Washington News

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
June 11, 2004

California Charter School Plans to File in Federal Way
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/177439_charter11.html

By: GREGORY ROBERTS, Seattle P-I Reporter

It may be an exercise in futility, but the operators of a charter school in California plan to file an application next week to open a school in Federal Way under Washington's suspended charter school law.

"We're scratching our heads and saying, 'Why should we?' But sometimes you have to honor people for honoring you," said Brock D'Avignon of the Desert Sands Charter High School in Lancaster, Calif.

Meanwhile, Shelley Flippen said yesterday she filed an application with the Eatonville School District to expand her Montessori preschool to grades K-3 as a charter school.

After the Legislature passed a law this spring legalizing publicly financed, independently operated charter schools, the Federal Way School Board approved a resolution welcoming applications from "charter starters."

The law, which was scheduled to take effect yesterday, was suspended when an anti-charter coalition turned in signed petitions Wednesday to force a statewide referendum on the legislation on Nov. 2.

State education officials have advised local school districts not to accept charter-school applications. The state officials have said that even if local districts do take applications, the districts cannot act on them until the law's status is resolved, nor can they confer any advantage on applicants who jump the gun.

Desert Sands has mailed informational packets to the Federal Way, Highline, Kent and Renton school districts, D'Avignon said. Desert Sands hopes to open Evergreen View Charter High School just south of Boeing Field, near the northern edge of one of the four suburban districts. The school intends to file formally with Federal Way first to honor the board's "intellectual heroism."

Charter schools are publicly financed, but operate largely independently of local school board oversight and state regulations. Supporters say the ability of charter school operators to hire their own teachers, design curriculum and adopt their own schedules fosters innovation that can boost student achievement.

Opponents say the schools, legal in 41 states, have a spotty track record and drain resources from hard-pressed mainstream schools.

Only five new charter schools are authorized in the first year of the Washington law, and the first five applicants to win approval would exhaust that allocation. The suspended law calls for charter starters to apply to local school boards for approval.

In contrast to Federal Way, the Seattle School Board has passed a resolution opposing charter schools.

No charter school applications were filed yesterday with Seattle or the four suburban districts.

The Desert Sands school opened in Los Angeles County in 2001 with financial backing from two area businessmen. It targets students from ninth grade to age 21 who have dropped out and seeks to get them back on track to a diploma. The school's 1,100 students make appointments to meet with teachers one-on-one, and they independently study one subject at a time until they complete the required curriculum.

Student performance as measured on standardized tests has improved about 5 percent a year since the school opened, D'Avignon said.

Desert Sands is drawn to Washington because it's fresh territory, D'Avignon said.

"We're trying to be like minutemen," he said. "There's been a gallant effort in Washington for charter schools and we just think we'd like to be first on Lexington green."

Federal Way School Board President Ed Bailey said he met D'Avignon at a charter-school conference in Seattle earlier this year.

"We're open to any suggestions for kids who are already out of school, or considering dropping out, to keep them in," Bailey said.


P-I reporter Gregory Roberts can be reached at 206-448-8022 or gregoryroberts@seattlepi.com.

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