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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane’s first charter school may have found a home

Brenda McDonald, founding leader of Spokane’s first charter school, thinks she has found a home near downtown at 811 E. Sprague Ave. Future Pride Prep students would study at the 15,000-square-foot facility that formerly housed the Social Security Administration building. (Dan Pelle)
Brenda McDonald, founding leader of Spokane’s first charter school, thinks she has found a home near downtown at 811 E. Sprague Ave. Future Pride Prep students would study at the 15,000-square-foot facility that formerly housed the Social Security Administration building. (Dan Pelle)

Spokane’s first charter school may have found a home near the heart of the city.

Pride Prep leaders have proposed teaching classes inside the 15,000-square-foot building that once housed the Social Security Administration.

Finalizing a deal for 811 E. Sprague Ave., across from Becker Buick, could be around the corner.

“It’s hard to find space in Spokane,” said Brenda McDonald, school director. With this location, “we are still close to downtown without having to pay for parking, and it’s centrally located enough that we can get any student to school who wants to go.”

Pride Prep will be a college preparatory school for sixth through 12th grades and will include several years of a foreign language, extra math and science, nine-hour school days and an extended school year.

The charter is expected to open next fall and has started the enrollment process for students; 20 names are on the list, and there’s room for 100 more students, McDonald said.

The announcement comes less than a week after Spokane Public Schools approved a second charter – Spokane International Academy – and a little more than a month after the state’s first charter opened in Seattle.

Momentum for the new public schools appears to be building despite a pending lawsuit to overturn the charter school initiative. A hearing in the state Supreme Court on the Washington Education Association lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 28.

“I can’t believe someone would make a decision to close a school that just opened up,” McDonald said. “There have been lawsuits in many other states, and no one has been shut down.”

Spokane Public Schools and the Washington State Charter School Commission are currently the only two entities that can authorize charter schools.

The district approved McDonald’s application for Pride Prep about nine months ago.

Charter leaders have hired three staff so far – a recruitment specialist, an administrative assistant and a technology director, McDonald said. “We are starting to talk to more people. Trying to find the best people for a founding school is critical, so we are trying to be really purposeful and thoughtful.”

Fundraising for the charter has been challenging, but the total is now just more than $1 million.

“I think, right now, this idea just isn’t tangible yet,” McDonald said. “It takes a different type of investor. Someone has to be OK with innovation and a little ambiguity. There are no results to point to, and up until now we couldn’t even point to a building.”

She added, “We are pretty excited about the progress we are making. The business community and the community in general have been really supportive.”

McDonald and Travis Franklin, the leader of the newly adopted Spokane International Academy charter, both were participants in the Washington State Charter Schools Association fellowship program.

Franklin said they were shown the best examples of charters around the country, and from that came up with their own innovative ideas to educate students.

Spokane International Academy will be a K-8 school with a strong international bent; all students will learn English as well as a second language. The students also will partner with community organizations to give students service learning opportunities, according to the charter’s application. At the end of eighth grade, students will be taken on a teacher-led educational excursion.

Spokane Public Schools’ board chair has been impressed with both charter schools’ concepts.

“Offering options adds to our portfolio,” Jeff Bierman said. “They’re different types of educational settings, and they are different than what we are providing in our classrooms.”

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