Executive Summary

Description of the Authorizer

Grand Valley State University (GVSU) has a long-standing tradition and commitment to providing quality education for students. As part of this mission, the GVSU Board of Trustees seeks to impact public K-12 education through its leadership in Michigan's charter schools. In 2015, GVSU's dedication to fostering choice in K-12 education and positive public reform is stronger than ever.

GVSU chartered its first 3 schools in 1995, serving a total of 350 students. Today, in the 20th year as an authorizer, GVSU charters 69 school buildings, serving over 32,000 students. GVSU charters seek to provide choice to students in historically underperforming traditional public school districts across Michigan. Students enrolled in GVSU schools are predominately of low socio economic levels, as 69% qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch; however, despite high rates of poverty in GVSU schools, GVSU schools outperform schools with similar levels of poverty.  In the 2013-14 school year, GVSU portfolio schools had a median percentile of growth of 78th percentile nationally in reading and 79th percentile nationally in math according to NWEA Measures of Academic Progress Test data.

GVSU’s Charter Schools Office executes its mission by:

  • Developing the capacity of GVSU charter schools.
  • Recruiting quality charter school operators.
  • Closing low performing schools.

Notably, GVSU does not rely on rigorous compliance to build the capacity of GVSU schools; rather, compliance processes are recognized as essential, non-negotiable components of a GVSU school. In many ways, GVSU develops performance with “carrots,” instead of “sticks.” Resources are prioritized and strategically leveraged across the portfolio for building the capacity of GVSU schools and include teacher professional development, student assessment, governance training, research on teaching and learning, reading assistance, class management seminars, and performance incentives. From resource allocation to process design to staffing, the GVSU Charter Schools Office is designed to build the capacity of GVSU schools. 

Before a board receives a GVSU charter enabling them to serve students, the board and its proposed operator navigate a rigorous application process. GVSU encourages the highest quality applicants to apply for a GVSU charter. GVSU recruits applicants nationally with strong record for serving students to partner with Michigan community leaders who have expressed interest in a school choice option. Using national performance data and research studies on Education Service Providers (ESP) performance, GVSU matches potential ESPs with communities and their philanthropic funders with a demonstrated need and interest in supporting a quality public school choice. Applicants apply through a rigorous, highly selective two-stage process that realizes only 15% of applications successfully achieving a GVSU charter. Once approved, applicants are provided governance and compliance training and zero-year office space to train, hire, and build a team to ensure a smooth launch.

Schools that have persistently failed to meet GVSU’s performance requirements, which include growth and proficiency targets in addition to sound financial stewardship, face closure. GVSU has ended its partnership with 15 schools since 1995 because of inadequate academic and/or fiscal performance. GVSU maintains the highest degree of compliance oversight to ensure full compliance with state, local, and charter contract regulation using a secure, web-based system that ensures real-time compliance with all requirements. Additionally, GVSU staff attend all board meetings to support board governance with robust academic and financial reports.

GVSU’s work is within its schools. Only by being embedded within the schools, communities, and boards that they serve can GVSU provide effective oversight. The feedback that team members continuously derive from their ongoing presence within schools is set against the objective student outcome and financial data used render authorizing decisions. GVSU’s oversight is not cyclical and dependent on charter contract renewal dates. GVSU’s charter contract provides that GVSU may terminate a charter at any time; consequently, renewal processes are a continuous, daily effort at GVSU.

The relational trust between GVSU schools and the Charter Schools Office is intentional and designed to support strong oversight and continuous school improvement within the portfolio. Teachers, board members, community organizers, foundations, and education service providers understand GVSU as an instigator of performance, not an umpire. The role of performance instigator can also be leveraged to mitigate tensions during closure proceedings. In fact, 73% of GVSU charter closures were not forced; rather, GVSU worked with the board, staff, and students to recognize that continued operations were no longer in the best interest of students and schools have been closed by the local charter board. Following closure, this relational trust facilitates a smooth closure process where the interests of students, staff and funders are all heard.

GVSU is relentless in its pursuit of strong student achievement for Michigan’s students in the greatest need. Looking to the future, GVSU is furthering its investment in research and portfolio development by designing a process through which more research on teaching and learning can occur within the portfolio and strengthening relationships with school funders that appreciate the stability and support that comes with a GVSU charter. The future is bright for GVSU and the students that chose to enroll in a GVSU chartered school. 

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Authorizer's Purpose

GVSU CSO Mission, Vision Values, Goals

The mission of the GVSU Charter Schools Office (GVSU CSO) is to enhance student learning by providing oversight, compliance, and professional development to our charter schools.  GVSU has high expectations for schools within its portfolio, and firmly believes that it should also be held to a high standard by providing help and support services to assist every school in meeting the expectations put on them.  Schools are encouraged, not required, to take advantage of any support programs and offerings that will be beneficial to them.  

To further this effort, the GVSU CSO has developed an assortment of support processes for the schools in its portfolio.  Comprehensive compliance support is provided, aiding schools in state and authorizer requirements.  Professional development workshops are offered throughout the school year along with individualized embedded support in the areas of reading, data-driven instruction, classroom management, and technology.  Every new school board participates in a zero-year process prior to the school opening where they work with a GVSU board trainer to fully understand their roles and responsibilities.  

