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Examples of well-known (and regarded) charter schools: Keiller Leadership Academy

In this report  we have identified several studies that looked across a range of states and employed a longitudinal approach. Yet, as also noted in the report, the overwhelming majority of charter studies have had a limited scope—focusing on one school or district, sometimes without directly comparable data between charter students and those at traditional public schools. Despite their limitations, these studies still may have value. They also frequently garner local, regional and, occasionally, national attention. As a result, they may resonate with parents, community leaders, and, inevitably, with local school board members and state school board associations. With that in mind, below is an example of a well-known charter school along with descriptive information and data on its operation.

Keiller Leadership Academy in San Diego, California

The Keiller Leadership Academy, formerly the Keiller Middle School, reopened as a public charter school in 2005 after staff and administrators partnered with the University of San Diego to develop a new curriculum, structure and schedule for the troubled school. Before converting to a charter, the school was listed by the state Department of Education as one of the ten most “persistently dangerous schools” in the state. At the time of its conversion, it was in its fifth year of Program Improvement. Conversion to a charter is one option available to underperforming schools through No Child Left Behind. According to the California Charter Schools Association, about one-third of California charters are conversion schools.

The conversion process was a lengthy one. To meet state requirements, parents, staff, and community members gathered signatures of support from 50 percent of all permanent teachers at the school and gained approval from the local school board. The San Diego Unified School District board voted unanimously to approve the school’s five-year charter in 2005, and the school opened in September of that year. In its first two years as a charter, Keiller Leadership Academy raised its Academic Performance Index (API) score by 79 points, and moved out of Program Improvement status; in its first year as a charter school, suspensions declined 33 per-cent, and teacher retention increased 40 percent (California Charter Schools Association 2008).

Through a partnership with the University of San Diego (USD), college faculty conducted professional development workshops for Keiller’s teachers, and USD students tutored Keiller students and served as graduate interns and student teachers. The partnership also led to other dramatic changes, including a switch from a traditional seven-period day to a block schedule with 90-minute classes. Also, all teachers focused on systematic vocabulary instruction, to address the fact that 70 percent of students were not proficient in reading.

The school’s 525 students are 60 percent Hispanic, 28 percent black, 9 percent Asian American, and 3 percent white.  More than 85 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and approximately 35 percent are English language learners. WestEd, a prominent education research and policy organization in the western U.S., has identified the school as one of three model charters for its Transform My School web site for schools seeking improvement or considering a switch to charter status.


This document was prepared for the Center for Public Education by Eileen M. O’Brien and Chuck Dervarics. O’Brien is an independent education researcher and consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. Much of her work has focused on access to quality education for disadvantaged and minority populations. O’Brien has a Master of Public Administration from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Loyola University, Chicago. Chuck Dervarics is an education writer and former editor of Report on Preschool Programs, a national independent newsletter on pre-k, Head Start, and child care policy. As a writer and researcher, he has contributed to case studies and research projects of the Southern Education Foundation, the American Council on Education, and the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, often focusing on issues facing disadvantaged populations. Dervarics has a Bachelors degree from George Washington University.


Posted: March 24, 2010


©2010 Center for Public Education
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