Aspire Public Schools
Gratitude Report | 2021-2022
In a year that brought many twists and turns, I am deeply grateful to Aspire’s team, families, communities, and partners for their ongoing commitment to our scholars’ success. As nearly all scholars and teammates came back together in our school buildings, the goal was never to simply survive, but to grow and thrive. And I am proud to say that we did exactly that. Please watch the video to learn more.
Mala Batra | CEO, Aspire Public SchoolsRead More
In another year that brought many twists and turns, I am deeply grateful to Aspire’s scholars, team, families, communities, and partners for their ongoing commitment to the success of our schools. As nearly all scholars and teammates came back together in our school buildings, we knew the return would be full of joy and reconnection. But we also knew that our scholars’ experiences while they were away would require increased attention on their social-emotional needs and mental health, all while continuing to support their unique academic needs. I am proud to say that we did exactly that.
Aspire is re-emerging stronger. We never thought of this year as an opportunity to make up for lost time. Instead, we focused on ways we could accelerate scholar learning through engaging, rigorous, and culturally responsive academic programming. With a focus on disrupting disproportionate outcomes for our most historically underserved scholars—those with disabilities, multi-language learners, and Black students—Aspire leveraged data to drive decisions about inclusive programming to engage all scholars.
This showed up in many ways throughout Aspire. We expanded Aspire’s co-teaching model through a partnership with the CHIME Institute, a national leader in inclusive education. We rolled out a new K-5 science curriculum that provides consistency and professional learning opportunities, and includes culturally responsive teaching practices. We expanded our regional multilingual supports to lay the foundation for more robust professional development opportunities for all. And we worked with teammates across Aspire to define and refine Aspire’s definition of culturally responsive teaching, which we will infuse in all of our interactions with our scholars and communities.
Aspire is re-engaging our community. Aspire’s highest priority is always the safety of our communities, and never has that been more relevant than during the pandemic. This focus isn’t just about physical safety, but also how we cultivate communities that foster inclusive and joyful learning environments. This year, we deepened our implementation of the RULER Social-Emotional Learning curriculum—an SEL approach that builds scholars’ emotional intelligence and supports teachers and leaders to build a positive, empowering school culture. We are accelerating our efforts to bring a culturally responsive lens to our work with RULER.
Aspire is re-investing with resilience. Investing in our team isn’t just to ensure scholar success, but to promote a sustainable working environment where every teammate feels like they can meaningfully contribute and bring their authentic self to work. This has been a difficult year for educators, and we knew we needed to prioritize teammate well-being so they could show up for our scholars every day. Through initiatives like reopening bonuses, building in more planning time during the work day, affinity spaces, and additional paid time off, we build up our team so they can do the most important work.
We also wanted to use the COVID crisis as an opportunity to reimagine how we allocate resources to maximize their impact on scholar success. Aspire underwent an organizational restructure to move to a more regional model. By moving more resources and decision-making closer to our scholars, we are enabling more local input to inform resource allocation. In the years ahead, this will lead to more direct support for educators in schools, so they can hone their craft, more regional student support services and more content area knowledge closer to the scholars we serve.
As part of our organizational restructure, we are proud to announce a shift in our regional leadership from Area Superintendents to Executive Directors. This new position acknowledges regional leader roles in not just overseeing schools, but also in building community partnerships, developing talent, supporting the operational and fiscal health of each region, and contributing to organization-wide decision making. We have also added a Superintendent of Equitable Instruction in each region, ensuring school leaders have the support they need to build inclusive and effective learning environments for all scholars. And we are proud to be deepening our commitment to Aspire’s Equity Commitments through a new role—Chief Equity and People Officer—to ensure our approaches to people development continue to bind us together across the state.
The pages that follow showcase some of the many things we are proud of this year, and are reflections of our ongoing commitment to this important work.
Thank you for your continued support, which helps us deepen our impact and make Aspire stronger each and every year.
