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Monday, April 11, 2005 | A charter school’s chances for success depend on many factors. The school’s relationship with its authorizer has an important, yet little understood, influence.

An authorizer is the public agency, usually a school district, that approves a proposal to start a charter school, monitors its performance and decides whether to renew the school’s charter, usually after a five-year period. The school must provide financial and student data to the authorizer and, depending on the charter agreement, may receive a variety of services from the parent organization.

The authorizer’s job is to ensure that children attending the charter school receive a quality education and that the school is properly managing its affairs. It is also responsible for providing supports necessary to allow the school to be successful.

Just over two years ago, the state auditor in California issued a report critical of charter school authorizers, stating that “oversight at all levels could be stronger to ensure accountability” for the state’s growing number of charter schools. The San Diego Unified School District was one of four districts identified as being in need of improvement.

To its credit, San Diego Unified responded by creating the Office of School Choice. Since then, the OSC has risen to the challenge and has become a national model by providing high-quality support to charters and other choice programs in the district.

OSC assists prospective charters, provides oversight and program reviews for the 24 existing charter schools serving over 10,000 students, and coordinates the complex relationships that exist between charter schools and the multiple district departments with whom they work. The OSC has created a set of policies, procedures and templates that are widely emulated in districts throughout the state and country.

Most recently, the OSC assisted in the coordination of successful restructuring efforts for three district-managed schools and one district-authorized charter school that will close and reopen as charters this fall under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Charter schools are now an established component of the public education system. School districts and other charter authorizers need to establish constructive relationships with their charter schools, balancing the schools’ needs for autonomy and support.

Having a clear focal point for interactions between the district and the schools is extremely helpful. Other districts would do well to adopt the best practices that are working so effectively in San Diego Unified.

Greg Richmond is President of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, a nonprofit membership organization dedicated to expanding and improving educational opportunities.

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