CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA — Both Clayton Valley Charter and Contra Costa School of Performing Arts will have new executive directors when the award-winning charters start the new term in August. Both have expectations for full on-campus instruction in the 2021-22 school year under new leadership following the unexpected departures of Jim Scheible at Clayton Valley Charter and founder Neil McChesney at SPA.
Scheible was hired in the summer of 2018 after the termination of the first executive director Dave Linzey amid several controversaries. Scheible came from a Sacramento charter school and calmed the waters both on campus and in the community while eventually getting CVCHS a five-year charter renewal and six-year WASC accreditation during the 2019-20 school year.
In the wake of those accomplishments, he signed a new two-year contract to remain as executive director last May.
Scheible presented his surprise resignation to the board Mar. 1, saying he would be leaving after this school term ended in June. Then, just as the school was preparing to reopen its campus to even more students later that month, he left his post.
It has been speculated that Scheible’s desire to end the school’s nearly two-decades old Academy program for the incoming freshman class caused a rift between him and the governing board.
Board chairperson Katie Dresdow issued a statement to The Pioneer, which read in part, “Jim Scheible announced his resignation as CVCHS Executive Director on Mar. 1. The Board is grateful for his three years of service to our school and wishes him the best in his future endeavors.”
She said the Board has hired interim executive director Dave Fehte for the remainder of this school year and “is currently working with an executive search firm to find a permanent replacement.”
Fehte has had a long career in education and has been involved with charter high schools since 2006. He also has been a college basketball coach and NBA scout. He was briefly the interim head coach of Saint Mary’s College Gaels basketball in the 1990-91 season.
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McChesney brought the Contra Costa School of Performing Arts to life, gaining charter approval from the Contra Costa County Office of Education in July 2015 after he had resigned earlier that year from CVCHS, where he was a student, teacher, a leader of the charter conversion effort and then an administrator.
SPA opened for the 2016-17 school year with grades 6-10 and added another class for two years to reach its planned sixth through 12th grade student body in a Walnut Creek Shadelands area building they now own.
This summer, McChesney will begin a new position as CCCOE Coordinator, Charter School Oversight, where he will be responsible for the county’s oversight of eight charter schools, including locally Clayton Valley and the School of Performing Arts. He says of his stepping away from the school he founded, “It’s a good time. The school is in a great spot, owning its facility.”
School principal Dr. Robert Chalwell got on the Walnut Creek campus two weeks before the pandemic shut everything down last March. He has helped the school navigate through nearly 14 months of little or no on-campus instruction. He will be changing his title to executive director when he takes the reins from McChesney at the end of this term.
Beyond the new job title, Chalwell will be able to proudly display the 2021 California Exemplary Arts Education Award the charter was recently presented. SPA is one of only four greater San Francisco Bay Area high schools named among the 33 winners from around the state announced by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.
Chalwell credits his mother with making him an “avid reader who devours education.” He earned five post graduate degrees (four Masters and a Ph.D.). After graduating from Boston University, he got his first Masters in voice at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, his initial exposure to the Bay Area where he also began his teaching career.
Chalwell is excited to fulfill “our commitment to have all of our students back on campus Aug. 12. We know things will be different. It’s not a return to normalcy but rather responding to the latter part of the pandemic.”
A tenor who was born in the US Virgin Islands and split his early years between there and New York City, Chalwell understands that his students have been particularly challenged during the pandemic without the outlet of being able to perform together. He says the school is working with faculty and staff to enable them “to focus learning into a holistic wellness environment as students re-acclimate toward on-campus learning.”
Jay Bedecarré is a long-time resident and writer in Concord and Clayton. He began his newspaper writing career while still a senior at Mt. Diablo High School and he has been part of The Pioneer since its inception in 2003. Jay also operates Bay Area Festivals, presenting events around the San Francisco Bay Area including Bay Area KidFest annually in Downtown Concord.