Sycamore Valley Academy

What was the challenge?

Nationally, the system for identifying gifted and talented students is flawed, systemically neglecting students of color and favoring students of more affluent economic backgrounds. Fewer and fewer districts are holding schools accountable for serving high-achieving students, and the systems in place to effectively meet the needs of gifted students are insufficient.

Sycamore Valley Academy (SVA) is a charter school in Visalia, California, founded in 2012 on the philosophy that “what is good for gifted and talented students is good for all students.” SVA screens every child for gifted services and implements a rigorous curriculum for all students that combines Common Core State Standards and gifted and talented instructional strategies.

In its first four years in operation, SVA ranked number one in all Tulare County District elementary schools in terms of state standardized test scores. Each year, the student waitlist for SVA grows exponentially. Despite early success, however, SVA’s school leader was unsettled:

“We started a charter school to affect social mobility in our community. Our current student population does not reflect the greater Visalia community, particularly the students who continue to be underserved by the public education system. I begin our lottery each year and my heart breaks for the families that are trying to access a high quality education for their children, and we can’t offer them a seat.”


How did we address it?

Recognizing the potential for growth and greater impact, SVA elicited Third Plateau as a partner in strategic planning to support SVA’s vision for transformative change in education. Our planning process addressed the following major areas:

  • Improve efficacy in SVA’s instructional approach, including the development and refinement of foundational components
  • Increase school quality, including developing every child and staff to fulfill their personal best
  • Identify ways to serve more students with an emphasis on increasing diversity and reaching underserved communities
  • Empower SVA leaders to impact the quality of education more broadly.

What is the impact?

On February 18, 2016, just one month after approving the Strategic Plan, the SVA Board of Directors voted in support of SVA’s transition from a single charter school to a Charter Management Organization (CMO). The Board’s decision directly translates to many more children having access to an SVA education in the community.

The strategic plan provides a five-year action plan for meaningful growth, as well as identified economies of scale to ensure greater support for classroom teachers and more sustainable leadership. The strategic plan also addresses a plan for SVA as advocates, with the goal of improving the public education system by demonstrating that SVA’s philosophy and practices are effective for all students.

Our partnership throughout was always focused on our collective, ultimate goal: increase the number of children who are positively impacted by their educational experience in order to create positive social change and contribute to a thriving community.

Read a message from the Superintendent on the decision to open an additional school.