SOAR Academy, one of Tacoma’s first charter schools, already has a home on the Hilltop. Now it’s looking for students.
The school, which will occupy the former Christian Brotherhood Academy school building at 2136 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, opened registration Oct. 1.
Already, four kindergarten students have enrolled for the fall 2015 term, which will be the school’s first.
School founder Kristina Bellamy-McClain points out that the building is owned by the nearby Brotherhood Church of God. But SOAR is not affiliated with the church. SOAR will be the sole tenant by next June, she said.
Bellamy-McClain said the school is accepting registrations only for kindergarten and first grade during its startup year. Then each year, as those students move up, new grades will be added. At full capacity, the school would serve up to 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
“We chose to do a slow, gradual enrollment so we could ensure a personalized environment,” she said.
SOAR is one of three charter schools set to open next year in Tacoma. The others are Green Dot Middle School and Summit Olympus High School. All three were approved by the state charter commission this year, in the wake of a statewide charter school initiative approved by voters in 2012.
Charter schools are publicly funded and free to all students. They are independently run and not subject to local public school district oversight.
Bellamy-McClain hopes to open SOAR next fall with 52 students in each grade level. She plans to hire two teachers per grade level — one to specialize in English and language arts, the other in math and science. Students will spend a half day with each of the two teachers for their grade level.
Parents can enroll students online or by mail, through March 2015.
SOAR stands for Success, Outcomes, Arts and Rigor, and Bellamy-McClain has combined several educational strategies to hit those marks. One will employ the art of dance to teach kids life skills and concepts such as perseverance and cooperation.
“We are using the arts as a daily practice, and not just the art of dance,” Bellamy-McClain said. She said the arts taught at SOAR will be “culturally responsive and celebratory of the rich diversity we anticipate” in students.
SOAR also will employ a traditional teaching method known as direct instruction, which uses fast pacing, group response and repetition.
Direct instruction has its critics, but Bellamy-McClain, a 13-year public school educator in Seattle and elsewhere, believes it can help low-income kids who often arrive in kindergarten with a skills deficit.
“We need to build their skills quickly, and research shows that direct instruction is a way to do that,” she said.
SOAR also has formed a partnership with the University of Washington Tacoma that will bring student teachers into classrooms to work with SOAR teachers.
A fourth charter application for the Tacoma area, from a local nonprofit called the Ducere Group, is pending. Calyn Holdaway is president of the organization that wants to open a charter school called The Village Academy.
Holdaway, a military mom, hopes to open the school in the vicinity of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A recent evaluation of the school’s plan by a four-person team working for the state charter commission recommends that the commission deny the Village Academy charter application.
Evaluators said the school’s written plan places too much emphasis on special needs students and lacks attention to certain categories of students such as English language learners. It also said the application lacked details of a proposed assessment system.
The commission is scheduled to take a final vote on applications from Village Academy when it meets Thursday in Yakima. Holdaway said she has already submitted a written rebuttal to the evaluation critique offering more detail. She also plans to be at the Yakima meeting.
“We are optimistic,” she said. “I have not lost hope.”