Making Waves Education Foundation » Making Waves Academy » What Is a Public Charter School?

Making Waves Academy is a public charter school. What does that mean?

If you’re like a lot of people, you probably don’t have a clear idea of what a charter school is, why it exists and who it serves.

It can be a little confusing, but the most important piece to know is charter schools are public, cost-free, and serve a diverse student body.

One of the best examples of that is Making Waves Academy.

That all sounds good, but you might still be wondering, what exactly IS a charter school?

BUT. There are a few important differences.

Results include nearly 100% of our graduates meeting the admissions eligibility requirements for University of California and California State University campuses. Through Making Waves Foundation, our graduates have the opportunity to receive coaching and scholarships for college. Our graduates go on to graduate from college at more than twice the rate of their peers nationally.

Because of this independence, in some ways public charter schools go through even more rigorous oversight than traditional public schools.

When charter schools, like Making Waves Academy, have more demand than available space, there is a lottery process for enrollment.

Over the years, we’ve worked hard to include more and more students, including by building a new campus. We’re a non-profit committed to creating more educational opportunities. To best meet student needs, our local, state, and federal funding is supplemented by significant charitable contributions every year.

Being a public charter school makes it possible for Making Waves Academy to do amazing things and hold ourselves to the same high standards we expect of our students.

Find out more at or in the below FAQ with answers to common questions about public charter schools.

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Public Charter School Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

What is a public charter school in California and why do they exist?

Charter schools are public schools. Charter schools in California are cost-free and serve a variety of different types of students. Charter schools are granted flexibility in filling a need for new programmatic approaches, student-focused, or thematic options in communities, while still being held accountable to performance standards and state and federal education laws.

As a public charter school and non-profit, Making Waves Academy doesn’t cost anything to attend. Based on its core values of Community, Resilience, Respect, Responsibility, and Scholarship, the school prepares students for success through rigorous academics, holistic social-emotional skill development and psychological support, and comprehensive college and career readiness programming.

Who attends Making Waves Academy and who teaches at Making Waves Academy?

Making Waves Academy is a public charter school for students in 5th through 12th grade, primarily from Richmond, California, and west Contra Costa County in the Bay Area. Enrollment is cost-free, accessible, and is based on a lottery process because demand is high. Making Waves Academy’s enrollment is more than 1,100 students, 99% of whom are students of color and 80% of whom are from socioeconomically disadvantaged households.

As a California public school, all teachers of core academic subjects at Making Waves Academy must be properly credentialed and certificated. Teachers have broad experiences and backgrounds.

How does the lottery process work? How do I enroll my child?

The lottery process is a random selection process used when a school has more applicants than it has available space. The lottery process does not consider academic performance, test scores, gender, race, ethnicity, or religion. Students currently in the 4th grade must apply to the lottery for entry to Making Waves Academy for the 5th grade. Applications are announced and distributed in the spring. Students chosen in the lottery are either accepted or put on a wait list in the order in which their lottery number was generated.

Making Waves Academy also accepts lottery applications for grades 6th through 8th to form a waiting list each year. If students leave mid-year, 5th through 8th grade students can be pulled off the wait list in the order they were drawn from the lottery.

Listed below are groups given priority for enrollment in Making Waves Academy through the lottery process as stated and approved in our charter:

How are public charter schools like Making Waves Academy governed, approved, and overseen?

A charter petition must be reviewed and approved by a charter authorizer – a local school district or a county office of education. The charter petition must address how the charter school will operate its program in accordance with certain criteria (e.g., program and governance).

If approved, the charter can operate for up to five years. In its last year, the charter school must submit materials for the charter authorizer to review and consider the renewal for approval. Authorizers are more likely to renew charters that are proven to be effective in helping their students meet both the expectations described in the charter and the statewide standards for student achievement (found on the California School Dashboard).

Similar to traditional public schools, charters are measured by their academic performance on California state tests (which are published and open to the public on the California Department of Education website). In some cases, parents and families attending and supporting charter renewal hearings is critical to a successful renewal.

Making Waves Academy’s charter authorizer is the Contra Costa County Board of Education, which provides monitoring and oversight to ensure adherence to specific guidelines and expectations laid out in the charter. Charter schools must also have their own site-based governance team or board to provide local and direct oversight of the charter school. Governance includes fiduciary, programmatic, and management oversight. The Making Waves Academy board appoints board members to renewable terms and to adhere to by-laws for governance.

What are the similarities and differences between traditional public schools and public charter schools?

Both traditional public schools and charter schools are supported by local, state, and federal funds and do not cost anything to attend. Both sets of schools are responsible for teaching approved California State Curriculum Standards, administering state testing, and adhering to any conditions as required by any of their local, state, or federal funding. Like traditional public schools, charter schools cannot consider gender, race, ethnicity, or religion in the admissions process.

California allows charter schools more flexibility than traditional public schools to be responsive to community needs and foster innovative and creative approaches to teaching and learning. By state law, charter schools are allowed to set their own programmatic vision and decide how they want to allocate their allotted budget under the oversight of a local governance structure (or board), as opposed to traditional public schools within a school district whose program and some portion of their budget allocation is determined by the district. Unlike traditional public schools, charter schools go through a review and renewal process every five years.

How are public charter schools funded and how is Making Waves Academy funded?

As public schools, charter schools receive a mix of state, local, and federal government funding based on the number of students enrolled, and more specifically based on the Average Daily Attendance number.

Making Waves Academy, like many other charter schools, is also a federally and state recognized non-profit. While a significant portion of Making Waves Academy’s funding comes from public funding, another significant portion comes from charitable contributions, public and private grants, and fundraising.

Making Waves does not charge a fee to attend and does not generate a profit as public money and financial contributions pay for staff, programs, facilities, and services.

What makes Making Waves Academy special? What are the outcomes?

As a public charter school, Making Waves Academy is committed to providing new and best practices in teaching and learning and to preparing students for success through rigorous academics, holistic social-emotional skill development and psychological support, and comprehensive college and career readiness programming.

This commitment has led to incredible outcomes for our students including 100% of graduates meet the “A-G” admissions requirements for University of California/California State University campuses. Making Waves Academy supports a continuum of college and career pathways, with a focus on college. Through Making Waves Foundation’s college success program, known as CAP, graduates of Making Waves Academy are eligible for college scholarships, coaching, and financial literacy education to get to and through college as quickly and with as little debt as possible. Making Waves alumni are valuable contributors in their careers and in their communities.

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