Families unsatisfied or uninterested in traditional education will soon have more choices as Spokane Public Schools adds to its educational portfolio.
The state’s second-largest district plans to roll out multiple learning alternatives for students over the next two years, on top of the addition of charter schools.
“For several years now the board has wanted to create options for our families,” said Jeff Bierman, Spokane Public Schools board president. “Now it’s happening.”
Starting this fall, Balboa and Longfellow elementary schools will start a grade-by-grade conversion to a curriculum that teaches reading, writing and vocabulary through lessons on history, geography, visual arts, music and science.
The Core Knowledge curriculum also emphasizes analysis and investigation.
Complete integration could take three to five years, district officials said. Administrators are also considering making one of those schools a K-8.
Montessori programs at Balboa and Jefferson elementary schools will be consolidated into one location at the former Havermale school on West Knox Avenue. The move will likely create openings to better accommodate the long waiting list of students wanting to participate in the popular program.
District officials are meeting with parents and employees about including kindergarten as well as seventh and eighth grades in the Montessori program.
Fall 2015 will bring in the bulk of new programs.
After a year of settling into its new science building, North Central High School’s Institute of Science and Technology plans to add seventh- and eighth-graders wanting to start tackling higher-level science sooner.
PRIDE Prep – the first authorized charter school – will be open to sixth- and seventh-graders, eventually expanding to 12th grade.
The charter’s model includes seven years of a foreign language, extra math and science, a nine-hour school day and an extended school year. Lessons will be taught through a combination of online and in-class instruction.
“The beauty (of that model) is it allows kids to go as far as they want because of the use of technology,” said Jeannette Vaughn, the district’s director of innovative programs.
Vaughn is researching numerous new educational models to bring into the district. The school board, the district’s chief academic officer and input from a parent survey serve as her guides.
North Central, PRIDE Prep, growing the Montessori program and Core Knowledge are “solid,” she says.
“There’s a sense of excitement about being better able to match kids up with the academic rigor they are ready for,” Bierman said. “Creating as many opportunities the kids can have for achievement. Pushing kids towards their goals, whatever it is they want to do.”
Three more programs are under serious consideration.
“Through a parent survey conducted last year, it was clear there was some interest in a (K-6) foreign language school,” Vaughn said. “We are trying to figure out which language would be the best one.”
A pilot program within a school may be a possibility before fully introducing such a program.
A K-6 International Baccalaureate or Cambridge program is also a possibility. The curriculum has a strong focus on commitment to the world and the community.
Saint George’s School, a private K-12, is the only school in the region that offers an International Baccalaureate program.
The district also is exploring turning Madison Elementary School into an “expressionist school,” using the arts to teach all the core subjects.
“In addition to the needs and desires for learners and families, we also need to be sensitive to where these programs are located so as many students as possible have access,” Vaughn said. “The district doesn’t offer transportation to schools that people choice into.”
Parent Amanda Hargreaves is glad the district is expanding its options, but she wants to know more and what it means to her neighborhood school.
“I read all the stuff that comes home from school and you can see that there are a lot of changes going on but it’s not really clear what will happen and when it will happen,” the mother of four said. “When you are making big changes, the more you communicate, the easier it is to accept. They need to communicate more.”