Charter schools are public schools that allow parents, many of whom might not be able to afford private schools, a free alternative.
“It’s a social justice issue. All families deserve a great public-school option that meets the unique needs of their child,” said Larchmont Charter School Executive Director Amy Held.
This fall, a group of 31 smaller independent charter schools formed the L.A. Public Charter School Collaborative to share best practices.
Held, who served as ED at Palisades High School for four years, then went to Citizens of the World Charter, before going to Larchmont, explained that initially, executive directors from several smaller charters started meeting informally every Wednesday, during Covid.
Charter schools are basically their “own district” and the executive directors banded together to best understand and implement what the state and county were dictating. Smaller charters don’t have individual departments for environmental and health needs, such as larger districts do like the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“The meetings morphed into sharing best practices,” Held said, and added that after hearing what others were doing, “I switched my parents communication tool, and I also switched our internal academic assessment tool.”
Charters are strictly overseen by the state and are required to do testing and to provide verified data per the California Department of Education.
Held switched Larchmont to i-Ready, which is described as a test program for reading and math that helps a student’s teacher determine the student’s needs. It helps personalize learning, as well as monitoring a student’s progress.
“This was particularly useful after the pandemic, when there was no state testing,” Held said. “The program is based on where the student is performing and can either help with an intervention or work as extension of a subject for a student who might need more.”
By knowing where the students are in learning, “it helps teachers with grouping and planning.”
Held called i-Ready a “good switch and I wouldn’t have known anything about it without the collaboration.”
Although public perception is favorable for charters, there has been a backlash and it has been a political topic.
Larchmont Charter, which has 1620 kids (240 and 350 in elementary, 530 in middle school and 540 in high school) has high demand and a wait list.
But Held points out that the number of missing kids from schools nationally, which are not being home schooled and who have not returned to public schools after Covid, “is staggering.”
The benefit of a smaller “district” via a charter school is “we are nimble and responsive to the community,” she said.
Larchmont’s model is more focused on the “whole child” approach, the social and emotional needs of youth, which makes it more dynamic.
“The public’s perception of charter schools is often not accurate. We are a public school. We serve all kids,” Held said. “We are not trying to compete with district schools, but we exist to meet the unique needs of a student and his/her family.
“One size doesn’t fit all,” Held said, and noted that her district proportionally has as many special needs students as LAUSD. During Covid, knowing those students needed more, “we did one-on-one calls to students” and some “we had come to school.”
After Covid, when all kids were back in the classroom, “what we realized was the kids had been without structure and needed more. We set higher expectations and boundaries,” Held said, noting that cell phones went away, and “detention” or quiet hall returned, in order to give those who disrupted class time for reflection.
“That was what was needed,” she said. “If you’re in big system it’s harder to make a quick pivot.”
According to the state (2020-21) SARC report, Larchmont has a 95.60 percent graduation rate, as opposed to the district’s 83.5 percent. The suspension rate is very low, and the school lists 37.2 percent of students as socioeconomically disadvantaged.
Larchmont Charter had nearly 70 percent of its students meet or exceed English language and literacy (in 2021-22), compared to 46 percent in the state of California. In mathematics Larchmont had nearly 55 percent of its students meet or exceed expectations compared to 33 percent at the state level.
There’s a flip side to smaller public charter schools. Held said, “if you’re small, it’s hard to keep up on the constantly changing regulations and the different areas where money is available.”
And that’s why this collaboration is so important because it allows directors of smaller charters to share knowledge and best practices that in turn serve students.