Despite strong headwinds, charter-school supporters continue to increase their foothold in Washington. If the California-based Green Dot group gets its way, a three-story charter high school will open in Seattle next fall.
Though not entirely free of legal hurdles, charter schools continue to open in Western Washington under a much-debated state law that now allows up to 40 such schools by 2021. Next up: a college-track program for ninth- through 12th-graders in Rainier Valley — less than two miles from Seattle Public Schools’ Rainier Beach campus.
The California-based Green Dot organization is seeking city approval to build its Rainier Valley Leadership Academy at 3900 S. Holly Park Drive. If completed as planned, the school would be a 58,000-square-foot, three-story edifice offering 600 teenagers “an inclusive, A.P.-for-all setting,” said Bree Dusseault, Green Dot’s leader in Washington, referring to the high-rigor, Advanced Placement courses typically taken by students headed for college.
Charters are publicly funded but privately run, and exempt from many of the rules governing traditional public schools. Supporters see them as a path to innovation while critics say they haven’t proven superior to traditional public schools — and drain resources from them.
The Leadership Academy would extend a Green Dot program already educating 100 middle-schoolers in portable classrooms on the future high school site. Next fall, those students will move to their own permanent building in Hillman City.
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Dusseault, a former math teacher and supervisor with Seattle Public Schools, said she had heard “overwhelming amounts of desire” among South End families for more options, particularly aimed at students who may be working below grade level but want to attend college.
The new Green Dot high school would be the ninth charter to open in Washington. Two schools, one in Tukwila and another in Walla Walla, plan expansions in 2018.
Because charters are relatively new to Washington — and still face legal challenges— Green Dot’s track record here stretches back only to 2015, when it opened Destiny Middle School in Tacoma. The nonprofit also operates a school in Kent run jointly with the Excel charter network.
All three Green Dot schools have larger-than-average numbers of special education students, compared with their home districts, Dusseault said, and all three are working with kids whose skills are many grade levels below where they should be.
“Last year, we had 13 sixth-graders come in who were not even reading at kindergarten levels,” she said. ”We definitely serve an academically impacted population, and we’ve seen them grow quite a bit already.”
“We spent a lot of last year learning what families were looking for and essentially using their guidance to help direct what our school would be,” Dusseault said.
Those wishes pushed Green Dot to include family-gathering spaces, incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to teaching, and position the school as part of a community effort to safeguard ethnic, cultural and economic diversity in Rainier Valley, Dusseault said.
Construction on the new building is expected to start in fall 2018, but ninth-graders will simultaneously begin classes in portables.