Gig Harbor mom determined to open one of Washington’s first charter schools

Jun 24, 2013, 4:53 AM | Updated: 10:56 am
This former private school in Tacoma’s Hilltop Neighborhood may be the perfect spot for Calyn...
This former private school in Tacoma's Hilltop Neighborhood may be the perfect spot for Calyn Holdaway to open her charter school. She is talking with the nonprofit that owns the facility about leasing it to open a school that will focus on non-traditional learners. (Photo courtesy Calyn Holdaway, The Ducere Group)
(Photo courtesy Calyn Holdaway, The Ducere Group)

Privately run, publicly funded schools will begin opening in our state in the fall of 2014, after Washington voters gave their approval to a charter school initiative last year.

Only eight will be authorized in the first year, but Calyn Holdaway is confident she’ll be one of the lucky few.

The mother from Gig Harbor recently toured an old private school in the Hilltop neighborhood of Tacoma. She thinks it would be the perfect spot for her nonprofit, The Ducere Group, to open one of our state’s first charter schools.

The retired school building has eight well maintained classrooms and is big enough for about 200 students. It has a gym, a library and even a working kitchen.

“I really love the kitchen, the way it’s set up, because we can actually give kids a proper hot meal,” Holdaway comments as she looks over the gas-burning stoves and walk-in freezer.

Holdaway is a mother of three whose journey began when the first of her children started school more than six years ago. Garrett is autistic.

“When you put a child with his issues in a public school system, all of a sudden it’s like putting a spotlight on something in the dark,” says Holdaway. “It became very evident that he was struggling.”

With a husband in the military, Holdaway and her family have moved quite a bit. She’s had the opportunity to see Garrett flourish in some school settings and want to give up in others.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of funding, so much as it’s an issue of funding and administration,” says Holdaway.

Even before the state law was passed allowing for charter schools in Washington, Calyn founded her non-profit, The Ducere Group, to help support non-traditional learners.

Now, with the possibility of creating an entire school to fit her vision for education, Calyn says she’s put together a board headed by several seasoned educators and they’re working on writing their charter. They hope it will be one of the first to be authorized by the state.

“This isn’t about our charter being successful. This is about our children being successful,” Holdaway says. “So, whatever it takes is what we’re going to do.”

Even though she lives in Gig Harbor, Calyn hopes to open her school in Tacoma’s low income community of Hilltop. If she’s successful, she says she’d be willing to move her family there.

The Ducere Group will be hosting a think tank in July to bring together community leaders and educators who want to help make their charter a success.

In September, the Washington State Charter School Commission will start reviewing applications.

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Gig Harbor mom determined to open one of Washington’s first charter schools