Caught in San Diego Unified’s Crosshairs, a Charter School Lives Up to Its Name
Voice of San Diego
July 10, 2014
That charter school the San Diego Unified school board tried to kill
has roared back to life.
Thrive Public School was approved by the State Board of Education
Wednesday night in a unanimous decision. The school will open in
Earlier this year, after spending months working with San Diego
Unified staff, Thrive’s founder Nicole Tempel Assisi presented the
school board her petition to open a charter school.
The petition had been vetted by various district departments, and was
recommended for a five-year charter – its highest vote of
confidence. The petition was so convincing Superintendent Cindy Marten
gave it the thumbs-up.
It wasn’t enough to convince trustee John Lee Evans, however, who
first moved to deny the charter. He noted how Thrive had once
simultaneously tried to open a charter in San Diego Unified and another
district, and said it represented bad faith in the local community.
Assisi had been a founding principal at Los Angeles charter schools,
worked at High Tech High in its early years and had been awarded a grant
from the Gates and Broad foundations for the innovative model that
But ultimately Thrive was shot down
in a 3-2 vote. Why the board decided to move the goalposts on this particular charter school was hazy.
The vote, and a separate move by the board in which it raised the bar
on which charter schools would be eligible for a slice of Prop. Z
money, kick-started a new round of debate about the school board’s relationship with charter schools
Thrive wasn’t finished. It appealed the decision to the County Board
of Education. That came with a bizarre twist: The same San Diego Unified
staff that once supported the petition argued the County Board should
an outside legal consultant who spoke to the county board on the
district’s behalf, said Thrive sounds “good in theory,” but had gone
through fundamental changes that undermined its chance of success.
It worked. Thrive was denied
Thrive appealed again, this time to the state. Thrive’s petition
faced another review board, another round of vetting, another hearing
before the State Board of Education, where it had 10 minutes to make its case
. San Diego Unified had the same
. And once again, Thrive faced opposition from a onetime supporter: Marten.
Even though Marten, months earlier, had vouched for her staff’s
decision to green-light Thrive, she wrote a letter to the State Board
asking it to deny the school, citing concerns over its support for
English learners. (Read the letter here
But this time, Thrive won out.
Thrive is scheduled to open in the fall. Assisi said there are spots
for 160 students, half of which are currently filled. Assisi has been
interviewing teachers, and has a list of nine finalists – six of whom
will get the nod for the fall.
Assisi will soon sign a lease for the school, she said. Even though
the school will exist within San Diego Unified boundaries, it will be
overseen by the state, which will monitor its test scores and finances.
The state will also visit the school twice a year, over the course of Thrive’s five-year charter.
Of course, because Thrive won’t be part of San Diego Unified, it also
won’t see any of the bond money that other charter schools in the
district will receive.
For Assisi, that’s a rub, but she said it’s not what matters most.
“We didn’t come to San Diego to have access to bond money,” she said.
“We didn’t come to pick a fight. We came to San Diego because there’s
need and kids across the city on waiting lists for charter schools –
because there are students across the city living in poverty, not
meeting their potential.”
Still, it was a fight – one that cost Thrive and San Diego Unified time and money.
Assisi said the process also cost them a grant that they’d won, but
ultimately lost because the school’s charter hadn’t been approved on
Thrive has a lot of work to do before it’s ready to open in fall, but
Assisi said it’s the kind of work she got into the profession to do.
“We have such an expedited timeline now, and that wasn’t necessary.
It’s unfortunate that so much time and money was wasted – on both sides.
It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t spent on children,” she said.
A student who is at the 99+%ile (there is no 100%ile) can most definitely improve.
Let's say you have a third-grader who scores at a ninth-grade reading level. The next year, this child is almost certain to advance to tenth-grade or higher reading level. Of course, his (or her) percentile wouldn't change.
If every single child were to improve one grade level each year, then each child would have exactly the same percentile score each year, but would nevertheless be scoring at a higher performance level.
Unfortunately, a student who is two years below grade level is much less certain to advance a year or more during a school year. These students are usually not given proper instruction. They are likely to sit in class while everything goes over their heads because teachers "don't have time for the kids who are behind."
When you talk changing percentiles, you're talking about kids going up or down RELATIVE to other kids. You're NOT talking about how much actual improvement a student makes.
your scheme of things, a kid who gets the top score in the whole
country year after year, and rapidly raises his (or her) level of
performance each year, has NOT improved.
You are also saying that
a child who is in a low percentile to start with, who improves a little
bit--but is still far below grade level--has improved MORE than the
This makes no sense.
Percentiles only allow you to know which kids are higher and which kids are lower.
Percentiles don't give you information about what kids actually know.
If everyone makes less progress year after year, the percentiles remain
the same. If everyone makes more progress year after year, the
percentiles remain the same.
We want to know whether the student population as a whole is getting better, staying the same, or losing ground. This is CRUCIALLY important.
So we're not really much interested in looking at percentiles. Your mom is interested in your percentile, and college admissions departments are interested, but society as a whole is more interested in whether students are raising their grade levels..
The fact is that we ARE able to
measure the improvement of the high performers by looking at changes in
their grade level, and we know that teachers don't have to put very much
effort into getting the high-performer to improve their academic
We are also able to measure the
improvement of low performers by looking at changes (or lack of change)
in their grade level, and experience shows that teachers have to put a
lot more effort to get that improvement.
That's why so many
people are furious that low-income schools don't have the very best
teachers. The upscale schools don't need the best teachers; the
downscale schools desperately need them.