By Jennifer Reed
Adams Avenue is part of what Phil Linssen calls an “age old story”—one where a business owner can develop a capital base in a wonderful location, buy his own property and build equity over many years.
The next chapter in his fairy tale? A brand new elementary school tucked away behind Hawley Boulevard.
San Diego Global Vision Academy, a startup charter school next to the Normal Heights Methodist Church, is both the end and new beginning to the $1.2 million school annex project spearheaded by the Adams Avenue Business Association in 1999, when board member Linssen was president.
The San Diego Unified School District has been leasing the building since 1999. Due to congestion at John Adams Elementary at the time, SDUSD proposed to place eight bungalow classrooms on nearby park grounds in the Adams Avenue Annex. Not wanting to lose the park space, residents fought back until the AABA came up with a new idea.
The nearby Methodist church owned three houses on the block—and Linssen saw an opportunity.
He suggested the AABA construct a building on that land instead, so the AABA signed a ground lease with the church and the school district agreed to lease the building when finished.
The business association acquired a loan and construction was completed by the start of the next school year. SDUSD then leased the building for the next 10 years while the lease money went to pay off the loan. The final loan payment was made this summer.
Linssen said he hopes the AABA will be able to stabilize the 10-year project for another 10 years—or more.
“This is a project that has been my passion,” he said. “We hope to have the same type of equity moving on to the next project.”
While the school will add many desirable qualities to the neighborhood, it will also need to look to its residents, business owners and the AABA for help to ensure sustainability.
“We’re going to be very supportive in this role,” Linssen said. “We want to make sure they are strong tenants and can pay the rent.”
CEO of Global Vision, Dena Harris, is also doing her part by attending AABA meetings and contacting Adams Avenue business owners about enrichment programs and extension classrooms.
“We’re trying to network with them so they can get to know us and we can get to know them,” she said.
So far she’s had some luck: The owner of a local art studio used to be a teacher and a yoga studio offered her a discounted rate if she brought in 15 kids, she said.
On August 19, the AABA helped coordinate a fundraiser, silent auction and open house for the school, where guests could give donations or bid on items from Adams Avenue businesses, such as tax services, facials, manicures and car washes.
The academy’s Family Orientation Nights will be held August 24, 26 and 28.
According to Harris, the school now has 85 enrolled students—enough to begin on schedule September 7. She said she would like to have 110 students by the first day of school and can accommodate as many as 165, which would allow her to boost the local economy again by hiring more teachers.
Harris said she typically receives three to four requests a day for jobs at the academy and the school is still looking to generate a 12 to 20 different positions.
“Some of our teachers did lose their jobs (in this economy) and two of the new hires couldn’t find a job,” she said.
Despite that, Harris stressed that each educator at the academy is credentialed and experienced—requirements that she said were not always used in the charter school system but that she gets quizzed on often.
Many parents also have questions about what exactly a charter school—which works independently of the school district—offers that a public school cannot.
“Charter schools are more nimble,” Harris said. “We are not a big district. We can make decisions very quickly on our own. I say it represents capitalism at its finest.”
In addition, Harris said most charter schools have a specific academic focus. For the SDGVA, there are two major focuses: writing and “service-learning.”
In addition to its regular academic standards, SDGVA has partnered with the San Diego Area Writing Project to guide their writing programs and create service-learning projects to teach students about volunteering.
According to Harris, the school had originally looked at a target location in southeast San Diego because many lower performing schools are located in the area and the majority of the founding group was already working there.
Although the academy is looking to serve disadvantaged kids, she said, it is a school of choice, meaning that any student, from any area, can attend.