'Parents want to be authentically included. They want to be respected.'

'Parents want to be authentically included. They want to be respected.'

Recapping the Washington State Charters Schools Association Conference morning general session:

The conference's lunch session got underway with a slip of the tongue from WA Charters CEO that tickled me as he introduced Michael Wooten, the inspiring, passionate grandparent of a young student who has found hope and a home at one of Washington's charter schools.

Read More

SOAR Academy in Tacoma ‘blows the roof off the myths’ about charter schools

SOAR Dancers Get Up
SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

SOAR Academy students get up and get down during Erricka Turner's dance class in September 2017.

Walk through the front doors of SOAR Academy these days and you’ll find the building teeming with life and energy, like a dream realized.

In many ways, that’s what the public elementary school in Tacoma represents: the manifestation of a set of beliefs and ideas about what’s possible in public education.

SOAR Academy’s founders sought from the outset to design a public school that would reach students being neglected by the larger system, those who are typically on the wrong end of the opportunity and achievement gaps. 

Just two years after first opening its doors to students, those ideas have become a way of life at SOAR Academy, and the dreams of a nurturing, equitable school open to all have become reality for an engaged, grateful community of students and families.

“Here at SOAR we’ve seen tremendous growth and a fulfillment of the whole concept and vision of the alternatives and options that charter schools can provide in a publicly funded setting,” said Dr. Thelma Jackson, chair of the SOAR Academy Board of Directors. “Those of us that have been with SOAR from the very beginning, we’re just pleased as punch to see the school, to see the full classrooms, the waiting list. As I was driving up, just the smiles on the children’s and parents’ faces — they’re glad to be here! They’re here by choice.”

In many ways and from many angles, that’s the key word here: choice.

More than 70 percent of SOAR students identify as students of color, and Black students make up 56 percent of the student body. Fourteen percent receive special education services, and at least 12 percent are homeless or housing insecure. They all chose SOAR Academy, and they did so despite the hyper-political climate that surrounds the charter school sector.

School choice can be an especially foggy issue in Washington, where propaganda and repeated legal attacks led by the Washington Education Association — the state’s teachers union — have attempted to undermine the ability of schools like SOAR to work hard and innovate in an earnest effort to close the gaps created by our traditional public school system. In spite of that, many parents are seeing SOAR for what it is: an ambitious, free, public alternative that just might work for their student where other schools have fallen short.

“We’ve been up against so much ‘fake news’ about what charters are and aren’t, and we’re defying all of that,” Jackson said. “Anytime they say, ‘Oh, they won’t take kids of color; oh, they won’t take special needs kids; oh, they’ll cream the crop,’ [SOAR Academy] just blows the roof off of all those myths. And against all those odds, SOAR is thriving. The kids are thriving.”

Far from creaming, SOAR’S school leader Jessica Stryczek readily acknowledges that many of the school’s students arrived having already experienced such significant trauma as abuse, neglect and domestic violence. Yet thanks to a trauma-informed approach to restorative justice, not a single SOAR student was suspended or expelled last year.

In Seattle Public Schools, on the other hand, disproportionate discipline rates show up from the very beginning, as even kindergarteners of color are suspended and expelled (yes, expelled from kindergarten!) at a rate far beyond their white peers.

Seventy-seven percent of the student body at SOAR is eligible for free or reduced lunch as well, so community meals are available to all students through the community eligibility pool.

SOAR’s staff, meanwhile, reflects the diversity of its student body. More than half the staff at SOAR are people of color, Jackson says, upending yet another myth.

“The traditional line is, ‘Oh, we’d like to hire them, but we can’t find them.’ So, where are the charter schools finding [teachers of color]?” Jackson asks. “And again, they are here by choice. They’re not here through involuntary transfers and the dance of the lemons and all that stuff.”

Enough people have chosen SOAR now that the school’s journey from vision to reality is all but complete, and the early results are showing that the young charter school is delivering on its promise.

In addition to a joyful atmosphere in a building full of well-cared-for elementary students, the school is home to impressive academic rigor as well. Just last year, more than 70 percent of students showed accelerated growth, testing beyond national grade-level expectations on the STAR Early Literacy assessment.

“The concept has taken on a life of its own,” Jackson said. “The proof is in the pudding.”

Tacoma’s Charter Public Schools to Host Open House Tour for New Families

SOAR AcademyGreen Dot Destiny Middle School and Summit Olympus High School will host a tour of open houses on Thursday, July 28, for Tacoma families exploring their public school options for the upcoming 2016-17 school year.

The tour of open houses will give potential students, parents and caregivers the opportunity to tour each school building, ask questions and meet school leaders and teachers, and hear the experiences of founding families and students who are returning to Tacoma’s charter public schools for the second year.

As all three of Tacoma’s small, personalized and academically rigorous charter public schools head into their second year of operation, each school is growing to serve new grade levels in Fall 2016.

SOAR Academy, which eventually will serve K-8, served K-1 in its first year and will grow to serve K-2 in Fall 2016. Green Dot Destiny Middle School, which served sixth grade in its founding year and will serve grades 6-8 at capacity, is enrolling sixth and seventh grade for Fall 2016. And Summit Olympus High School, which opened to ninth graders in its founding year, is enrolling ninth and tenth graders for this coming school year.

Enrollment is open for Fall 2016 at Tacoma’s charter public schools. All schools are tuition-free and open to all students. For more information: http://wacharters.org/enroll/tacoma/.

WHAT: Tacoma Charter Public Schools Open House Tour

WHEN: Thursday, July 28, 5 – 8:15 p.m.

LOGISTICS:
The open house tour begins at SOAR Academy and then travels to Summit Olympus and Destiny Charter Middle School. Bus transportation will be provided for those attending the full three-school tour, and will return to SOAR Academy at the end of the tour.

5:00 pm: Meet at SOAR Academy, 2136 MLK Jr. Way, Tacoma, WA 98405
5:30—6pm: Tour SOAR Academy
6:30—7pm: Tour Summit Olympus, 409 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, WA 98421
7:30—8pm: Tour Destiny Middle School, 1301 E 34th St, Tacoma, WA 98404
8:00 pm: After the Destiny Middle School tour, participants will be dropped back off at SOAR Academy.

RSVP here. View the Facebook event here.

About Washington’s Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are state-authorized public schools. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than 67 percent of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide. Two-thirds of charter public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide. At four of Washington’s charter public schools, this number exceeds 70 percent.