The GVSU CSO also proactively researches unique educational programs and practices that can be implemented in its schools. Specialists from around the country visit Michigan to periodically work with teachers and principals through the Learning Network and Leadership Coaching. Many programs, such as Evidence-Based Literacy Instruction (EBLI), Learning Styles, Learning Media, NWEA testing, AdvancED Accreditation, and Curriculum Crafter, directly support teaching and enhance learning in the classroom. 

Such educational enhancement is achieved in schools due to financial assistance from GVSU. In addition to researching the programs, the GVSU CSO also provides financial support to assist schools that embrace the programs and implement them into their schools. GVSU also offers a Masters of Education Tuition Reimbursement available for teachers and administrators to obtain their advanced degree at a 50% discount if courses are taken through GVSU College of Education.  GVSU education conferences are also available to GVSU charter school staff to attend at no cost.

In addition to programming for principals, teachers, and board members, the GVSU CSO offers programing to support the students in the schools in an effort to provide them with college and cultural experiences they may not otherwise receive.  The GVSU CSO has three major programs that connect charter students to GVSU in a meaningful way:  campus visits for 8th and 11th graders, a week-long summer enrichment camp for high school students, and ArtPrize Education Days for all grade levels.

GVSU continuously evaluates programs through research and participant feedback in an effort to provide quality services that truly enhance teaching and learning and tie back to the mission of the organization.

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Notable Achievements 2012-2015

  • Secured a Southeast Michigan regional facility in Detroit to support GVSU charter school efforts
  • Recruited ESPs with strong track records of success to make application to GVSU:
    • SABIS
    • Lighthouse Academies
    • Charter Schools USA
    • Expeditionary Learning
  • Hired 2 specialists in data-driven instruction using the NWEA MAP to support GVSU schools
  • Welcomed nine states to two National Authorizer Workshops hosted by GVSU
  • Launched new GVSU CSO website with the GVSU domain
  • Expanded the GVSU Summer Enrichment camp to two additional schools
  • Opened up the GVSU Professional Development offerings to non-GVSU charter schools for a fee
  • Added two new COE masters degrees as reimbursable to GVSU charter school teachers
  • Began a GVSU Campus Visit Program for 8th and 11th graders from GVSU charter schools
  • Implemented a rolling application cycle for charter school applications
  • Reviewed 47 applications for new charters and approved 8 (17% approval rate) in a single year (’13-’14).
  • Added 19 new schools to the GVSU charter school portfolio from 2013-2015 (now 69 schools)
  • Enrolled 31,820 students in grades K-12 in 2013-14 (an addition of 6,591 more students)
  • Returned $828,120 back to GVSU charters through the CSO’s Academic Grant Program in 2013-14
  • Served 5.4% more students qualifying for free or reduced priced lunch than in 2012/13 (now 69.4%) in 2013-14
  • Served .3% more students identified as requiring special education services than in 2012/13 (now 9.6%) in 2013-14
  • Interviewed, approved, and reappointed 133 charter school board members in 2013-14
  • Participated in 305 charter school board meetings in a single year (’13-’14)
  • Hired an additional assessment specialist, reading specialist, facility coordinator and 2 field service representatives to provide governance support in ’13-’14.
  • Hosted a regional Literacy Conference at the GVSU Detroit Center for our schools to improve reading programs
  • Welcomed 1,200 8th and 11th grade GVSU charter school students to the Allendale campus for CSO organized tours
  • Reviewed and evaluated 34 GVSU school facilities in our external facility assessment program in 2013-14
  • Launched a new mobile friendly CSO website with CMS 4 to improve information access for all stakeholders, specifically boards
  • Partnered with EpiCenter for financial, regulatory, and academic compliance monitoring
  • Recognized a GVSU charter school principal as MAPSA’s principal of the year
  • Hosted 82 external, non-GVSU affiliated schools at GVSU lead professional development in Detroit and Grand Rapids
  • Showcased 5 CSO team members as presenters at national conferences
  • Furthered our commitment to accurately measure student growth by improving the NWEA MAP testing process
  • Designed a new school launch process to ensure an effective and efficient startup for new schools
  • Supported and trained over 100 teachers in more than 25 schools in Evidence Based Literacy Instruction (EBLI)
  • Partnered with the GVSU Curriculum Library to offer teachers the opportunity to utilize their services
  • Partnered with GVSU Athletics and Head Football coach for a student reading-tutoring program
  • Provided 147 professional development workshops that served 2,500+ teachers from 153 different schools
  • Awarded $400,000+ to GVSU charter school teachers for enrolling in COE graduate course work
  • Partnered with 10 GVSU undergraduate students and GVSU Admissions to provide a TedxLivestream event in Detroit
  • Hosted a group of 5 Idaho colleges and universities at the GVSU Seidman College of Business to discuss authorizing
  • Updated Mi-school.net and maintained 500+ unique monthly visitors
  • Designed and launched MiBoard, a public website for charter school board governance training
  • Designed and launched MiMapData.net, a teacher data dashboard for GVSU charter school teachers
  • Partnered with Illinois Facility Fund, Capital Impact, and Turner-Agassi to organize financial support for startup GVSU charter schools
  • Hosted 15 GVSU undergraduate student workers/interns in the CSO

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Areas of Improvement

  • Portfolio academic performance
  • Post-secondary persistence data monitoring/ collection
  • Strengthen partnerships with philanthropic capital to support applicant recruitment
  • Internal evaluation of initiatives (e.g. EdLabs)
  • Internal process documenting

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