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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: charter schools

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February 13, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Charter commission head: More questions could have been asked

A classroom at First Place Charter School in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times 2014.

A classroom at First Place Charter School in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times 2014.

The state board governing charter schools heard an update Thursday on First Place Scholars, the state’s first charter school, which has run into a string of problems since opening in the fall.

Under a new probe launched last week, First Place has until Feb. 17 to supply a long list of documents assuring the state it has enough money to keep its doors open for the rest of the school year and that it is following the educational program it promised when applying for public money. If First Place can’t do so, the commission may close the school.

Steve Sundquist, the commission’s chairman, talked Thursday about First Place and the process the commission uses to vet charters, which are publicly funded, independently run public schools.

While Sundquist said he feels good about how the commission has selected which charter applicants to approve, he also said the commission could have looked closer at First Place, which previously operated as a private school in Seattle for 25 years. The commission did not ask for detailed financial records from the nonprofit backing the school.


Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, First Place Scholars Charter School

December 17, 2014 at 5:21 PM

State’s first charter school on probation; timeline set for fixes

A state commission overseeing charter schools on Wednesday released a series of deadlines for improvements to the state’s first charter school, First Place Scholars in Seattle, which has floundered since classes began in September.

By Jan. 5, the school must hire an interim special education director, to replace a contractor who quit in late October. Currently, no First Place teacher is qualified to work with some two dozen kids who qualify for help with special needs.

And by this Friday, the school must describe how it  has been meeting those kids’ needs since the contractor left.

The deadlines are part of ongoing negotiations between the commission and First Place following the commission’s rejection of the school’s improvement plan last week. Not only did the school fail to turn in its proposed fixes on time, it hardly addressed any of the commission’s concerns, the commission said in a letter to the school Tuesday.

As a result, the school is now on probation, meaning commission staff will visit monthly to make sure the school is following  its charter, a contract that allows First Place to operate as a publicly funded, privately run institution, similar to thousands of charter schools in nearly every other state across the country.


Comments | Topics: charter, charter schools, First Place

December 15, 2014 at 4:39 PM

Seattle charter school plan to be public Tuesday

A Seattle charter school’s plan to fix a slew of problems will be made public Tuesday, according to the head of the state commission governing charter schools.

Joshua Halsey, the commission’s executive director, initially said the plan and the commission’s response to it would be available to the public Monday. He said Monday the documents will be published Tuesday.

On Thursday, the commission rejected the school’s corrective action plan, saying it was deficient and submitted late.


Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, First Place Scholars Charter School, Joshua Halsey

December 12, 2014 at 3:31 PM

State commission rejects Seattle charter school’s correction plan

Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times

First Place Scholars in Seattle. Photo by Mark Harrison / The Seattle Times.

The state commission overseeing Washington charter schools has rejected a corrective action plan from First Place Scholars in Seattle, the state’s first charter school.

The plan from First Place, which has floundered since opening in September, was deficient in some key areas and not submitted on time, said Joshua Halsey, the commission’s executive director. As a result, Halsey said he didn’t have enough time to review it.

Now begins a round of stricter negotiations, where Halsey will detail what changes First Place must complete or face losing its charter.

“The next step is to go over (the corrective action plan),” Halsey said. “It will become more prescriptive, as opposed to the school having the ability to pick the plan and how they’re going to go about that.”

School leader Linda Whitehead did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday afternoon.


Comments | Topics: charter schools, First Place

October 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Into the fray: Charter high school targets low-income Seattle

During early rumblings about charter schools in Washington, many national chains backed away, taking a wait-and-see approach before wading into Seattle’s treacherous waters.

That wariness was understandable. The state’s charter school law squeaked by in 2012, weathering vigorous push-back from the teachers union, and in Seattle distaste among voters was particularly strong. Acknowledging the skepticism, Marco Petruzzi, president and chief executive officer of the California-based Green Dot chain, said his company did not want to “be in the situation of being intruders.”

But now, Green Dot is here, meeting with South Seattle parents, gaining approval for a middle school in Tacoma and winning authorization to open a combination middle-and-high school in Seattle.

So why the shift? Only one charter — First Place — has opened within Seattle’s city limits, and there has been little softening of anti-charter rhetoric in the blogosphere.


Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, Green Dot

May 20, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Can’t we all get along? Writer calls for truce in education wars

Sam Chaltain

Sam Chaltain

First he was a private school teacher in New York City. Then, briefly, a public school teacher. After that, Sam Chaltain spent years studying schools across the country trying to determine what qualities were common to the very best.

In Washington, D.C., his current hometown, Chaltain got an unusual opportunity to examine two vastly different models up close. For nine months, he observed a new charter program struggling to get off the ground, and contrasted this with the daily ebb-and-flow of life at a 90-year-old neighborhood school. The result is “Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice.”

Chaltain, 43, insists that he never intended to compare and contrast the schools in order to anoint one better than the other. Rather, he strives to present on-the-ground realities in each, with a mind toward suggesting a path forward. As Washington state prepares to open its own charter programs next year, his experience may have particular resonance for public school parents faced, for the first time, with a choice.

What follows is a condensed version of a conversation between Chaltain and The Seattle Times. He will be discussing his book at Powell’s in Portland on Wednesday.


Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools, Q&A, Sam Chaltain

December 19, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Confused about the charter school ruling? A little history helps

Washington state constitution (Seattle Times archives)

Washington state constitution (Seattle Times archives)

Last week’s ruling on the constitutionality of Washington’s charter school law left many people confused, especially with both sides declaring victory. The questions are unlikely to be settled until the state Supreme Court weighs in.

In the meantime, here’s a little history to help us non-lawyers understand some of the issues better:

1. Even though King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that charter schools can’t be considered “common schools,” that doesn’t mean they can’t be public schools. The term “common schools” is largely synonymous with public schools, but not completely.

Article IX in the state Constitution lays out several kinds of public schools — common schools, but also technical schools and “normal” schools, the precursors to teachers colleges.  All those schools are supposed to be part of the state’s public school system.

The hitch: Only common schools are supposed to be funded from the “common school fund” and the “state tax for common schools.”

Interesting fact: Initially, not even high schools were considered common schools, although that’s since changed. And the state, in defending the charter-school law, pointed to that fact in arguing that the Legislature has changed and can change the definition of common schools.


Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools