8 plan to open state’s first charter schools

SEATTLE — Some of the work is finished: eight groups that want to open the first charter schools in Washington state have completed their applications and won approval.

But there’s much left to be done: most still need a school building, they’re fundraising, hiring teachers and other staff and they face a lawsuit that questions their right to exist.

State voters in 2012 approved a charter-school measure that allows up to 40 independent public schools to open over five years. The earliest the first school was expected to open was fall 2014, but only one of the approved schools is aiming for that date.

Seven of the approved schools are in Western Washington and one is in Spokane. Three will be run by out-of-state charter management organizations and one is being converted from a private school.

The charter law is being challenged in a lawsuit making its way through state courts, but proponents don’t think the lower court ruling will affect implementation of the schools.

Here are brief descriptions of the eight schools:

Excel Public Charter School

This Kent school would start as a middle school and expand to include more than 500 kids in grades six through 12 after five years.

This is a science, engineering and math focused school with additional emphasis on literacy and college readiness. The school’s founders hope to have a diverse student population, with expectations most of the students will come from poor families. They note that fewer than half of the students at a nearby middle school are meeting state academic standards in reading or math.

The school would focus on basic subjects, for example giving students twice as much time in math and science instruction each week than is offered in typical Kent public schools. There will be after school tutoring for students who need more help.

The school would feature both an extended school day and an extended school year.

First Place Scholars School

A private school that serves children in crisis, including homeless kids or those in danger of becoming homeless, wants to expand its reach and help more kids by becoming a public school.

First Place School runs a private elementary school in Seattle’s central district. The charter proposal says they hope to more than double their student population by the 2018-19 school year to a total of 260 children.

At the school, students receive a variety of supportive services, such as family counseling, in addition to the academic program. The school already serves a diverse population of kids living in poverty and already has experience attracting private donations.

First Place plans to complete its conversion into a public school by the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year. At the same time, school leaders plan to redesign the school’s academic curriculum in line with the new national academic standards.

Green Dot Charter Middle School

This middle school in Tacoma would be opened by a charter management organization from Los Angeles.

The school would start in 2015 with just fifth grade, with plans to add seventh and eighth grades and grow to a maximum of 600 students by its third year.

Green Dot currently operates 14 small high schools and five small middle schools with more than 10,000 students in the greater Los Angeles area. They aim toward improving graduation rates, college attendance and academic achievement for students who have struggled in traditional public schools.

The charter management organization states in its application that it hopes to open three to five schools in Washington state over the next five years.

Pride Prep

A former Spokane middle school principal is working to open this college prep middle and high school for children who are at risk of failing.

The school will feature a longer school day and a longer school year. Students would be required to take extra math and science and seven years of a foreign language.

The goal of the program is to move students toward attending a four-year college or university. It plans to open in fall 2015 with just sixth and seventh grades and add another grade level every year.

Community-building activities would be woven into the school day and school year, with student and teacher retreats and an activity called “morning launch” that will be run like a pep rally for education.

Rainier Prep

The proposed middle school for the Highline and Tukwila area would focus on college preparation for a diverse student population, mostly living in poverty in South King County.

The school’s founders note in their application that as many as 40 percent of black, Latino and low-income students from their target area are dropping out before graduating from high school and not on a path to college.

They would seek to turn those numbers around by focusing on deep student learning. Students would work together on in-depth projects and be trained in leadership skills and social justice throughout the school day.

Their goal is to keep the school small, reaching four hundred children in grades five through eight by 2017 but start with just fifth and sixth grades in 2015.

The founders said they were starting small to make sure the school will be financially viable. As part of its application, Rainier Prep got an endorsement from the superintendent of the Highline school district, who said she would like to partner with the school.

SOAR Academy

This Tacoma elementary school is planned for an area of high poverty, ethnic diversity and low academic achievement.

There will be an intentional effort to keep the school small and to grow slowly from two grades to K-8.

Every student will have a personalized learning plan and their progress will be closely tracked through testing and evaluation.

Computer-based learning will supplement classroom work, but school founders say in their application that this would give teachers an opportunity to walk around the classroom and work one-on-one with students.

Summit Public Schools

The Redwood City, Calif., charter management organization earned charters to open two high schools before the 2015-16 school year— one in Seattle and one in Tacoma.

The goal of the schools will be thoroughly preparing students for college, so none need take remedial classes once they get into higher education. They say they will provide a personalized learning experience and a curriculum filled with advanced placement classes for all students, not just the ones who are naturally high achieving.

The organization runs six other small public high schools, with a total of about 1,600 students.

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