Washington News

April 15, 2013

Port Townsend educator gives Charter School 101

by Charlie Bermant

PORT TOWNSEND — Charter schools can improve education but not if they offer the same curriculum as what is now available, a Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce audience was told Monday. 

“In order for a school district to approve a charter school, it would need a real assurance that the methodology they will employ at the charter school would be significantly different,” said Kris Mayer, a member of the state Board of Education and Port Townsend resident.

“You can't do the same thing and expect different results, so they must have some indication that the methodology would produce a different result.”

Mayer said charter schools, which will be run by privately owned nonprofits but receive public per-student funding, are designed to fill gaps in current educational options but must offer specific solutions to these shortcomings. 

If 100 students decide to attend a charter school instead of a public school, the per-student state reimbursement would be allocated to the charter school. 

“The funding follows the student,” Mayer said. 

“It's creating a bit of a marketplace, where the lever could be a school's performance and commitment. If their needs aren't met in a public school, they will go some other place. 

“So if schools are customer service-oriented, people will come. 

“If they are not, they will stay away.”

Port Townsend is one of 12 districts statewide that have indicated an interest to authorize charter schools within the district's boundaries. 

It doesn't include a commitment to open the schools; it only signals interest in the idea. 

Districts expressing intent to authorize charter schools have until July 1 to apply.

After that time, the state Board of Education will approve or deny the applications, then approve the creation of eight new charter schools statewide each year. 

Under the schedule, which Mayer said was “compressed,” the first charter schools would open for the 2014-2015 school year. 

“We have no idea what to expect,” Mayer said of the process. 

“We have a sense that some districts put their name on the list because they are concerned that someone from the outside might come into their districts and open a charter school. 

“We're thinking that a lot of districts might not decide to become authorizers because they will learn more about the intricacies of the rule, and they may just find the applications too difficult,” she said.

While saying that Port Townsend or any other district could tailor the charter school to its needs, Mayer said charter schools are often more disciplined than the public counterparts, with longer school days and shorter summer vacations. 

“We developed the long summer vacations because of the agrarian calendar,” she said. 

“But a lot of kids forget things over the summer, and there aren't enough things to keep them engaged.”

Swan School, a private elementary school in Port Townsend, revised its schedule last year to shorten summer vacations and scatter two week breaks among terms. 

Mayer said the business community and schools could build closer partnerships. 

“As business leaders, we have the opportunity and the responsibility to demand performance from our schools and accountability for the resources they get from us,” she said. 

“We can be their best advocates. If the test scores don't come back as high as we would like, we can put our heads together and find a solution instead of just blaming the school district.”

Channels of communication need to be opened, she said. 

“The district could do a better job of inviting you in,” she said. 

“There is so much expertise in this community. We should look for a way to harness it so our kids can walk out of Port Townsend and into the world as well prepared as in any other place.”

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or
at charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

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