Charter school proposal receives support at public forum

SPOKANE, Wash. - 23806124

Charter schools for Washington State took a big step forward Monday at a public forum in Spokane.

One Spokane Valley private school made the pitch to become one of the state's first charter schools. It is among 18 others vying for that same privilege.

The audience at Monday night's forum was made up primarily of Pioneer School staff, parents and students. Students like Seth raved about his school and said he was never just "spoon-fed" information.

"There's a lot of hands-on things," Seth said, becoming emotional as he spoke about his school.

There was also a father who said he turned down a job in New York only because he didn't want to take his daughters away from Pioneer.

"Pioneer is that comfortable place for them that they can enjoy," he said.

The beloved private school could become one of Washington's first charter schools, thus collecting state dollars and allowing more students in.

"The best way to think of a charter is that it's simply got more flexibility to innovate and we're actually expecting to perform better and do better by your kids," Steve Sundquist said.

Sundquist and three other board members of the Washington Charter School Commission heard from Pioneer's Principal and Founding Director as well as a dozen from the public. All were in favor of making Pioneer a charter school.

At Pioneer, they cater to gifted kids. Some of their first grade students, for instance, read at a seventh-grade level. Other proposed charter schools might choose to cater to low-income neighborhoods or a minority population.

Then, curriculum is developed to help overcome those obstacles.

"Let's say, extended school days for those kids," Sundquist gave an example. "They go to school through the summer, the teachers in come cases are required to be on call on cell phones until ten p.m. to help kids with homework."

Pioneer is in Spokane Valley. So, they need the approval of the Washington Charter School Commission. The Spokane Public Schools Board applied and gained the power to approve charter schools in city limits and will hear from three proposed schools soon.

"They might want, in essence, kind of mix-and-match strategies that's my understanding of what Spokane [schools] is going to try to do," Sundquist said.

Burley-wolf will know the school's fate by months' end but after tonight feels good about the odds.

"I know there are gifted children out there that we're not reaching because their parents can't afford to pay $700 a month tuition," Burley-wolf said.

If Pioneer becomes a Charter school that tuition will disappear and it'll become a free public school, but with a cap of about 75 students. The 45 students who currently attend the school will be grandfathered-in and the remaining spots will be chosen through a random lottery if more students apply than they have room for.