Interview with Kevin Sved: Navigator Schools

After a successful delivery of our first project with Navigator Schools at Watsonville, we took the time to follow up with Kevin Sved, CEO, to talk about Navigator Schools and the new facility.

We are super grateful for the partnership and support from PCSD and we can see the impact our new facility is having on our students in Watsonville. It has really brought us together in a very positive way.

How did you get started with Navigator Schools?
I joined Navigator Public Schools as their CEO about 5 ½ years ago. I was intrigued by their success and the rigor and joy that I saw in the classrooms when I visited. I was impressed with their board and their commitment to the principals and support staff.

I understand that there are three schools within Navigator. What makes each of them unique?
All three Navigator schools (Watsonville, Hollister, and Gilroy) are very tight in terms of their academic model. Each charter school is unique in terms of their relationships with the families and communities and the way they celebrate success.

Watsonville Prep has the highest percentage of students coming from families who are low income and where the home language is Spanish. So, we have additional services to support the students by offering counseling and after school intervention.

Watsonville Prep is also our only privately owned campus. It has interior hallways and has a different sense of community. Our other campuses consist of modulars on district sites.

Can you tell me more about the previous district location for the Watsonville site?
It was very challenging to be on the district site. The school was split on two sites with K-2 on one site and grades 3-4 on another. They were about one mile apart and, often times, it felt like the distance was even greater. Our community, administration, special ed teams were stretched and it made it difficult to respond to students in the way we would have liked to.

What made you decide to work with PCSD?
PCSD has a great reputation and we have always had a positive experience from them. We first started working with PCSD when we were applying for Prop 51 funding when our Gilroy campus was going to be displaced by the high-speed rail. We didn’t end up getting the funding but we were impressed with PCSD and their staff from the project managers to the finance team.

We continued to receive a high level of trust and support from James Heugas with our Watsonville location and Jennifer Afdahl Rice with finding a site for our Hollister school. The team has an enormous amount of practical hands-on experience from design to entitlement to the whole process. Additionally, we were surprised and thrilled with the level of financial analysis and support we got from Tina Lin from the PCSD finance team. PCSD has strong funding relationships with local and national funders from Silicon Schools Fund to Charter School Growth Fund.

What types of facilities did you look at before deciding on going with the old Gottschalk department store?
With James from PCSD, we did an extensive search in Watsonville. We looked at vacant land, industrial spaces and churches before we landed on the opportunity at the former Gottschalk department store.

What, if any, hurdles came up in the process from site selection to construction?
We experienced a number of hurdles along the way, from negotiating a lease to finding a contractor to deliver within the budget to securing financing and getting city approval for entitlement. We were grateful to have PCSD along every step of the way.

What has been the biggest benefit/outcome of the process and the new facility?
It’s been a tremendous benefit to have everyone together in one space. Our school culture, staff morale and student safety have completely changed for the better because of this. It’s been huge to have this new facility. We now have a super positive “vibe” that wasn’t possible when we were so fragmented.

How has PCSD assisted with financing?
The PCSD finance team has assisted us with financing in multiple ways. During the pre-construction phase, PCSD provided us with a low-interest loan to get the project moving through construction and entitlement in an affordable way. During construction, we found ourselves in need of additional financing. PCSD came through again with a generous low-interest loan. In addition, PCSD led the effort in securing other financing through Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) through Civic Builders.

What surprised you the most about working with PCSD?
We were surprised by how significantly involved PCSD’s finance team came in to assist with the financing side of the project. We didn’t realize that we would receive that much support. PCSD truly owns the project from the beginning and helps to identify good affordable solutions.

I understand you are currently engaged with PCSD on a new site. What went into your decision to work with PCSD again?
With the success of the Watsonville Prep campus, it was a no brainer. We had lived through a project with PCSD and valued their expertise. The difference with the Hollister site is that we are not on a split campus but we are having growing pains with the co-located site. We are excited to have PCSD’s support in developing a solution.

Anything else you would like to add?
We are super grateful for the partnership and support from PCSD and we can see the impact our new facility is having on our students in Watsonville. It has really brought us together in a very positive way.


About Kevin Sved

Kevin is the Chief Executive Officer of Navigator Schools. For 35 years, he has served as an educator and champion for children. Kevin started his career in youth services and as a teacher. He co-founded one of the earliest charter school networks in Los Angeles, leading The Accelerated School to be recognized as Time Magazine School of the Year in 2001. Kevin’s commitment to providing children a high-caliber education attracted him to Navigator Schools and he is excited about the opportunity to be a part of an organization dedicated to the same ideals and mission as he has been throughout his career. When away from Navigator, Kevin enjoys dancing with his wife, hiking with his four children, and practicing yoga.