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Editorial: Portfolio of choices promising for Spokane schoolchildren

The Spokane School District has begun an ambitious and welcome initiative to expand educational opportunities for its 28,000 students.

The alternative programs that have been available – Montessori, for example – had limited capacity, and the options were few considering the variety of needs within the district’s population. But by the opening of the 2015-16 school year, students and parents may find their heads spinning at the possibilities.

PRIDE Prep, the district’s first charter school, has received most of the attention, but the choices will likely include a Core Knowledge curriculum at Balboa and Longfellow elementary schools that uses history, geography and other topics to teach basic language and math skills. A first-year run at Balboa has been very successful, according to the district’s new director of innovative programs, Jeannette Vaughn.

The district also plans to expand the science and technology program at North Central High School by accepting seventh- and eighth-graders. Foreign language and “expressionist” arts schools are other possible additions.

All, Vaughn says, will enable students to meet the standards of the core curriculum that will become the foundation for every district school, and most others in Washington and Idaho as well.

The overhaul will not be seamless.

With those 28,000 students come parents who must be informed of all the options for their children and how the changes might affect their favored neighborhood school. Vaughn says the district is considering a series of “enrollment fairs” where all the possibilities can be explained before parents have to make a choice.

Those who do choose to try an alternative school would submit applications to a centralized enrollment computer that randomly selects students for what are bound to be limited openings. Siblings will be kept together. Individual schools have done their own registration, but that process would not be fair to everyone.

Also potentially unfair: getting students to their school of choice.

The district plans to shoulder the expense of getting students to the innovative schools the first year, but thereafter parents will have to make arrangements. Bus passes, ride-sharing and other possibilities are among those the district will be exploring to help keep students in their preferred school.

PRIDE Prep will have to make its own arrangements.

Superintendent Shelley Redinger refers to the choices students and parents will have as a “portfolio.” It will take a major effort on her part, and that of Vaughn, other district administrators and the board to manage what will become Washington’s most enterprising school district. It all sounds exciting; the magic will be bringing that excitement into the classrooms from Moran Prairie to Indian Trail.

With transparency, communication and equity, this could be a great lesson plan.

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