Fenton Avenue Charter School Receives the Hart Vision School of the Year Award for its Leadership and Continued Success in School Transformation

March 13, 2013

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Contact: Vicki Grenz
(916) 949-9659

SAN DIEGO, California (Mar 12, 2013)-In 1993, Fenton Avenue Charter School took over a failing school and transformed it to deliver a quality education to impoverished students. While known as a one of the first successful turnarounds, Fenton Avenue Charter School is awarded the Hart Vision award for doing something unprecedented - taking over a conversion school that was struggling.

Santa Monica Community Charter was a former LAUSD school that converted into a charter school in 2002. The converted school performed exceptionally on the operational side, but not well enough on the academic side. The school was up for renewal in 2012, but since LAUSD identified it as a "focus school" in the bottom of the district's new five-tier evaluation system, staff would have recommended non-renewal.

Instead of making excuses for past performance or simply closing down, Santa Monica joined with Fenton Avenue Charter School, a successful conversion charter in the San Fernando Valley to make a new and innovative proposal to the LAUSD board. They presented a partnership through which Fenton Avenue accepted responsibility for the governance of Santa Monica to apply its success serving a similar student population to turn around the school.

"Servicing the needs of students at risk of academic failure, even students who were recently homeless, is the mission of Fenton Avenue Charter," according to Jed Wallace, President and Chief Executive Officer of the California Charter Schools Association. "While they have long served as a powerful example of accomplishment to other schools and startups, it is their commitment to serve challenged students that spurred them to welcome the challenge of turning around Santa Monica. The remarkable partnership is a wonderful example of charter public schools that thrive in serving all students and their willingness to be held accountable for student achievement."

For students, families and staff, this example mirrors the priorities of the school that strives to prepare all students to be self-directing and accountable people who work cooperatively to achieve innovative answers to difficult questions for the benefit of society.

When considering the conversion proposal, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy told board members that this is an innovative way to deal with a school that is struggling and that he was pleased to work with partners in charter community in such a way that everyone shares responsibility.

Santa Monica teacher Roxanne Shelby commented that this is "a ground-breaking venture, setting a precedent for other charter schools in this situation."

A key point was Fenton's long history of success educating a similar population of students. Fenton's student body is 100 percent eligible for free and reduced lunch. The school's API increased 42 points over the last year.

"I rarely approve renewals of charters that are struggling or in PI status," said LAUSD Board Member Tamar Galatzan. "This school has come with something that is totally innovative. This is the kind of creative thinking that I hope to see from our charter partners."

"Our school is dedicated to creating an environment that addresses five learning systems: emotional, social, cognitive, physical and reflective," explains Fenton's Chief Executive Officer Irene Sumida, adding "it is our effort to cultivate emotional security and personal relevance that enables our students to flourish. It is the lessons I have learned over the past 19 years that I bring to Santa Monica," said Sumida, concluding, "We have done this before with a failing school and students deserve nothing less than success."

Based in Lakeview Terrace, a suburb located in the northeast San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles, Fenton Avenue Charter School is one of the earliest conversion schools in California, beginning in 1993. The Fenton Charter Public Schools operates three programs including kindergarten through grade two (the Fenton Primary Center), grades three through five (Fenton Avenue Charter School), and kindergarten through grade six (Santa Monica Boulevard Community Charter School).

According to Sumida, the schools' charter status has allowed every member of the school community to participate fully in the transformation of the charter school. "The result of this collaborative effort has been total accountability in every aspect of the management, operation, and governance of the charter school, higher student achievement across all grade levels, and continuous focus on a school-wide vision," explained Sumida.

Past Hart Vision School of the Year recipients include St. HOPE Public School 7, in Sacramento and Gabriella Charter School, in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles (2012); Dr. Olga Mohan High School in Los Angeles and KIPP Bridge Charter School in Oakland (2011); Renaissance Arts Academy in Los Angeles and Life Learning Academy in San Francisco (2010); and Our Community School in Los Angeles and Oakland Charter Academy in Oakland (2009).

The Hart Vision Awards were established in 1995 in honor of Gary K. Hart, retired California State Senator and former California Secretary of Education. While serving as state senator, Hart sponsored the legislation that established California charter schools. The goals of the Hart Vision Awards are to recognize and honor annually individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and excellence in education.

The award was presented at the California Charter Schools Association's 20th anniversary conference held March 12-14, 2013 in San Diego. The California Charter Schools Conference has run annually for 20 years, offering resources, guidance, and advocacy support to a charter school movement that has grown to more than 1,000 schools serving 484,000 students.

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