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Charting a new course for Washington public schools

November 22, 2013 J

PASCO – “To have been in a charter school is to believe in a charter school,” says Dr. Shelley Redinger, superintendent of Spokane Public Schools.

#Redinger’s district was the first in this state to adopt the option for charter schools – in keeping with a voter-approved state referendum – and this past Tuesday she addressed the benefits of charter schools during the Solutions Summit held in Pasco.

#One of two main morning sessions featured by the Washington Policy Institute, the discussion on charter schools also aimed to clear up misconceptions about the schools.

#Cindi Williams serves on the state’s nine-member charter school commission and she noted the schools are public schools, not affiliated with religious organziations and free to the public.

#She also dispelled concerns that charter schools would deplete other schools of the best and brightest students.

#“They must serve at-risk students, they can’t focus on cream of the cream of the crop,” Williams said of charter schools, which she notes often have to use a lottery system to select students due to demand. She said nationwide there is a waiting list of one million students seeking to attend charter schools.

#Williams says Washington is relatively late to the charter school movement – Idaho and Oregon already have them – compared to the rest of the U.S.

#But that’s actually a good thing, she notes.

#“It’s good that we’ve lagged behind,” Williams says. “It’s an opportunity to learn from other charters.”

#Williams and the rest of the commission has the task of selecting up to eight charter schools that will start classes as early as fall 2014. She says there are 28 applications submitted so far.

#She says the focus of which applications to approve will be “…serving low-income communities with no choices.”

#The application process is detailed, and charter candidates have to cover everything from curriculum and discipline policies to finance and details of the school day.

#“It’s one of the most rigorous application processes,” Williams said. “These schools have to be great. A charter school at its best is a culture of academic rigor and high expectations. It proves all students can learn.”

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