Two Charter Public Schools, One Mission: Latino Academic Excellence Examines Best Practices at Two High Performing Charter Schools

As this year’s Latino Heritage Month comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on my own Latina roots and California’s strong Latino communities which are central to our state’s history and cultural identity. 

According to recent census data, California is now home to 15.6 million Latinos and Latino students make up 55.3% of the K-12 public school student population. Over 350,000 charter public schools students are Latino, an increased by 5% over the last 7 years.

The Latino student population within charter public schools is diverse: 26% are English learners, 13% are on specialized learning plans, 4% are homeless and 77% are considered low-income. 

The California Charter School Association’s new research brief Two Charter Public Schools, One Mission: Latino Academic Excellence looks at Latino student demographics, their academic achievement thus far, and shine a bright light on two charter public schools – Libertas College Preparatory Charter in South Los Angeles and Santa Rosa Academy in Riverside County – that have been able to identify and establish fundamental “building blocks” that are leading to strong academic gains among their Latino students. In fact, these two schools are performing in the 85th percentile or higher for Latino students statewide on the annual state assessment.

At Libertas, Latino students are not only performing above standard but are scoring well above the LAUSD average in both English Language Arts and Math. Not only does the school set high academic standards, Libertas stresses the importance of character education for its students and the cultural competency of its teachers. Weekly character assessments are conducted which value the student’s engagement and participation in class. Teachers build their curriculum around engaging the student in their studies, emphasizing hands-on activity and active learning. 

Recognizing that students are more engaged when the teacher reflects the students, the school makes diversity in hiring an intentional focus. Along with hiring diverse teachers, the school works to remove the language barrier in communicating with students’ parents, understanding that better communication with parents is an essential component of student success. School communications are translated into Spanish, and parents are encouraged to speak or write back in Spanish.

Roughly 80 miles away in the city of Menifee in Riverside County, Santa Rosa Academy also sets a high academic bar for students to reach and places a strong emphasis on community involvement. 

Santa Rosa Academy’s high school freshmen are motivated and inspired by public service work. In addition, Santa Rosa Academy seeks to provide support that satisfies the needs of the whole student – from mental health to safety concerns. Students are assessed at the beginning of each year to understand a student’s needs and provide individualized support. 

Lastly, Santa Rosa Academy students are given the opportunity to earn over 30 college credits prior to graduation, participate in one of the Career and Technical Education programs, or complete the newly revamped a-g course pathway.

It’s critically important to draw attention to these schools and the fundamental building blocks they have adopted because these best practices can work to close the wide and pervasive opportunity gap that produces inequitable educational outcomes for Latino students. 

Based on the most recent testing, Latino public school students showed a gap in both English and Math when compared to all students. While test scores for Latino students attending charter schools scored higher than their peers attending traditional public schools, more work needs to be done. Latino students at charter public schools were 14 points below the met standard in English, whereas Latino students at traditional public schools were 25 points below. In Math, Latino students at charter public schools were 50 points below the met standard, compared to Latino students at traditional public schools who were 59 points below in Math. 

This Latino Heritage Month, it is important that we look forward to how we can serve California’s Latino students going forward and provide equitable educational opportunities. All of us have been affected by this pandemic, especially those students that need additional support. As the leader of the California Charter Schools Association, I am excited to highlight how two schools have been able to find success through adversity and educate the next generation of Latino Californians that are our future leaders and innovators.

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Myrna Castrejón
As the leader of CCSA, Myrna Castrejón has managed the membership organization representing California's public charter schools since January 2019. Prior to assuming the role of President and CEO, she served for nearly three years as the Founding Executive Director of Great Public Schools Now, an organization created in winter 2015. As the Executive Director, Myrna led Great Public Schools Now's strategy to transform public education in Los Angeles by expanding high-quality public schools of diverse governance models in the areas most in need of support. Before that assignment, Myrna worked at the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) in various key leadership roles since its founding in late 2003, leading the government affairs, local advocacy, quality, school development, and research and evaluation portfolios at various times. Her work with CCSA was preceded by a decade in school reform efforts in Texas and Los Angeles. In the late 1990s-early 2000s, Myrna served as a consultant to the state-funded Urban Education Partnership/LAUSD, helping to develop eight innovative early education service centers in the most high-need areas of Los Angeles; served as VP of School and Family Networks for the Los Angeles Alliance for Student Achievement and the director for family engagement for the Los Angeles Annenberg Metropolitan Project. In Texas, Myrna spearheaded parent and community engagement efforts at the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence, a K-16 systemic reform initiative and served for nearly a decade as a key education leader, supporting community organizing strategies for the Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation and its statewide Alliance Schools Initiative to develop parent, teacher and community capacity to transform low-performing schools into high achieving centers for community-wide change. Whether in community organizing efforts or through her leadership on the national board of Parents for Public Schools, Myrna cemented her professional ‘north star’ orientation early: to center the needs of students and parents and give their children high-quality education opportunities when faced with so few equitable choices. Her passion for this critical work is personal too - as a single mother and an immigrant - driven by what she knows is possible when commitment, opportunity and urgency meet to help families carve out better futures. Myrna is a member of the Aspen Pahara Education Fellowship's eighth class and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Myrna and her son share their home with two black cats and the six different brass instruments her son plays in his quest to feature in a college marching band. Will it be USC? UCLA? Stay tuned…

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