Sac City Charters Collaborate with District to Clarify Renewal

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March 29, 2013 In Sacramento City Unified, charter leaders raised concerns about the renewal process. They wanted to work with the district's charter liaison to develop a consistent, transparent, and predicable approach from the district for charter renewal. They found an ally in Jennifer Lopez, the district charter liaison. Together, they are making charter renewal clear and fair for Sacramento charter schools.

Charter renewal is a high-stakes matter for charter schools. The intense scrutiny that comes during the renewal process is central to the value of chartering - flexibility and autonomy, in exchange for results. Most charter leaders welcome the opportunity to review their guiding documents and showcase their academic achievements. However, even the most accomplished schools can struggle with understanding the expectations of their authorizer.

State law sets out clear criteria and timelines for decision making, but much of the details of the process are left up to the district. Absent clear local administrative regulations or board policies, district staff set expectations around when to submit the charter for renewal, what documents to include, the format of the documents, the format of the public hearings, and more. The process may be different from year to year, and from school to school, as district staff turnover and new members are elected to the board of education.

At a recent meeting of the Sacramento Charter School Leaders - a group of independent charter school directors that meet monthly to discuss common issues - Ms. Lopez shared her ideas for improving the process and asked for suggestions. Leaders from the Language Academy of Sacramento had a lot of questions, because they are up for renewal next year. Schools that had recently been renewed chimed in as well. It was a great opportunity to clarify the timeline for submitting (early September), and the format of the documents (1 electronic and 3 hard copies, with one 'red-line version' of the old petition with all the changes highlighted), among other thing. Having this information will help the Language Academy prepare for submission over the summer to meet the district's expectations, and minimize confusion. Everyone agreed that the conversation was a step in the right direction.

Sacramento City Unified School District is an urban district that currently authorizes 13 charter schools, including one of the very first charter schools authorized in California. The relationship between the charters and the district has ebbed and flowed over time, depending on the charter school leadership, district leadership, and political environment. Last year, the district and charter school leaders committed to set aside the past and work together towards a shared goal of collaboration in order to increase student achievement district-wide.