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.