by Jody Lawrence-Turner
Spokane Public Schools is on its way to establishing the first charter school in Washington.
That should come as no surprise: Superintendent Shelley Redinger announced the district’s desire for a charter school before final votes were tallied on the initiative in November. Spokane Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district, was the only district to apply by the first deadline, June 30.
“From the very beginning, I wanted us to get ahead of it,” said Redinger, who helped establish a charter school in Oregon. “There are a lot of proven methods out there. We’re not the first state to do this.”
The charter school initiative called for school districts to apply to become “authorizers.” If approved, the authorizers would issue requests for proposals to establish specific charter schools or programs. In addition to approved districts, a charter school commission appointed by the state Board of Education acts as an authorizer.
If the Washington Board of Education approves Spokane Public Schools as an authorizer, the district would have a head start in implementing charter schools.
The 12 districts that submitted letters of intent this spring can still apply. The next application deadline is Oct. 31, and districts would be notified of approval by April 2014, according to the state Board of Education.
Spokane Public Schools will know by this September if its application met all the requirements to be an authorizer.
“Given how new charter schools are to the state, and the steep learning curve the districts had to climb,” it was no surprise other districts didn’t meet the deadline, said Jack Archer, Washington Board of Education director of basic education oversight.
He added, “For the second-largest school district to be the first to be an authorizer is a significant thing because of the size of the district; the interest that Spokane has is evident.”
The options Spokane Public Schools wants to offer were outlined in the 191-page application.
District officials outlined five potential programs:
• Core Knowledge, a rigorous English language arts curriculum aimed at elementary children; the district plans to pilot the curriculum in K-3 at Audubon and Willard elementary schools starting this fall to become more familiar with it.
• A dual-language elementary school; the community is especially interested in Spanish.
• More Montessori options, which might include offering preschool programs in the learning method; expanding the program to additional kindergarten classes; or expanding to middle school. Currently, Montessori is only available at Jefferson and Balboa elementary schools.
• A charter management organization; that would offer multiple programs at several schools and grade levels.
• Blended learning; project-based learning at the middle-school level or establishing a project-based K-8 program.
Redinger’s experience establishing a charter in Oregon gave her the confidence to move quickly, she said. The former Oregon Trail School District superintendent has seen a charter “serve a district well.” Also, she said, it’s key to make sure “we have enough options so parents’ and students’ needs are met in the district.”