Tacoma eyes innovative secondary schools -- possibly on East Side, South End

Tacoma Public Schools officials are searching for a way to add more innovative school programs, including specialized middle or high school offerings, in the city’s East Side or in the South End.

School Board Vice President Karen Vialle said the board believes those parts of the school district could benefit from more specialized schools like those available elsewhere in the city. School Board President Scott Heinze said Superintendent Carla Santorno made the recommendation to focus on those two areas of Tacoma. But he said the board is open to looking at programs citywide.

“We are not limited to those geographic areas,” he said.

Tacoma is designated an innovative school district by the state and has several state-designated innovative schools already, including the School of the Arts downtown and the Science and Math Institute inside Point Defiance Park.

Two other Tacoma schools recognized by the state for innovation are Stafford Elementary, which has an arts-infused curriculum, and Lincoln Center, begun as a school-within-a-school at Lincoln High that has now expanded schoolwide. Both Stafford and Lincoln are in the South End, and Lincoln also serves East Side students. The school district also recognizes 10 other Tacoma schools as innovative.

But the district’s demographic projections show student populations will grow in the East Side and South End over the next few years, and the district wants to be prepared to offer new programs in parts of the city where enrollment will increase.

The School Board is scheduled to vote later this month on whether to issue a formal request for detailed proposals. It is inviting the public to weigh in, beginning Thursday, when a new innovative school process is part of the board agenda.

“We are asking for public feedback on what should be in the request for proposals,” said board President Scott Heinze.

The process includes basic requirements, including that any new program be based in an existing school or an unoccupied district building. It also would have to operate within current budget parameters, and proponents would have to submit a 5-year budget plan.

Vialle said the board is open to looking at ideas from the community. But she said it’s likely not interested in hearing from charter school management organizations.

Heinze said the district has a “culture of innovation.”

“If folks have an innovative idea, we would like them to first come to the district,” he said. “Bring it to us. We have the infrastructure in place. And we can budget so it’s not to the detriment of other kids.”

Three charter schools approved by the State Charter Commission are scheduled to open in Tacoma in fall 2015, and board members have in the past expressed concerns that they will siphon off students and funding from the district.

Tacoma has developed an in-depth guide with more details for those who want to submit proposals under its innovative school process.

If the board decides to issue a formal request, interested parties would have until the end of April to submit ideas, which would be evaluated by district staff. The board would decide whether to move ahead with one or more proposals in June, with a target start-up in the 2016-17 school year.

For more information, visit the district’s Web site at http://bit.ly/2015innovation.