Scores, atmosphere prove charter is working

By Peggy Spear on August 26, 2013

That cheering you’re hearing isn’t coming from the new black-turfed football field at Clayton Valley Charter High School, but somewhere usually a lot more restrained: the administration offices.

For CVCHS Executive Director David Linzey, his staff, teachers and students, the school’s recent state test scores are something to cheer about, tangible proof that the risky and somewhat controversial move to become a charter school is working.

As the school settles into its second full year as a charter, the test scores aren’t the only indication that something really special is going on – but they are a firm measuring stick of the school’s success, Linzey says.

“I’m just giddy,” he says of CVCHS’ estimated score of somewhere between 829 and 834 in the Academic Performance Index – a growth of more than 60 points over the 2011-12 score of 772. (Official API scores have not yet been released.)

So what has changed?

If you ask Neil McChesney, the English teacher-turned-Director of Administrative Services at the school, the change is “like night and day.”

“It’s almost a different school,” says McChesney, who along with Pat Middendorf, spearheaded the charter campaign back in 2011. “Basically, we wrote in the charter that we wanted academic rigor and relevance, and that makes a difference in the classroom. The teachers now have the right tools to make learning relevant.”

Teacher Training

Indeed, one area that has flourished over the past year has been in staff development – training for teachers.

“We’ve had more professional development in the past year than in the past 10 years combined,” McChesney says. He himself taught a workshop this summer on using technology in the classroom, and Linzey brought 25 teachers and administrators to Model Schools conference.

Plus, the teachers have “the right tools” to be successful, including laptops, digital projectors and “smart boards.”

“I use a surgeon analogy,” says Linzey. “Why use a scalpel when you can use a laser?”

Both credit the new “Zero Failure” policy, which allows students to take after school classes and Saturday School to learn a lesson, and not fail students. “We’ve cut our failure rate in half,” Linzey says.

But besides academic success, many parents, teachers and students say that it is what’s going on outside the classroom that is making the most difference.

“It’s like a different school,” says parent Megan Kommer. She should know. Besides serving as board president of CVCHS she has three daughters who attend – and one who graduated in 2012, the year before the charter took effect.

“The campus is clean – there is a sense of pride that wasn’t there before,” she says. “And there is an atmosphere of respect. Before, when I would come on campus there would be altercations, fights even, on the school grounds. You don’t see that anymore. It’s now a conducive place for learning.”

She says that while highly academic students are still doing well, most of the positive changes can be seen in the average and below-average students. “The school isn’t letting kids slip through the cracks anymore. “

She also has seen a huge jump in parent involvement, and a parent survey taken last spring shows a whopping 100 percent of responders see the school heading in the right direction.

Modeling good behavior

Kommer attributes that to the change in leadership at the top, and Linzey says he just models what he expects of his students. “The other administrators and I are always out at lunch, getting to know the students, seeing what’s going on. And we will pick up trash along the way. It shows that we are all one community here, and we need to respect it.”

And they are, if you listen to most students. “All my friends are really happy with the changes,” says junior Julie Farr. “I used to have a hard time in school, but now the teachers make it more relevant. They seem happier, too.”

Farr says that of course there are some naysayers, but that “those are the kids who would be negative anyway. Every high school has them.”

Even critics of the charter plan are praising Linzey and the positive changes he’s brought to the school.

“I was opposed to the Clayton charter for funding reasons, as last year it cost other schools in the district. But this year, that won’t happen,” says Northgate High Principal John McMorris. “In fact, I’m very impressed with the charter and Dave Linzey. The school has a great positive energy, the facility looks great and I believe they are doing things we should look at and possible do in our district. Clayton has a new positive energy and dynamic people who are making the school a great place for their students.”

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