In 2000, the original King-Chavez school, King-Chavez Academy of Excellence, was born out of community need in the Logan Heights neighborhood of San Diego. The local public schools were failing as safe, culturally responsive places of learning. Options for students in grade 6 were especially limited; many children were bused out of the neighborhood every day.
Our school engaged both its staff and the community in its mission: to “seek excellence in academics, arts, and athletics from the foundation of love.” This sense of purpose manifested itself in concrete ways. During the first year of operation, no staff member called in sick; turnout at our parent events averaged 90% or higher. The community took notice. The school opened with 75 students from grades K-5. By the third year, we had over 300 students and the school was the most improved school in San Diego County as measured by the Academic Performance Index (API).
Our original vision called for making a quality King-Chavez education available for all the children in the neighborhood from grades Pre K-12. King-Chavez Academy of Excellence expanded to grades 7 and 8, and looked to add a King-Chavez High School with all deliberate speed. However, there was an educational crisis in the community that needed to be addressed first. King Elementary, a district school, was on the verge of being shut down due to poor performance. Parents started a grassroots signature drive to convert to charter, and looked to replicate the success of King-Chavez Academy of Excellence.
In 2005, King Elementary was restructured under No Child Left Behind as three smaller King-Chavez Academies: Primary, Arts, and Athletics. The dividends were immediate. The schools inherited an API score of 559 at the time of reconstitution, which grew by over 100 points during the first year and has exceeded 800 in subsequent years. These gains have received national recognition.
The King-Chavez Athletics Academy believes that strengthening the body goes hand-in-hand with developing the mind. In the community we serve, this need is particularly acute. While 16% of all 6-11 year olds are obese, that rate climbs to 25.6% for Mexican-American boys. Health risks include Type 2 diabetes, low self-esteem, respiratory problems, and bullying. Our response is to provide daily, quality physical education. The state minimum is 200 minutes of exercise every 10 days; we provide 400 minutes. We also built a state-of-the-art Fitness Arcade that blends technology, gaming, and movement to engage kids and develop good health habits.
It is also important to expose children to a variety of experiences. We have developed relationships with other community-minded organizations that allow our children to broaden their horizons. Opportunities include the Bridge to the Beach swimming/surfing program, a league-based soccer team, and YMCA swimming.
While both the physical and the mental components are essential, it is only possible to reach these levels of academic achievement through nurturing the spirit. Our teachers invest in building relationships with families. Home visits are a key component of our program. We also employ community people whenever possible and have a strong family outreach and counselling program.
Our founding staff members came from many walks of life, and were bound together by a sense of purpose and mission. While our founding Principal, Dr. Brian French, has since decided to pursue a career in medicine, many of our original teachers are still at King-Chavez in leadership positions. We continue to hire strong, committed educators by not compromising our standards. Our hiring process is thorough, with at least 3 interviews and a mock lesson observation. While no system is perfect, we believe that our students deserve the best. This is why we invest in support teachers as well as our contained classroom staff; our support teachers are fully credentialed and ready for the opportunity to teach their own classes.
The original dream of a KC education from grades Pre K-12 has become a reality with the addition of King-Chavez Community High School, Preschool, and Preparatory Academies. We are preparing our graduates for the broader world through the use of innovative teaching techniques, with a focus on project-based learning and educational technology. As we look toward the future, we are confident in our students’ success.
- Scott Worthing