Remembering Don Shalvey

We are sorry to note the passing of California charter luminary Don Shalvey on March 16 following a year-long battle with brain cancer.

He was superintendent of the San Carlos Elementary School district where in 1992 he encouraged the development of the San Carlos Charter Learning Center, California’s first chartered public school. This was the first of many bold moves to support charter schools during a distinguished career summarized better in these tributes: "An Appreciation: How Don Shalvey Shaped the Charter School Movementere" (The 74) and "Don Shalvey, ‘fearless’ charter school pioneer and mentor, dies at 79" (EdSource).

We are grateful for Shalvey’s long-term support of CSDC’s work and of California’s charter schools. In 1997, we worked with Shalvey when he teamed up with Reed Hastings to sponsor a ballot initiative to strengthen California’s charter laws. This eventually led to the passage of Senate Bill 514 in 1998, which lifted the cap of 100 charter schools in the state and generally strengthened California’s then-weak charter laws.

Don went on to found Aspire Public Schools, the nation’s first and one of the most successful large-scale charter school management organizations (CMOs). All of these were controversial and gutsy moves for a successful superintendent from a traditional school district—a testament to his career and character. Later, Shalvey joined the Gates Foundation where he led many of the Foundation’s efforts to strengthen both chartered and traditional public schools. We had the opportunity to work with Don on several Gates-backed initiatives ranging from strengthening CMO sustainability to the initial implementation of Washington’s then-new state charter laws.

Though an advocate of CMOs, he also understood the vital role that “mom and pop” charter schools play. He spoke at our annual conference many years ago, sharing his insightful perspective on the need for supporting both CMOs’ capacity to scale, and small-scale charter schools’ capacity to innovate as part of a larger charter reform effort.

We offer our condolences to Don’s wife Sue, who led her own very distinguished career in special education, and his family. They inform us that there will be a public celebration of his life in June with details forthcoming.

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