CharterFolk Contributor Don Shalvey – Do What You Love, Part 2

Hello CharterFolk!

Last week we shared a Contributor Column from Don Shalvey, CEO of San Joaquin A+. This is the first time CharterFolk has published back to back Contributor Columns from the same person; however, we had additional questions to pose to Don. Today we are pleased to share Don’s responses.

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 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.

What has most surprised you over your 56 years of doing this work?  What do you most think differently about today than you did earlier in your career?

Thank you for asking these questions, Jed. What surprised me the most is how powerful the term “be private and practical” has and still is a “value” that we, teachers, hold firm. It’s understandable but not helpful. Of course, this was the reality because of things like:

… I was embarrassed as a beginning teacher when I wasn’t experienced enough to address my students’ challenges.

… I didn’t want adults to see me and determine that I was still learning.

… I bought the value that I was personally responsible for my students learning and no one else had time or responsibility to support me.

… I was taught that my classroom door should be closed and locked from the inside so there wouldn’t be disruptive stuff.

… I’m an experienced teacher so I have things handled.

This value was very influential in the 1960’s and still has influence today in 2023. It’s not if this exists, it’s more to what degree of influence does this happen at every school, and that influence is informed by the teachers who have influence.    

What is the most significant difference for me is a change in my beliefs and actions related to a “better together” philosophy – in many ways. In this case it is that we all must create professional systems and policies that value collective responsibilities. It’s not “one teacher is exclusively” responsible for accountability policies and delivery supports. Current evaluation models aren’t correct, and now we must have collective responsibility over a longer period of time. To me education must work with business, government ,and non-profits, and the collective responsibility is measured when youth turn 26-years-old versus high school graduation. That’s what changed for me.

What has been the role of personal relationships in your work?  How much does it matter to be surrounded by other folk who love you and who love the work? And what does it make you feel to know that so many have been inspired by you personally to go on and accomplish things they wouldn’t have even dreamed about if it hadn’t been for your influence on their lives?

Thank you for these, Jed. Relationships have always been critical to my work. At the core, I’ve learned that my time is spent with my family first, a few very close friends second, and the majority of all other time is spent with any team I am part of. The more joyful our colleagues are and the more they bring talent and experience that I don’t have, which are many, the greater our team, and it makes us look like the ensemble casts in Broadway musicals such as Hamilton and West Side Story rather than single star musicals like My Fair Lady.

I’m only successful because I am so fortunate to work with others that make me better. This has been my experience and intention for my entire career. In addition to making a difference in the youth I serve; I always prioritize the goals of my colleagues and their futures.

Because you asked me, I did some specifics on this topic. In short, I feel so happy that I have helped over 1000 colleagues have the opportunities to work in new roles that increase and expand their responsibilities and impacts. My goal is to help others do what they love—in the education profession. That number seems huge but when you think about 50 years it’s 20 or so a year. I have the honor to be a connector with colleagues I love and respect and the organizations and roles they want next.

It’s wonderful to be able to use connectivity to celebrate great individuals that you know and helped you. Everyone wins as a result. The list of my examples is terrific and numerous, so I’ve chosen to share a couple of examples to describe how good it feels for any of us who can be “connectors” for others.

My former science teacher colleague got the chance to go from a middle school California extraordinary teacher to a Boston area science teacher and part of MIT’s work. Other examples include things like the origins of Alder Graduate School of Education, Education Pioneers, and more.  

Could you have made it nearly as far without the remarkable others that have been around you?

Jed, thank you for asking this, and the answer is obvious and clear. No, my ability to help others and achieve outcomes for youth would not have been without the personal and professional relationships that I am blessed to have. I’m better personally and better for others because of these relationships that are with locally-, regionally-, nationally-, and globally-respected leaders in education, government, business, non-profits, and philanthropy.

My blessings are the result of so many caring individuals, 1,000+ at the least, who have and continue to positively influence me.  I know you asked for a list of those people; however, I would be mortified to attempt to list them all and find I left someone out.  They all know who they are and should be aware of the gratitude I feel for their support.