The organization driving a controversial effort to vastly expand charter schools in Los Angeles has selected one of the state's most visible charter school advocates as its first executive director.
Myrna Castrejon, 50, is leaving her position as a lobbyist and strategist for the California Charter Schools Association to lead Great Public Schools Now, a nonprofit organization established to carry out the charter expansion strategy, which was first developed by billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad and his foundation.
In her new position, Castrejon will become the face of an initiative that is stoking tumult among educators and push-back from the Los Angeles Unified School District. An early proposal called for raising $490 million to enroll half of the district's students in charter schools over the next eight years.
Castrejon, senior vice president of government affairs for the charter association, begins her new role Feb. 22. She said a key priority will be reaching out to leaders of the nation's second largest school district who, just two days ago, publicly opposed the plan developed by the Broad Foundation.
L.A. Unified Supt. Michelle King on Thursday echoed concerns raised by the school board, saying she does not support any initiatives that propose to "take over" the district by encouraging students to enroll in charters.
The proposal called for the creation of 260 new charter schools. It was obtained by the Times in September.
Great Public Schools Now, which launched in November, has sought to temper criticism of the proposal by stating that it was simply a draft. Supporters say they always intended to seek community input before releasing a final plan.
"I hope that critics will look at the work that we do moving forward and then decide whether that work has value rather than speculate about our motives or what happened or what did not happen," Castrejon said. "Ultimately, our success will be defined by our outcomes and our actions."
Castrejon provided data and guidance for the expansion plan before it became public, and said she will now work on the final draft. She did not provide additional details of the plan or provide a release date.
In an indication of how contentious the charter debate has become, on Monday, while Castrejon was still at the charter association, it filed a lawsuit alleging that LA Unified misdirected $224 million in bond money that it claims had been earmarked for charter schools.
The goal of charter advocates, Castrejon said, is not to undermine traditional public education but to support a range of successful schools.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the appointment of a non-educator was evidence that the nonprofit's focus would be on creating charters at the expense of traditional public schools.
"We believe this appointment shows they are not interested in a holistic public education system that serves all kids," Caputo-Pearl said.