CharterFolk X, Vol 30 – Kathleen Hermsmeyer, Forging Different Pathways for Serving Kids and Families and Communities

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today we are pleased to recognize Kathleen Hermsmeyer, CEO of Springs Charter Schools, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

Kathleen has worked at Springs Charter Schools since the organization’s founding more than 15 years ago. Started as a single school by parents in the Inland Empire seeking instructional approaches different from those found in traditional public schools, Springs has become an organization whose mission is to offer multiple pathways for families. Those pathways have included entirely online and at-home programs as well as others where students come for in-person instruction up to five days a week.

As is so often the case with schools doing innovative things, regulators struggle to find descriptors that accurately reflect what Springs and hundreds of other similar charter schools offer to students and families. Because the schools provide less than 100% of instruction in a classroom setting, the state labels them “non classroom based,” despite the fact that Springs and many others have long been developing extensive facilities to house their unique programs.

At the heart of Springs’s success with students has been Kathleen and a remarkably close-knit staff who aren’t in the least bit bashful talking about why they love working at Springs.

Their enthusiasm has resonated with parents in many different communities across the Southland. Today Springs Charter Schools serve more than 10,000 students in eleven counties …

… setting students on many different pathways to a successful future.

With an ever-growing number of parents choosing programs offered by schools like Springs, it wasn’t surprising that non classroom based schools became a special target during recent efforts to revise California’s charter school law. While many of the most hostile attacks were successfully fended off, harmful new legislation was enacted which, among other things, imposed a two-year moratorium on the creation of new non classroom based charter schools.

Less than six months after the bill became law, the Covid crisis hit.

What were the schools that parents began turning to in massive numbers in order to access better remote and hybrid learning programs than their traditional public schools were offering?

That’s right.

Schools like Springs, the very ones that had had the moratorium imposed on them. It was an irony Kathleen was quick to point out with compelling op-eds published in the weeks after the pandemic began.

But that didn’t stop state lawmakers from going out of their way to inflict even more harm on non classroom based schools. In the summer of 2020, the legislature approved a state budget which denied funding to schools like Springs for any additional students who would want to attend.

It created a defining moment. What would Kathleen and Springs Charter Schools do? They had already admitted a large number of new students, but now they were not going to receive funding to serve those students.

Ultimately, they decided to do what they’ve always done.

They continued in their tradition of offering multiple pathways.

It started by honoring the commitments that they had already made to hundreds of admitted students to serve them even though the organization would be receiving no funding for them.

Secondly, for the additional thousands (7,000 to be precise) who were on waiting lists waiting to be admitted to Springs, the organization made a no-cost program available to all, an effort that ultimately ended up providing support to more than 10,000 students and families.

And earning national recognition in the process.

Next, Springs joined two other courageous organizations – Classical Academies and The Learning Choice Academy – to file litigation against the State of California for its refusal to provide funding for new students wanting to enroll in non classroom based schools.

They also doubled down on long-term plans for expansion, completing a new facility mid-pandemic that will allow them to better serve an even larger number of students in the years to come.

Finally, Kathleen and Springs have never forgotten the importance of serving as advocacy ambassadors for the movement, using every opportunity to raise awareness about how the state’s budget decisions run counter to the hopes and desires of parents seeking better options for their kids.

It has resulted in a situation where, despite the fact that the state denied Springs access to millions of dollars of critically needed funding, Kathleen and her team found different pathways to support thousands of students and families at a moment of unprecedented need, and they laid the groundwork for serving even more students as the pandemic inevitably recedes.

It’s a remarkable achievement, one anchored by an extraordinary leader who has spent the better part of a lifetime finding new pathways for serving kids and families and communities.

It’s yet another reason we could not be more pleased than to recognize Kathleen Hermsmeyer today as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.