CEO Aspire Public Schools
Our communities, which are predominantly Black and Latinx, persist in a system that does not adequately educate everyone. Aspire Public Schools aims to transform the disproportionate outcomes that result from that system, and which are exacerbated by the disparate learning loss and trauma experienced during the pandemic. When combined with our anti-racist core values, our priorities and initiatives will drive us to achieve greater racial, social, and gender equity across our schools and communities.
Learning, working, and playing require us to feel safe and well. Our spaces and interactions support physical, emotional, cultural, ethnic, academic, and social safety, allowing us to feel secure enough to bring our full selves each day.
At Aspire we can be our authentic selves and be comfortable sharing all aspects of our identities. We respect and celebrate each other’s differences, and approach one another with empathy and understanding - no matter one’s background or cultural history. Each person is valued and has a place in this community.
We are all connected and collectively responsible for the well-being of every member of our extended community. When one of us is let down, we are all let down. When one of us succeeds, we all succeed. Only in partnership and by listening deeply to one another, can we create collective movement.
Each person has unique dreams. At Aspire, we set a foundation for our scholars to gain knowledge, skills, and power to access and make choices for their families and post-secondary lives.
We strive to make Aspire and our communities a joyful place to learn, work, and be, together. Our work to shift outcomes is hard, yet we persist, and have gratitude and pride in the journey. Joy makes it all possible!
qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch
speak a language other than English at home
receive Special Education services
of our teammates report positive working relationships with parents and families
of Aspire families believe their child is getting a good education at their school
of Aspire families feel connected to their child's school
of our teachers plan to work at Aspire next year*
*compared to 77% nationwide average (Source)
of teammates report being able to be their authentic selves at work and share all aspects of their culture and identity
of teachers identify as Black, Indigenous, and people of color
average years of prior teaching experience
Click on each region to see local schools
Aspire schools were awarded High Student Academic Growth by CORE Districts* in 2019**
of charters renewed
*CORE Districts is a collaboration of California school districts focused on improving student achievement through partnership and learning.
**Student achievement data is not available for 2020 and limited in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and pause on statewide testing.
Earlier this year, we received unanimous approval on a material revision from the Stockton Unified School Board to create a TK-12 campus in the Sierra Vista housing development, which will house Aspire APEX Academy (TK-5) and Aspire Stockton Secondary Academy (6-12). This is a huge milestone to deliver on a long-held commitment to secure a safe, high-quality facility for our Aspire APEX community.
“ Black educators have the perspective Black students need to be able to see themselves in different ways. As a young person, you do not necessarily recognize all the possible potential for yourself without seeing it through other people that look like you. I share my life experiences with my students. They begin to think, 'my life sounds like your life and you are here, able to do it'. ”
— Shantel Lockhart, Aspire Langston Hughes Academy history teacher
“Walking into a classroom where you feel seen and represented by the demographics of those educating you is such an empowering experience for developing minds because school is often the place you spend the majority of your waking hours and is frequently the place where your worldview is being shaped and cultivated. Existing in a place where you don’t see Black people in leadership positions or with the ability to pour into your students is not indicative of the true potential of Black people to be leaders and agents of change. That is where clubs like Black Student Union come into play, organizations uniquely focused on the voices and thoughts of Black people, and an opportunity to learn how one advocates for oneself.”
— Nicholas Arosemena, Aspire Langston Hughes Academy Alumnus, 2018
“When students see me, they see themselves.”
— Montoya Mayo, Aspire Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy elementary teacher
We are grateful to each and every supporter who contributed to Aspire Public Schools in 2021-2022.Our Supporters
At Aspire Public Schools, our purpose is to prepare our scholars for success in college, career, and life. Our community of scholars, teachers, leaders, staff, and families is focused on ensuring each child’s aspirations—including college—are within reach. To learn more or get involved, visit: www.aspirepublicschools.org.
Let us know if you are interested in supporting philanthropic initiatives.
