. And when the problems in district schools are so apparent that they can’t deny their existence, they blame charter schools for having somehow created those problems in the first place.

Look at Goldberg’s actions on the literal first day of her return to the LAUSD board …

… when she objected to the district spending $16M in bond funding to accommodate charter school co-locations.

Goldberg noticed that some of the money would pay for computers and wanted to know if the host school would have comparable technology.

“I have a school that lost its computer lab and the charter school went in there and put in a computer lab,” which it used to recruit students, Goldberg said during the meeting. “That’s crazy.”

Of course, when asked to provide specifics about her anecdote, she couldn’t.

Goldberg declined to name the school.

But it was an effective attack. The other board members, even charter school friends, not knowing the history, went along. And staff were so intimidated, they pulled other charter school matters off the agenda, thrilling defenders of the Establishment.

Even before Goldberg could get to it, staff withdrew a third charter school grant from consideration — at least for Tuesday.

Her supporters were thrilled.

“OMG,” texted parent activist Sara Roos. “It’s electric in here.”

Now, of course, anyone who has a modicum of understanding about how power dynamics work within LAUSD knows that there is no way in hell that charter schools would have gotten some inequitably large share of facilities or facilities funding.

The dollars in question came from a 2008 bond …

… where the district committed to provide a relative pittance of the funding to charter schools, but then raided those funds …

… and refused to allocate them to charter schools for more than a decade, such that they became the only remaining funds left from the tens of billions of dollars of bond funding that the district had spent in the prior two decades. So when district staff finally decided to throw a small morsel to charter schools, Goldberg attacked knowing full well that the reason that district students might not have the same technology on their side of the campus had nothing to do with unfair advantage being given to charter schools in the moment, but from, in fact, a decades-long program the district engaged in to spend absolutely gargantuan amounts of money on other things, including the most expensive school construction projects in U.S. history …

… some replete with talking benches.

The reason that the district didn’t have the few thousand dollars that it would have needed to provide district students comparable computers on Goldberg’s first day back was because it had squandered several hundreds million dollars in the decades before.

Where was the better technology the district students needed?

In the talking bench!!

But because no one knows the history, and because no one brings that history to light, she was able to advance a narrative that carried a meaning directly opposite of the truth.

It’s why, in terms of the ironies that I talked about last week coming from young and old, the ones coming from the old are at whole other levels of offensiveness.

Because Jackie Goldberg knows the history. She was on the board going back to the 1980s. She was elected to be board president twice.

Having made the history herself, she’s in a unique place to distort it.

Just a couple months after her return, she was at it again …

… this time targeting for massive financial penalty charter schools that had over-estimated how many classrooms they needed.

Again, the irony, just couldn’t be more plain.

If there is any entity in the country that should have absolutely no credibility holding other entities accountable for over-estimating the amount of facilities they need, it is Los Angeles Unified. In 2002 when Measure K was taken to the voters, the ballot argument in favor of the measure stated that district enrollment would grow by an additional 200,000 students.

At the time of Measure K’s passage, Los Angeles Unified was serving 735,000 students, meaning that the voters had been led to believe that the district was on a trajectory for serving over 900,000 students.

Instead, of course, today Los Angeles serves about 420,000 students, less than half that number …

… and by decade’s end, the district is projected to serve less than one-third as many students as voters were told when Measure K passed.

And yet, she thinks the district’s track record on facilities utilization is credible enough to advance policies that would essentially bankrupt charter schools for having requested a few more classrooms than they ended up using.

The truth is that, whatever cherries there are in charterland that Goldberg might want to try to pick, the district’s history is replete with generations of orchard-wide misdeed which have compromised its ability to provide the high quality education that the people of Los Angeles have needed, especially students and families who have been historically underserved.

Whether it was the United States Commission on Civil Rights …

… excoriating the school district in the late 70s, particularly the LAUSD Board of Education, for essentially doing nothing for more than a decade in response to the damning Crawford Case …

… which was supposed to finally force the school district to begin providing improved educational opportunity to historically underserved students after decades of having operated schools that reinforced, rather than leaned against, the wanton discrimination happening across the city.

Or whether it was the Chanda Smith Case of the early 90s …

…that documented the school district’s abject failure to adequately serve special education students …

… ultimately resulting in an Independent Monitor being imposed who oversaw the district’s special education efforts until just a few years ago.

Or whether it was UTLA flexing its muscles on school board elections in the 1980s …

… where in addition to increased pay for teachers the top priority was getting the school board to agree to allow the union to begin collecting “agency fees.”

‘Agency Fee’ Issue

In addition to its dissatisfaction with salary negotiations, UTLA is at odds with the school board over the issue of whether teachers who do not belong to the union should pay an “agency fee” to UTLA because the union is their bargaining agent in negotiations with the board. (About 6,000 of the school system’s 26,000 teachers do not belong to the union.)

Several on the board, including Goldberg, resisted at first, but ultimately after a strike in 1989 …

… and another round of elections in ’91 …

…UTLA prevailed.

Goldberg rationalized the board’s capitulation thusly.

Jackie Goldberg, a Los Angeles teacher and a U.T.L.A. member who served on the school board for eight years, was first elected to the board with the U.T.L.A.’s support. But she did not receive its endorsement for her second term.

Union support, she says, provides “credibility,’’ money for mailings, and, in districts where many teachers live, can translate into votes.

As for the decision to give the union the right to charge agency fees, she says, “If you elect pro-labor people, you’re going to get pro-labor votes.’’

And, thus was created the political money juggernaut allowing UTLA to achieve de facto control over the LAUSD board that we all have been contending with ever since. It creates perhaps one of the bitterest ironies that we advocates for improved public education have to confront, which is the fact that Goldberg rails against charter school funders’ political contributions as being in someway undemocratic …

…when she herself helped create a political money-machine in support of the status quo that dwarfs anything else on the landscape by orders of magnitude, and which has now been instrumental in her own re-ascendency to the board presidency of LA Unified.

This, CharterFolk, is the orchard-scale experience of inequity and poor performance in public education in Los Angeles over the past half century that Establishment interests know to be the truth but which they hope the public spends as little time focusing on as possible.

So they shift as much attention as possible to charter school cherries.

We will see how the board ultimately decides to vote on charter school matters.

My own sense is that on renewal matters, we’re likely to see decisions like the ones we’re seeing in Denver. There are just too many reasons why in-your-face non-renewal votes to close schools that parents love just aren’t viable.

But on other issues… special education, facilities, budgeting, political funding … I will be surprised if we don’t see a UTLA-aligned board attempt to use charter school business to keep focus off its own.

It’s why it’s so important we keep educating ourselves as deeply as we can about the true history of the school district.

It reflects a general condition I believe to be true in many other places as well.

The more we know the true history of public education in our country, and the more we bring it out, the less a distorted version of that history can be used against us.

Or perhaps better said:

The more history is brought to light, the more we see it’s on our side.