Extreme Schools: There’s a lesson for all of us in this school

Our featured school is actually several schools: The King/Chavez is a system of five schools in “Barrio Logan” in San Diego. This month is time for a reality check. If you work at a public school you may have thought, “Those charter schools have it easy; they can break all the rules!”

Actually, it’s no different.

Yes, I know of charter schools that do quite well. But being designated a charter school does not, by itself, raise school performance. That’s not the reason they do well. Good teachers working in good schools are how a school does well.

Today, the school is different; it’s a higher achieving school that does far better. The kids are the same, but the school is different. How did they do it? Their formula was…

K-5 SCHOOL: King-Chavez Arts Academy, San Diego, CA


I grew up in San Diego. This school has been a work in progress and it’s finally happening! Traditionally, the underserved Logan Heights area was symbolic of minority schools that failed their students. Since the 1980’s, there have been small steps taken to reform school quality. But nothing significant has worked for these typically Hispanic and African-American schools. In fact, they’ve had the lowest achieving schools in the district.

King/Chavez is a system of five schools in Logan Heights (now Barrio Logan) formed by merging charter and public schools. Demographically, approximately 85% of the students are English Learners, and 100% qualify for free/reduced lunch service. The charter for King-Chavez Arts Academy was granted in 2005 in response to a community need: the local district had already shut down the elementary school under the No Child Left Behind Act. The school inherited an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 559. That would put the school in the crisis category and among the lowest statewide.

King-Chavez Arts Academy did show progress, reaching an Academic Performance Index of 682 in 2008. While encouraging, educational achievement was not up to the King-Chavez high standards. The bloodshed happened again. The school was restructured again in 2008, replacing the principal and most of the staff. Morale dropped to the center of the earth. Scores fell 5% to 657 the following year. That event triggered a process that would eventually lead to a School Improvement Grant.


A comprehensive analysis was performed at the school. Data was collected from multiple sources and perspectives allowing for a balance between the big picture and the practical implementation. The data was compiled, summarized, and circulated to relevant and knowledgeable stakeholders.

The Arts Academy staff is only beginning to understand and implement data- informed instructional decision-making. Other King-Chavez schools (King- Chavez High School and King-Chavez Preparatory Academy) are fully implementing robust data management systems to target intervention groups and modify instruction. It has taken time for the staff to get on board.

King-Chavez Public School has adopted a rigorous and comprehensive professional development and accountability system, and a support system for new and struggling teachers is developing. They developed a coaching program for new teachers. They brought in experts to help with this process. They changed their staff development model to target their student issues better. Now the task is to follow through with the changes.


The progression and development of a new staff led to a 51-point annual progress in 2010. The year 2011 was the first year of the School Improvement Grant cycle; additional resources and expanded implementation of educational technology resulted in a further 66 point gain and aligned the Arts Academy’s achievement with the other King-Chavez charter schools. The school has made API (Academic Performance Index) growth targets in two of the past three years. In fact, they met all state and federal guidelines and exited Title 1 Program Improvement. They have made amazing progress moving from a sobering low of 22.2 ranking in state percentile to 53.1.

Is this school a high-performer? No, it’s not. I will keep you posted on this school. What I can tell you is that a few short years ago, it was about to be shut down.

I want to add one more thing. This is a school that, when it was at its worst, nearly everything wasn’t working.

The school went on a mission and just kept adding change after change after change; it was very overwhelming for the staff. While they are seeing progress, there are two cautionary notes.

First, schools often don’t know what they need most. If you try to implement everything at once, you’ll do everything mediocre. You’ll also never find out if that which you did is making a difference. You might need to do everything, but not at once. Some schools vastly underestimate the importance of integrity of implementation.

For more on this topic, check out a special event for you called Game Changers. More information at https://www.jensenlearning.com/game-changers/.

Second, no matter how bad you think things are, this is doable. But making your school a charter school doesn’t solve the problems that most struggling schools face.

In this case, the cluster of five charter schools (which used to be public) are now independently run with public funding and limited oversight from school districts. They are free from many of public school rules. They have their own boards (just like school districts such as San Diego Unified), and most of them are not unionized. But you still have to solve the same issues: better data collection, data analysis, staff moral, team-building, mission building, instructional quality, school climate, curriculum, environment and leadership. As I said earlier, never believe that, “All those charter schools have it easy.”

You’ll still need to roll up your sleeves and gather your data. You’ll still need to do a staff check in to find out where everyone is at with the data. You’ll still need to do one single powerful intervention and do it so well, it’s a work of art. You’ll still need to check for feedback; have you addressed THAT particular issue? If so, automate that change. Then start in on the next intervention. Wash, rinse, repeat.

See you next month.

Scott Worthing
Arts Academy Principal,
San Diego, CA 92102,
(619) 525-7320 Office
(619) 696-7459 FAX

If your Title 1 school has an “Extreme School” story to tell (whether you have moved up or are high performing), please email me your story to: info@jlcbrain.com. In the subject line, put “Extreme School” story.


Your partner in learning,

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning,
the Leader in Brain-Based Education

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