Washington education officials approve 7 charter school plans

SEATTLE — The Washington state Charter School Commission voted Thursday to approve seven applications for charter schools, all in western Washington.

Another 12 schools were denied a charter at a public meeting in southwest Seattle, but several of those schools were encouraged by commission members to refine their applications and submit them again.

The commission voted to adopt most of the recommendations of the independent evaluators who studied the applications, interviewed people who wrote the school plans and judged them against the stated requirements in the categories of education planning, financial solvency and program organization. In one exception, they approved a school that the evaluators thought was not ready.

Including one school chartered by the Spokane school district last week, eight schools have been chartered in the first round of approvals under the charter school law approved in November 2012.

Those schools are:

—First Place, an elementary school for homeless kids and others in Seattle, which will be converted from a private school and the only one scheduled to open in 2014.

—Excel Public Charter School, a science and technology focused middle and high school in Kent.

—Green Dot Public Schools, a Tacoma middle school to be run by a California charter management organization.

—Pride Prep, a college prep middle school for kids in danger of failing. It was approved last week by the Spokane school board.

—Rainier Prep, a college prep middle school in Highline or Tukwila, south of Seattle.

—SOAR Academy, a Tacoma elementary school planned for an area of high poverty and low academic achievement.

—Two schools from Summit Public Schools, a California charter management organization.

Although the charter law says up to eight of the independent schools can be opened in any one year, because only one school has been approved for 2014, more schools could be approved for opening in 2015, said Joshua Halsey, executive director of the commission.

Several of the schools approved by the commission Thursday were chartered with conditions. Most of the conditions concerned the financial status of the school and asked school planners to clarify how they would pay back startup loans without state dollars.

Financial matters also kept some schools that were borderline from getting commission approval, including proposals for the Sunnyside Charter Academy in the Yakima area and The Village Academy offering help for children with special needs in the area around Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Several commissioners expressed a strong desire to have charter schools in the Yakima area and recognized the need for a school like the Village Academy.

A few of the schools that were denied charters got mixed reviews from the evaluators but encouragement from the commissioners to keep working on their applications and apply again.

One school that did not gain the evaluator’s recommendation was approved by the commission after passionate testimony by school planners and endorsements by commission members who said they thought the school had a strong academic structure and plenty of time to solidify its organizational planning by fall 2015.

SOAR Academy wants to open an elementary school in Tacoma’s hilltop neighborhood to help a diverse, low-income student body reach high academic standards.

Commissioner Trish Millines Dziko spoke in support of SOAR and questioned the evaluation team’s criticism of the school’s planners for not living in Tacoma. She noted that three of the schools recommended by the evaluators will be set up by people who are not only of town but out of state.

Founding school director Kristina Bellamy-McClain said through tears that the vote for her school was a victory for the children of Tacoma and showed the strength of the commission and its process.

“This process shows that the commissioners really want to do what’s right for kids,” Bellamy-McClain said.

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