Charter Pulse

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WASHINGTON: Aspiring charter schools hoping to measure up

parent-involvementBrittany Weaver moved with her family to Sunnyside three years ago. Her three school-aged kids were originally enrolled in Sunnyside public schools.

But today those children are mostly home-schooled. Weaver teaches them core subjects — math, language arts, science, history — while they attend public classes for electives like orchestra and photography. The public schools, she said, were not doing enough for her kids.

“We love the agriculture, the kids here, we love the community here,” Weaver said, “but the thing that is sorely lacking is educational excellence (in the public schools).”

In Washington, home schooling and private schools had been the only alternatives to public education — two options that are not for everybody. But that is soon to change because voters last fall narrowly approved a measure allowing charter schools. Now, nonprofits throughout the state and in the Yakima Valley, including one cofounded by Weaver, and another in Yakima for children of migrant workers, are preparing proposals to hopefully land some of the first coveted charter school slots.

A charter school is publicly funded from property taxes based upon student enrollment — exactly as a public school. So state money follows a child who leaves a public school for a charter school. And just like a public school, it is free to anyone.

However, a charter school is independent from a school district. It’s run by a nonprofit organization and free to follow its own curriculum. When voters finally approved the schools last November, it was the fourth time the question had been on the ballot.

Forty-one other states have approved charter schools.

Under the new measure, up to eight charter institutions can be established annually for the first five years the law is in place. These would be authorized either through the state’s charter school commission or approved school district-turned-charter school authorizer. So far, only Spokane Public Schools is approved by the state Board of Education as an authorizing school district.

The charter school commission is a nine-member body appointed by the governor and legislative leadership from both chambers.

In Sunnyside, Weaver is part of a group called Charter Schools of Sunnyside that intends to submit an application to the commission. Under the group’s proposal, the Sunnyside school would follow a curriculum similar to the one Weaver created for her kids. Parental involvement would be required and students would rotate among different methods of teaching, including teacher-based, online and group work.

Residents in Sunnyside have shown interest in the idea. Earlier this month, the nonprofit held an informational meeting that attracted an audience of about 50 parents, educators and Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger. Weaver said she hopes the commission understands why Charter Schools of Sunnyside wants this alternative for local schoolchildren.

“Meeting standards is just passing, not excelling, not moving beyond, possibly not even going to college,” said Weaver. “What’s being done is not working. Only getting half of kids passing is a waste of our resources. This is an incredible opportunity for parents and educators to use tax dollars to find another choice.”

According to state report card data presented by the Sunnyside group, about 44 percent of fifth-graders at Sunnyside schools last year passed the reading exams, while about 47 percent are meeting standards in math.

The Yakima group, the Cesar Chavez Charter School Foundation, meanwhile, has a different idea for its charter school.

The project would name the school after the late farm-workers’ rights champion. Classes would be conducted in dual language, meaning subjects would be taught in English and Spanish.

Larry Wewel, one of the cofounders of the Yakima nonprofit, said that while every student is welcome, the dual-language model is meant to help Latino and migrant students who are still learning English to achieve more readily.

By teaching students English while they learn core subjects in their native language, they would avoid “asking them to climb three hills at a time,” he said.

“The school districts are failing the Latino community,” Wewel said, referring to high graduation-failure rates among Latino students.

Wewel, who created the foundation with Yakima businesswoman Bertha Alicia Garza and others, said Yakima and its surrounding communities would be ideal for this type of charter school because of the agricultural base and diverse population.

Both groups must turn in the proper paperwork on time. According to the state charter school commission, interested applicants must submit a letter of intent by Oct. 22. The final application is to be submitted by Nov. 22, and must include details such as projected annual budgets, curriculum framework and possible facility locations. The nine-member committee would then have until late February to approve or deny the applications.

Trish Millines Dziko, one of the commission members and CEO of Seattle-based Technology Access Foundation, said because Washington is the latest state to enact a charter school law, it has the benefit of learning from other states.

As a result, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools rates the state’s new charter regulations as the third strongest in the nation.

Charter schools were and remain divisive — only 51 percent of voters in Washington approved the measure — but Millines Dziko said the new measure will offer opportunities for students, parents and teachers who are not getting the most out of other schooling options.

“This law give families a choice of where to go to school and to ensure that low-income students and students at risk have opportunities that they might not otherwise have in public schools,” she said.

Source: Yakima Herald – by Rafael Guerrero

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This entry was posted on September 27, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Washington.

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