While other school districts are taking a wait-and-see approach, Spokane Public Schools could have the first charter school in the state. Voters said they want them, and the district board and superintendent aren’t afraid to deliver.
The experiment will play out right in front of Spokane residents, and it’s important that the first school offer the kind of educational experience that isn’t already available. This isn’t sweeping change, because only 40 charter schools can be created across the state in the first five years, but the success or failure at the pioneer schools will go a long way toward determining whether those limits will be lifted.
A potential candidate to be the first charter school is Pride Prep, which former Garry Middle School Principal Brenda McDonald hopes to open next year to serve students in grades 6th through 12th. The goal of the school is to help students who are at risk of failing. Instead she hopes to create a curriculum and atmosphere of achievement that propels students to not only finish high school but to graduate from a four-year college.
The proposal describes an experience that would be different from any current school. For starters, there would be a longer school day and a longer school year. As for the curriculum, students would be required to take extra math and science and seven years of foreign language. Teaching methods would also be different, with some classes taught in blocks that break the traditional 45- to 50-minute mold.
McDonald has encouraging credentials, being part of the Washington State Charter School Leadership team that’s working on developing schools here and in Tacoma and South King County. Plus, she has experience working at a school that served predominately low-income students.
While studies show that charter schools are just as susceptible to failure as traditional schools, one of the areas where they have proven to be effective is in closing the achievement gap between low-income students and the rest. That’s an area that’s been a particular weakness for the state’s educational system. So the Pride Prep application seems aimed at the right target.
One of the significant hurdles for charters will be finding buildings to house their schools. Pride Prep has a couple of sites in mind, but the charter must come up with the money to lease, renovate or build. The state sends money to whatever public school a student chooses, but the charters would have to apply for capital funding, just as regular schools do. Charters approved by the district would be eligible for levy dollars that voters have already approved. However, if the charter is approved by the state commission, it wouldn’t be eligible for levy dollars until the next election.
It remains to be seen whether current funding rules pose an unfair hurdle for prospective charters, but the state may need to find a way to help charters find buildings.
Nonetheless, we are encouraged by these latest developments and applaud Spokane Public Schools for its spirit of cooperation.