Ten years ago, Don Shalvey and Reed Hastings set out to create an organization that would generate high-performing charter schools and improve the quality of education to those who may be less served in public school.
Now with more than 21 schools and a 95 percent college acceptance rate - compared to just 6 percent from the neighborhoods where the schools are located, according to Shalvey - Aspire Public Schools is ready to grow 50 more schools.
But he is handing the chief executive officer baton to James Wilcox, the current chief operating officer, who will assume the leadership role. Shalvey is joining the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
He recently corresponded via e-mail with News-Sentinel staff writer Jennifer Bonnett about his vision for Aspire Public Schools.
Q: Tell me about how you got into education.
A: Since I was a high school student, I wanted to teach, and that desire continued through high school and college.
I was educated in Philadelphia and came to California in the summer of 1967, aka "The Summer of Love." I thought I was going to a suburb in San Francisco; I give credit to the excellent assistant superintendent in Merced who, while not telling me it was not a suburb of San Francisco, implied it was quite close. So there I was, a 22-year-old venturing to the Central Valley.
Don Shalvey at a glanceResident of: Linden.
Family: Married to Sue, also a lifelong educator, with two children - Megan, 29, a special-education teacher and equestrian trainer, and Brian, 31, a Navy SEAL who just returned from Iraq.
Education: Bachelor's degree from LaSalle College in Philadelphia; master's degree in counseling in psychology from Gonzaga University; doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Southern California.
Q: What was your goal in creating Aspire Public Schools a decade ago? Did you achieve it?
A: It was founded with the goal of creating an organization that could help reshape public education and provide an extraordinary education for the families we served. Some 10 years later, I would say that Aspire Public Schools has achieved its 10-year goal.
During Aspire's first 10 years, we created 21 schools with state test results that are six times higher than the average school in California.
In addition, some of our schools have earned the "distinguished schools" recognition, and Aspire Public Schools has earned a state and national reputation for quality.
Q: What's the main difference between a charter school and a public school?
A: Charter schools are public schools with the exception that most public schools have a local attendance area, while charter schools' attendance area is the state of California.
Charter schools are very accountable; school districts or the State Board of Education authorize a charter school to exist. The school stays in existence as long as the school meets its standards of student performance and parent participation.
At the simplest explanation, charter schools offer maximum flexibility for maximum accountability. Few, if any, neighborhood public schools are ever closed for poor performance; however, charter public schools have been, and should be closed if either parents are not satisfied or student achievement does not meet the guarantee made in the charter.
Q: Why do you think charter schools are becoming more popular?
A: I believe that most parents and most Californians believe that a parent has a right to choose their children's school - that choice is a key factor in determining the quality of an education that youngsters and families receive.
Q: How do charter schools improve the overall test scores of a district?
A: I think charter schools should be "purposeful test kitchens" to determine how innovative practices can enrich children and be available to their public schools sponsors.
In Lodi, there has always been a very compatible relationship between the district and Aspire Public Schools. Superintendents Delbert Alberti and Bill Huyett have sought to share Lodi's best practices, as well as adopt practices that seem to correlate with student achievement.
Under Superintendent Huyett, Lodi adopted the "cycle of inquiry" model and regular assessments, which are two key components of Aspire's educational model. In addition, we believe in small schools and that small schools can make a big difference. We have a Memorandum of Understanding with the school district to share best practices, and under Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer we continue to do that.
Q: I understand you are leaving your top position at Aspire to work for another organization in the education area. What do you hope to achieve?
A: I am honored to be going to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the expressed purpose of helping Bill and Melinda achieve their dream, which is to create a renaissance in high schools across the country and dramatically increase the number of underserved students who will enter college and attain a degree.
I welcome the opportunity to work on behalf of the founders to seek the best models in the country and to create a seamless tapestry where at-risk youth attend college at extraordinary rates and experience the benefits of a college degree.
Q: Would you recommend any good books you've read lately?
A: I am an avid nonfiction reader, so books like "Good to Great" by Jim Collins; Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat;" "Work Hard, Be Nice" by Jay Matthews and Mike Feinberg; and Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod's work describing high-performing nonprofit organizations, called "Forces for Good."
Q: You travel a lot between the Valley and Aspire's home offices. How do you pass the time in your vehicle?
A: I drive approximately 4,000 miles a year, traveling between the Bay Area and the Central Valley. I think of my Toyota Prius as an office, so the time in my car is equally divided between my cell phone, my digital tape recorder (for dictating letters, memos, e-mails) and my iPod, which is always ready to provide a mix of great rock and roll oldies.
I am a lover of doo-wop music and almost anything from the '60s, coupled with a daily download podcast from iTunes - mostly sports, education and culture.
If you haven't listened to Grammar Girl's podcast, I would highly recommended her. She is one of the few people I know who can make grammar interesting and engaging.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.