Our supporters know that the dual pandemics of health and racial justice continue to amplify the needs faced by our communities. In response, the Wend Collective generously donated additional family relief funding to our Los Angeles schools this year. Their support allowed us to purchase groceries and warm clothing for our scholars, and to send direct financial support to over 550 Aspire families.
This fall, Aspire hosted COVID-19 vaccine engagement sessions with medical experts, facilitated by Aspire Interim Senior Director of HR & Talent Stephanie Vaughn. These conversations provided teammates the opportunity to engage with medical professionals regarding their questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
All Aspire schools provide a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) for students to ensure we are applying an intentional, data-driven continuous improvement framework to mental health and social-emotional support. The MTSS framework proactively identifies students with academic or behavioral needs, utilizing early assessment and intervention to help them catch up with peers sooner. Key components include universal screening and tiers of interventions that allow schools to meet students where they are and respond equitably according to level of need.
“In March 2020, as schools closed their doors, we were forced to adapt to the sudden shift to our daily routines and learn other strategies to make distance learning work. Now, three months back into in-person learning, we see daily examples of a new learning curve: not being able to wait to use the restroom, forgetting to raise your hand before speaking and struggling to take turns on the playground.”
Read the full Op-Ed written by Anthony Solina, Aspire Central Valley Superintendent (October 26, 2021)
As part of Aspire’s commitment to equity, one of our priorities is to lift up Black Excellence—programs that teach about, celebrate, and honor Black culture—throughout our schools. We are proud to have launched many culturally responsive programs that serve our scholars and teammates, and will continue to expand on these initiatives in the years to come.
Growing up in southeast Los Angeles, Jorge Reyes wanted his children to attend a school where they would be encouraged to share their cultural traditions. Mr. Reyes and his family are members of Iztacuautli, an Aztec dance troupe that goes back three generations in their family. The Reyes family had heard positive things about Firestone Academy and decided to enroll their oldest daughter, Milinna, who was starting second grade. A decade later, the family’s youngest son, Diego, is now a fourth-grade student at the school. Their middle daughter, Aureli, also attended Firestone. Over the past ten years, the extended Reyes family—also members of Iztacuautli—have performed the powerful native Aztec dance Chichimeca during Firestone’s annual Dia de Los Muertos celebration.
In 2021, Aspire Public Schools began pioneering a program pairing special and general education teachers. The co-teaching model is backed by research showing all students stand to benefit socially and academically when students with disabilities are included in general education classroom and is made possible through a partnership with CHIME Institute and the Gates Foundation.
“We are hoping that keeping kids in their classroom—supporting them socially and emotionally alongside their peers—will actually foster a sense of belonging that they didn’t have during the pandemic,” said Meghann Cazale, Director of Special Education for Aspire’s Central Valley Region.Read the Article
As schools nationwide scramble to hire special education teachers after a pandemic-exacerbated shortage, Aspire Public Schools is investing in existing staff to fill classroom slots by paying for costly credential programs, boosting salaries, and providing mentors.
“I’ve seen this across systems, not just Aspire, where we have these great educators in our schools, who just need support in accessing credential programs,” said Senior Director of Special Education Lisa Freccero. “They’re invested in our schools; they want to work with our kids; they want to work in special education.”Read the Article
As schools have continued to navigate the pandemic this school year, Aspire has been diligent about ensuring the health and safety of every scholar and teammate. But this diligence has come at a cost: California state law was unjustly penalizing students by withholding money for their education when they had to follow state-mandated quarantines. In the first two months of school alone, the state withheld $1.2 million from Aspire scholars—and that was before the Omicron variant hit, forcing thousands more scholars to quarantine. To advocate for a solution that didn’t force schools to choose between their students’ safety and the funding they need to keep their schools running, Aspire launched the Cost of Quarantine campaign. And we were successful! In May 2022, Governor Gavin Newsom released a budget proposal revision ending the financial penalization of student quarantines.Read the Article
In February 2022, Aspire held its second annual school-based fundraising campaign, Share the Love. Through the campaign, our schools raised direct support for programs that move the needle at their specific sites. 18 of our schools raised over $1000! This funding will pay for playground improvement, hands-on science materials, elective and extracurricular programming, college scholarships for graduating seniors, and more.
