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:
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.
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.