As I’m sure many readers have already heard, Don Shalvey passed away this weekend from cancer at 79. Jed Wallace recounts his role in charter schooling here. EdSource’s John Fensterwald here.

The EdSource remembrance headlines that Don was “fearless,” riffing off a quote from Steve Barr, another early charter school pioneer. But I’m not sure that is the right word. Fearlessness indicates a degree of recklessness or more charitably unawareness. Don wasn’t that. What he was, in my experience, was brave.

I first met him in the 1990s when he was launching charter schools in California and what became Aspire Public Schools. He had been a school superintendent with a comfortable career in that role ahead of him. Instead, he decided to become a maverick and open charters with an eye toward dramatic economic mobility for graduates. He talked about the social and professional isolation that decision created from his former colleagues, role, and path. He knew the risk and the price. He did it anyway.

That’s what struck me, this guy is brave. (He was also a hell of a lot of fun, good energy). His north star was more important to him than all the stuff people generally get wrapped up in.

Don was also a connector, he brought people together in different ways. He, and we, may not know the full scale of his impact, because of ideas, projects, and initiatives set in motion through the randomness of connections. And, of course, the young people he helped will send ripples into the world through their lives.

There was a California surfer named Jay Moriarity who died tragically young in 2001. The film Chasing Mavericks is about his life and growth as a surfer. His life spawned a “Live Like Jay” movement because he packed a lot of life into just a few years. Don was blessed with a long and full life, people are mourning as much for us as for him. Yet that bravery of his was rare in the 1990s, it’s still far too rare now.

This field, and work to genuinely improve the condition and experience of kids, would be further along if more people lived like Don. He certainly did his part and we’re better for it.

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