Selected readings on US charter schools
From a well-known early childhood education provider to a Texas-based nonprofit wanting to expand its brand to the Pacific Northwest, five nonprofit organizations are hoping to establish charter schools in the Yakima Valley.
Next February, they will find out who — if any — grabbed some of the first coveted slots.
State voters approved a measure last November to allow charter schools, publicly funded entities that are able to follow their own curriculum. Under the new measure, up to eight charter institutions can be established annually for the first five years the law is in place.
A total of 28 groups have sent in letters of interest to the state’s charter school commission. Another three sent theirs to the Spokane School District, the other charter school authorizer in the state. Long story short: not everyone will get authorization for the 2014-15 school year or the following year.
Those nonprofit agencies who expressed interest submitted a letter of intent to either the charter school commission or Spokane in late October. They now have until Nov. 22 to submit the final application.
One of the most recognizable is Inspire Development Centers, the Sunnyside-based Head Start provider. The nonprofit early childhood service is in the midst of trying to win additional federal money for its Head Start programs.
However, that effort hasn’t slowed its intentions to expand into more grade levels. Its proposal is to blend dual-language instruction to kindergarten through second-grade operations, said CEO Tadeo Saenz-Thompson.
Not only would this type of school benefit the students Inspire typically attracts, it would appeal to parents who find it difficult to communicate with teachers because of language and social barriers, he said.
“A lot of their families struggle with less accommodation and participation (in classrooms)” because they can’t speak English, Saenz-Thompson said. “I think we could help. I think we could add to that and add more value to the school districts and communities.”
He said he envisions setting up the school in the Valley where there are more Head Start students, rather than in some of the other locations in the state Inspire calls home.
Por Vida Inc., meanwhile, is venturing outside of Texas for the first time. The San Antonio-based nonprofit has two schools in Corpus Christi, one in San Antonio and now wants a high school in Yakima. Their schools are intended for at-risk students — those involved in gang activity, migrant students and high school dropouts.
“We’ll go in a shopping center, it doesn’t matter,” Superintendent Joseph Rendon said.
Rendon said Por Vida, which translates to “For Life,” has been looking at expansion for some time but could not come up with an ideal location. Then about a year ago, Rendon attended a conference and met someone from Sunnyside and they discussed some of the needs in the Yakima Valley. Their conversation struck a chord with Rendon and he informed other Por Vida staff that Yakima would be a viable site.
The organization, in fact, set up a booth during the Central Washington State Fair in September and engaged with several families. Many agreed an alternative to the area schools would be an exciting change for the community.
“A lot of the parents were supportive of the idea of having another option, another choice,” Rendon said.
Yakima-based International Technology and Education Institute also proposed a school for at-risk youth. Its CEO, Earl Lee, who has taught in the Yakima Valley for three decades, said students need another option for public education.
Under its proposal, students would have some virtual classroom features, courses in Native American and Spanish languages, special education services and greater parental involvement.
“This concept will be well taken and people will get what they want and what they need,” he said.
Besides these three proposals, two others are in play in the Valley. The Cesar Chavez Charter School Foundation, also a Yakima nonprofit, intends to develop a dual-language school where students can learn English while learning the core subjects in Spanish to keep students on track with benchmarks.
And in Sunnyside, the group Charter Schools of Sunnyside is proposing a system where parental involvement is a requirement and students would rotate among different methods of teaching, including teacher-based, online and group work.
On the other hand, two charter school ideas were scrapped after supporters submitted letters of interest. One group intended to model the curriculum on the Finnish education system. The other was to focus on performing arts. But in the end, representatives of the two groups said some requirements in the application process were too overwhelming for their visions to work.
Elsewhere in the state, other out-of-state charter school companies are proposing expansion of their services east of the Cascades. In Clark County, a different group is also envisioning a dual-language system in English and Russian. And in Seattle, a group is emphasizing sports-based youth development for a school they would like to open in 2015 — just one of several different concepts presented to the state.
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic – by Rafael Guerrero