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Conversion Charters

A conversion Charter School is an existing public school that converts to charter status. The school continues to be a public school while creating choice for parents. A Conversion Charter provides opportunity for flexibility, autonomy, and new and innovative services – programs, teaching practices, professional development, and management. Conversion Charters raise expectation, hope and accountability for their teachers, students, and community. They abide by all state and federal laws and continue to receive eligible state and federal funding.

Conversion Charters in Hawai`i

Act 272 (SLH 1994) allowed up to 25 public schools in Hawai`i to convert to charter schools known as “Student-Centered Schools.” Lanikai Elementary and Wai`alae Elementary on the island of Oahu are examples of student-centered schools.  In 1999, this legislation was amended to allow for new charter schools (sometimes called start-up or start-fresh schools) to be known in Hawai`i as “New Century Schools.”  Act 2 (SLH 2002) allowed eligible non-profit organizations to manage and operate public schools that convert to charter schools status (New Century Conversion Charter Schools). The non-profit must contribute to the school $1 for every $4 of public funds, and the non-profit’s board of directors serves as the local school board for the school.

National Perspective

Ho`okāko`o Corporation (HC) interviewed national experts to identify the advantages conversion charter schools have (as opposed to start-ups) and the barriers they face. The list of experts included Pat Bassett (National Association of Independent Schools), Andy Johnson (Los Angeles Unified School District Office), Larry Stupski (Stupski Foundation) and Hank Levin (Columbia University).

Barriers Conversion Schools Face
  • Difficulty in changing an existing organizational culture
  • Time urgency – need to change everything overnight
  • Limited control over selection and negotiation with teachers
  • Difficulty in retention of good teachers due to loss of some union benefits
  • Need to develop internal operating systems to replace support provided by DOE

Margaret Lin (Peak Achievement Strategies) and Todd Ziebarth (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools) in a memo to HC about the National Perspective on Conversion Charters suggest that conversion charter schools must also overcome a “deeply ingrained school culture that previously sustained poor performance” and a fear of or resistance to change that some members of staff and school community will experience. Converting as a means to fulfill NCLB’s requirement for restructuring (after 5 or 6 years of poor performance) is dramatically different from converting or starting-up because of the desire to be free or freed of the constraints preventing a group of reformers from implementing a vision for a high-quality public school.