Share this story...
Latest News

First class graduates from a Washington state charter school

Students and teachers gather at Fisher Pavilion under the Space Needle. Photo by Dave Ross.

The first class from a Washington state charter school donned their caps and gowns and graduated Summit Sierra High School on Tuesday.

Washington state approved charter schools in 2012 with the passage of Initiative 1240, but a court fight ensued, the law was invalidated, and public money for the schools was cut off in 2015.

Summit Sierra raised money to keep the doors open, held classes at the Seattle Public Library for internet access, and sent students to Olympia to persuade legislators to restore funding.

Last night, they celebrated their success. The crowd of 700 friends and family filled Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center and watched just under 100 graduates walk across the stage.

Their diplomas were awarded by their mentors, one of the hallmarks of Summit Sierra’s independent design. The school splits students into smaller groups, each group led by a teacher who serves as a mentor, or academic adviser. The mentors connect with the students’ families, and keep track of classwork and grades, and if a student in their mentor group starts to fall behind, they find out why.

Washington state charter schools get constitutional win in Supreme Court

The ceremony was personal and emotional at times. Students presented thank you videos they had made for their mentors, and one mentor put up a slide which said simply, “I Love You All.”

As each student received their diploma, the name of the college they are planning to attend flashed on a screen behind them. Four students still hadn’t decided what to do next, but for the others, the colleges included University of Washington, Washington State University, Gonzaga, Howard University, University of Colorado and Whitman. One student who testified in Olympia four years ago to save her school is now heading to Stanford.

Charter schools are tax-payer funded, but run by private and typically nonprofit organizations. Teachers and staff are free to create their own academic program, provided they administer required exams and meet certain state standards, like teaching Washington state history.

Debate over state charter schools still isn’t over

There is no entrance exam, and the schools are tuition-free. If there are more applications than openings, they’ll conduct a random drawing.

Critics argue that charter schools pull funding from traditional public schools, do not have a system of accountability and can close suddenly, leaving students in the lurch.

Hear KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross interview charter school principal Malia Burns on Ross Files. They bust some common myths about charter schools, compare the cost of running Summit Sierra with a traditional public school and discuss the future of charter schools in Washington state.

Listen to Dave Ross weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Most Popular