Officials hear pros, cons of charter schools in Tacoma

Staff writerJanuary 22, 2014 

Supporters and opponents of charter schools spoke to members of the state Charter School Commission in Tacoma on Wednesday night, offering their visions for what the independently operated public schools could mean in Washington state.

Summit Public Schools, which currently operates six charter schools in the San Francisco Bay area, seeks to open two charter high schools in Washington, one in Seattle and another in Tacoma. Los-Angeles-based Green Dot Public Schools, which runs 14 high schools and five middle schools, wants to launch a middle school in Tacoma. Two other charter proposals from Washington state-based groups also target Pierce County.

The state commission is scheduled to decide Jan. 30 which charter schools will get the green light to open. It received 19 applications.

Representatives of both Green Dot and Summit said Wednesday that their organizations chose Tacoma because the city includes many of the historically underserved low-income and minority students they say they have worked with successfully in their California schools.

But opponents, including members of the Tacoma Education Association, questioned that success.

Union President Adrienne Dale told commissioners they should only grant charters “if the proposed school intends to offer an educational experience that is qualitatively different from what is available in traditional public schools.” Dale argued that Tacoma Public Schools are already meeting students’ diverse needs.

The statewide teachers’ union is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that argues that Washington’s charter school law, approved by voters in 2012, violates the state constitution.

Summit uses an untracked “college for all” model and quotes a 100 percent graduation rate. Officials say 96 percent of their graduates are accepted to four-year colleges. Former Summit student Mickayla Washington said she was reluctant to consider the Bay Area school but her mom urged her on. She said that while sitting through the school’s presentation “my heart started to beat faster. I knew it was my school. I knew I had to go.”

Green Dot has opened “wellness centers” in its high-poverty California schools to help address students’ health needs. Green Dot is also unusual in the charter world because its teachers belong to a union affiliated with the National Education Association.

Ruth Rosas, a senior at the University of Puget Sound and a Green Dot graduate, praised her Green Dot teachers.

“These teachers saw the potential in us,” she said. “They pushed us as hard as they could.”

She said 88 members of her class of 100 graduated.

Also Wednesday night, the Spokane School Board was poised to authorize the state’s first charter school.

Spokane was the only local school district approved as a charter school authorizer in the first round of charter approvals. Charters elsewhere in the state need approval from the state commission.

The state charter law permits 40 charter schools to open statewide over the next five years, about eight each year.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635


The Washington State Charter School Commission will host one more forum in Tacoma, where two more charter school applicants interested in opening schools in Pierce County will present information and commission members will hear public comment about their proposals.

The forum is Thursday at Bates Technical College South Campus, 2201 S. 78th St., Tacoma. It is in Building E, Auditorium 102 and 103.

Testimony about SOAR Academy will be given between 5 and 6 p.m. SOAR is a proposal from a former Seattle school principal, Kristina Bellamy-McClain, who was selected for a one-year fellowship by the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

From 6-7 p.m., commission members will hear about The Village Academy. This charter proposal comes from a nonprofit organization called The Ducere Group, founded by Calyn Holdaway, a Gig Harbor military mom of special needs kids.

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