Spokane International Academy had a rocky start in September, when the state Supreme Court ruled only days after classes started that charter schools were unconstitutional. But the doors stayed open and the school rallied and now boasts that test results show students making big gains in reading.
The school – one of nine charter schools in the state – started with kindergarten, first- and sixth-grade classes. Second- and seventh-grade classes will be added in the fall, and the school plans to eventually expand to classes in K-8.
The school is one of 10,000 Cambridge International schools around the world using curriculum developed by Cambridge University.
Head of School Travis Franklin said it offers an inquiry-based approach to learning.
“It’s not sit and get,” he said.
Students eat breakfast with teachers and school staff every morning to foster a feeling of community. Students tend a garden out back and eat the fruits of their labors in the school cafeteria. The rest will be sold in the Hillyard Farmers Market.
The sixth-grade students made micro-financing loans through the website Kiva. A collection jar is in the school office, and once $25 is collected, the students make a loan. So far they have given 19 loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries all over the world, Franklin said.
The curriculum includes a test at the end of every school year. Franklin said he was hoping his students would be on par with other Cambridge International schools, but instead they got above-average scores in English, math and science.
“We never imagined we would be above average in every category,” he said.
The reading scores were particularly impressive, Franklin said. Tests at the beginning of the school year showed that 58 percent of kindergarten and first-grade students were reading below grade level and 40 percent were reading at grade level.
At the end of the year, 91 percent of the students were reading above grade level and 8 percent were reading at grade level.
The school has high academic and behavior standards, but children don’t have to be the best students to enroll, Franklin said. They simply have to be willing to work hard.
In addition to traditional school subjects, the school also tries to teach persistence, independent thinking and how to be a global citizen, he said.
The school has 145 students, and there are 110 children on a waiting list. The lower grades are mostly full but the school still has room for sixth- and seventh-graders in the fall, Franklin said. Parents who want to enroll their students in the school can fill out a simple form online at www.spokaneintlacademy.org. A computerized lottery system will select students off the waiting list.
While the first year of operation may have been smooth for students, it was anything but smooth for Franklin. The school lost its state funding when charter schools were ruled unconstitutional. Like many other charter schools in the state, Spokane International Academy joined the Mary Walker School District in Stevens County as an alternative school in order to continue to receive state funding.
Representatives from Spokane’s other charter, Pride Prep, didn’t return calls seeking comment.
In April, the state Legislature passed a law allowing charter schools to be funded with lottery money instead of out of the state’s general fund. Franklin said the school will revert to being a charter school again July 1.
Franklin said he’s heard that the Washington Education Association plans to file another lawsuit against charter schools, but he said he’s not focused on that possibility.
“I don’t think about it a lot,” he said. “Spokane has been really good to us.
“I’m excited to see what the future has in store for our school.”
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