April 30, 2013

Charter school boosters have eyes for Tacoma
State’s new Charter School Commission is tentatively scheduled to start accepting applications for charter schools by Sept. 22.


Pierce County is emerging as one of the hot spots in Washington’s fledgling charter school movement.

November’s voter approval of Initiative 1240 allows the creation of up to 40 of the independently operated, publicly funded schools over the next five years.

While the Tacoma School Board opposed the initiative last fall, board members now say they’re interested in researching what it would mean to become an authorizer of charter schools in Washington’s third-largest public school district.

Both the Tacoma and the Peninsula school boards submitted letters of interest to state officials earlier this month, saying they want to explore the possibilities. They have until July 1 to submit a full application.

Several potential charter operators with Pierce County ties have been looking into what it would take to launch a charter school here.

Jim Spady, a longtime advocate of charters who runs the Washington Charter School Resource Center, said he believes charter operators are looking for urban districts.

He said nationally known charter organizations, such as KIPP and Green Dot, are known for operating urban charters. And he said charters often attract young, idealistic teachers who may not plan to teach for a lifetime. They, too, want to be in urban settings, he added.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in Tacoma.”

One group that proclaimed its intention to the Tacoma School Board last month is called The Ducere Group. Its name comes from a Latin word which means to lead or guide.

Calyn Holdaway, a Gig Harbor mother of three special needs kids, founded the nonprofit this year. She’s joined by others from Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Port Orchard and elsewhere who say one of their organization’s goals is to launch a charter school in Tacoma.

They say they like Tacoma because of its central location within the Puget Sound region, as well as its economic and ethnic diversity.

“It’s where we could do the most good,” said Leah Kyaio, an educational consultant and former teacher who met Holdaway at a charter school conference held in December in Tacoma.

Under the Ducere Group umbrella, Kyaio would preside over the charter school’s board, while Holdaway and others govern the larger nonprofit.

They have grown weary of the traditional top-down approach to public education.

“We have schools and teachers who do a good job,” Kyaio said. “What we don’t have is a system that does a good job. Charter schools give us the opportunity to reinvent the system.”

Holdaway, who is married to a deployed soldier from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, said she was inspired to start a charter school after a string of disappointing experiences involving her children in two area school districts, Yelm and Peninsula.

She said she’s working through the appeal process with the Peninsula School District involving her children’s special needs education plans. In the meantime, she said, she has paid for her children to be tutored at home.

Holdaway said she thought of the idea for a school while living in the Yelm School District. She realized that the resources she wanted for her kids weren’t there.

“I thought, ‘You can fight for them. Or you can create them,’ ” she said.

She said the family is considering a move to Tacoma if the charter school — to be called The Village Academy — opens there. She wants the school to serve a variety of students, including nontraditional learners, in a child-centered atmosphere.

“Our goal is to serve at-risk youth, low-income, special needs students, military kids,” Holdaway said.

As nonprofit groups like hers formulate plans, education officials are moving forward as well. The state charter school commission will meet today in Bellevue.

Under the new law, charter schools would be free and open to all. If more students apply to attend a start-up charter school than the school can accommodate, students would be chosen by lottery.

If a public school were to convert to a charter, it would have to guarantee spots to students who already attend the school. The law also says that charters aimed at students from low-performing schools or other at-risk kids should be given admission priority.

Charter schools could be given the authority to operate either by a local school board or by a statewide commission. Members of The Ducere Group say their preference is to work cooperatively with a school district such as Tacoma, because it has a reputation for encouraging innovation.

The Tacoma School Board will hold a public hearing Thursday to gather input on whether it should proceed further toward becoming a charter school authorizer.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@



What: Tacoma School District public hearing on whether Tacoma should become a charter school authorizer.

  • When: 6 p.m. Thursday
  • Where: Central Administration Building, 601 S. Eighth St., Tacoma.
  • ---
  • What: State charter school commission meeting
  • When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today
  • Where: Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way NE.
  • Agenda: Presentation on charter school research from Robin Lake, of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Also, a closed executive session on potential legal challenges to the charter school law.

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