Getting Washington’s charter schools right from the beginning

May 24, 2013 | Blog


Working with teachers, school districts, local leaders, parents, and state officials, we can build a public education system that works best for Washington’s students.

It is that time of year. The mad dash to the school-year finish line: winding up projects, attending school concerts and award ceremonies, and preparing for summer activities. But for Washington state’s public charter school supporters, work will shift into high gear just as most students begin their summer vacations.

While the first public charter schools will not open until 2014, there is a lot to be done to prepare for their opening and ensure any new charter school is set up to help every student succeed.

This work is not easy. I know from my previous work in the charter school sector—as well as school reviews I have been a part of across the nation—that building high-quality charter school capacity starts long before the school doors open.

The good news is Washington state is well positioned to accomplish this. Last November, voters passed Initiative 1240, the public charter school law, to support the creation of 40 public charter schools across Washington state over the next five years. Charter schools are authorized by the Washington Charter School Commission, an independent state agency, or by a local school board that has been approved by the State Board of Education.

Charter schools are public schools. They are open to all students, and do not charge tuition. These new schools must meet rigorous performance goals and, if the goals are not met, may be closed. To ensure we are opening high-quality charter schools on day one, the Washington State Charter Schools Association has been formed. This new statewide nonprofit aims to support the start-up of these new schools.

A Washington State Charter School Leadership Cohort will be a prominent feature of the new Association. Year-long internships for new charter school leaders will focus on the use of data, cognitive coaching and best leadership practices. Cohort members also will participate in trips to observe and learn from the most successful charter schools that have made a real difference in students’ lives.

As a member of the Association’s board, I am excited to bring what I learned in California to my home in Washington. Working with teachers, school districts, local leaders, parents, and state officials, we can build a public education system that works best for Washington’s students.

As part of a diverse educational ecosystem, charter schools will extend high-quality school options across the state—targeting those student populations that, to date, have not had success within the more traditional system. Our goal is to ensure that the new charter schools in Washington state become part of a broader public school system that inspires our students, helps them succeed in school, and leaves them prepared for college and their careers.

Every child in the state must have equal access to high-quality schools. Washington’s position as a national leader rests on the skills and abilities of its youth. Charter schools serve a vital role in the public school system by improving educational outcomes for all students. Working together, we can ensure that all children in our communities have access to high-quality public schools.

Marta Reyes-Newberry is a board member of the Washington State Charter Schools Association.