Interest in charter schools has re-emerged in the South Sound.
Two new potential charter school operators say they’re exploring the idea of locating charter schools here — one in Tacoma and one in South King County.
Both women are former public school principals, and both are in the midst of a year-long fellowship in charter leadership sponsored by the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
Meanwhile, the Tacoma School Board has signaled renewed interest in possibly becoming a charter school authorizer after withdrawing from the process last spring.
Both moves follow an announcement this year by a nonprofit organization called the Ducere Group of its intention to open a charter school in Tacoma.
Charters are publicly financed and tuition-free, but they operate independently from local school boards and are freed from many state requirements. In exchange for greater flexibility, they sign a contract with a charter school authorizer and are held to accountability standards within the contract.
If the Tacoma School Board applies to the state Board of Education to become a charter authorizer by the end of the year, the soonest board members could approve a charter school under their banner in Tacoma would be fall 2015.
Charter operators who apply through an alternate route — the statewide charter school commission — could shorten that opening day timeline by as much as a year. The commission, which can authorize charter schools anywhere in the state, on Sept. 23 announced that it would begin accepting applications.
The charter law, approved by voters last year, allows up to eight charters in Washington per year for five years, for a maximum of 40. The commission plans to announce its charter approvals by February.
Both of the most recent potential South Sound charter founders say that although they plan to apply to the state commission, they want time to plan and find a home for their proposed schools. So neither school likely would open before fall 2015.
Kristina Bellamy-McClain has worked in public education for 13 years, in Alaska, California and, most recently, as principal of Emerson Elementary School in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Alaska in Anchorage and a master’s in elementary education from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
Bellamy-McClain is married to a Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier who’s serving in Afghanistan. She said they hope to put down roots in Tacoma when he returns.
She hopes to open a charter school in Tacoma called SOAR Academy. (SOAR is an acronym for Success, Outcomes, Arts and Rigor.)
Maggie O’Sullivan is an 18-year veteran educator who was most recently principal at Mirror Lake Elementary School in Federal Way. She completed the Danforth Educational Leadership program for school administrators at the University of Washington and holds two master’s degrees: one in education, from Stanford University, and another in liberal arts from Wesleyan University.
Bellamy-McClain describes SOAR as a school that will “use the arts in an integrative way. It’s not an arts school, but it will use the arts in innovative ways to help build habits of mind.”
She also promises SOAR will provide “rigorous, personalized and engaging academic experiences” for kids, as well as a welcoming culture for parents. She is studying having a longer school day — possibly from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
What will distinguish SOAR from a traditional public school?
“Charters are traditionally smaller in size,” Bellamy-McClain said. “They can build an intimate culture where every child is known. It comes back to the idea of personalized education.”
O’Sullivan envisions an as-yet unnamed middle school with a college prep curriculum, located somewhere in South King County. She emphasizes that the school would be open to all students, including those from low-income homes.
“Some people don’t understand that charter schools are free public schools, and they’re open to all,” O’Sullivan said. She said her charter would only use a lottery system for admission if it reached maximum enrollment.
She, too, is interested in individualized learning in reading and math, as well as a curriculum that guides students as they “dive deeper into real-world challenges.” She also likes the idea of extending learning time for students and establishing a culture of high expectations.
“My goal would be for every kid to graduate from high school and enroll in a four-year college,” she said.Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com @DebbieCafazzo