Aspire Vanguard College Preparatory Academy’s partnership with Modesto Junior College has given our scholars tuition-free access to prerequisite college courses, allowing them to start college one to two years ahead and saving thousands of dollars in tuition. Through our Early College Program, many Aspire scholars earn an Associate’s degree by the time they graduate high school, and our alumni tell us the college courses they took at Aspire were the best preparation for their college experience.
Our Changing the Odds scholarship program was created in 2009 to honor Aspire’s founder, Don Shalvey. The award recognizes alumni who—like Don—are the first in their families to graduate from college, give back to their communities, and continue to demonstrate determination in the pursuit of College for Certain. Three winners are selected each year across our three regions. Our most recent winners Bibiana, Sara, and Wendy have impressive resumes, spanning student leadership, Americorps, advocacy work, and volunteer mentorship. Truly personifying the call to give back to their communities, two of our three winners even returned to work at their alma maters. Congratulations, Don Shalvey: Changing the Odds award recipients!
"I am extremely excited to teach at my alma mater and to be able to give back to the community that gave so much to me."
The Aspire Shining Stars award recognizes outstanding seniors across our high schools in the Central Valley, Bay Area, and Los Angeles regions. Since the award’s inception in 2016, seven cohorts of exceptional college-bound scholars have been awarded a scholarship to put towards their post-secondary education. Our Shining Stars have a wide variety of lived experiences, and each is tenacious, persistent, and active in their community. This year, our 2022 Shining Stars truly exemplified the grit, effort, and spirit of College for Certain. This scholarship was made possible through the generosity of Richard and Theresa Crocker, to whom we are incredibly grateful.
Hear from an Aspire parent, alumna, and current scholars on their family's joyful return to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year. Learn from their Aspire teacher on what makes the school community special, and how it has been to teach in-person this year in partnership with the family.
Aspire proudly celebrates Black History Month, Black joy, and Black excellence! We celebrate the persistence of these elements of Black culture despite trauma and a history of oppression. While honoring Black History Month does not replace the critical work of elevating Black excellence year-round and making our curriculum culturally relevant, this month is an important opportunity to reflect on where we are and to acknowledge the many contributions of our Black teammates, scholars, and community leaders. Enjoy this video from Aspire Slauson Academy made by students celebrating Black Excellence.
In March, current and prospective Aspire families toured the new site of Aspire Capitol Heights Academy in Sacramento. The new site is anticipated to open this fall and will allow the school to more than double its scholar enrollment (from 280 to 600 scholars).
This safe and modern facility will allow for its current scholars to continue to receive a high-quality education through the eighth grade, avoiding a disruption to their education caused by changing schools. The new location will also provide improved technology infrastructure, increased accessibility, and a safe and private student drop off and pick up location.
Bianka's Aspire journey began in 1998, when she was just six years old, as a founding scholar of Aspire East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS). As the daughter of immigrants, her parents knew the power of a college degree, which is why they enrolled their first-grade daughter in a brand new school focused on college. At EPACS, her teachers fostered a multifaceted love of learning -- reading chapters of Harry Potter out loud in class, playing interactive "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" science games, and utilizing arithmetic to measure and build flower beds for a community garden.
Bianka's deep sense of service and community drove her back to EPACS following college graduation, this time as a resident teacher in an Aspire classroom. Now, a kindergarten teacher at the very school she attended, she recognizes that our schools are a reflection of our community. Her greatest joy is seeing the light in her young scholars' eyes when they discover something new. And she firmly believes that if she can impact just one kid, she'll have made her mark on her community. Nine years into her Aspire career—and 24 years after she first stepped foot in an Aspire classroom—we are proud to say that Bianka's mark is so much greater than just one student.