Source: South Seattle Emerald
“Rainier Prep’s eight years of outstanding academic results despite inequitable public funding and investment reflects how we have leveraged our flexibility as a charter public school —which comes in exchange for higher levels of accountability — to be nimble and adapt to the specific needs of our students and their learning.”
— Karen Lobos, Executive Director of Rainier Prep, a charter public middle school south of Seattle
Photo courtesy of Rainier Prep: 8th Grade Class of 2022 graduation, Seattle, Washington.
By Karen Lobos
You might not yet know any Rainier Prep students. But you will. They are rising leaders in our schools, communities, and political, economic, and educational systems. Rainier Prep is one of South King County’s highest-performing public middle schools serving Global Majority (i.e., Black, Brown, Asian, Indigenous, and other People of Color) and limited-income families who are navigating pathways to post-secondary success and careers. For eight years, we have been transforming how students, families, guardians, and educators prepare for the future of learning and work today so that our students and alum can take even bolder steps forward tomorrow.
Rainier Prep’s model was informed by our local community, who demanded an additional college-prep public middle school option in their neighborhood with the flexibility to innovate and meet the needs of their students. As a Washington charter public school, we are tuition-free, non-sectarian, open to everyone, and required to meet very high accountability standards set by our authorizer, the State Board of Education, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and the State Auditor’s Office.
Despite facing inequitable public funding and investment compared to traditional public schools, we have demonstrated that when students are provided with both high expectations and the tailored support they need to reach those expectations, they can and do achieve. Rainier Prep’s Black and Latine students, many of whom come to us academically two grade levels behind in reading and math, are outperforming their peers on annual assessments. For Global Majority and limited income students, our academic growth soars above the statewide average. And our work doesn’t stop there. We also ensure that all our students, their families, and their guardians, especially those furthest from educational justice, can confidently navigate new pathways toward their future success.
College and career readiness is a rallying cry for public schools everywhere. According to the Road Map Project, 81% of students in South King County, where Rainier Prep is located, say they want to earn a college degree. Yet despite these aspirations, only 30% of these students earn a college degree by their mid-20s. The sobering reality is that when our students consider college and post-secondary programs, they face systemic inequities that make navigating this experience especially difficult. Our understanding of this structural educational challenge informs Rainier Prep’s mission to prepare all students to excel at four-year colleges and to become leaders in their communities. Our teachers, families, and students are working hard to improve the expected odds. And we’re doing it.
We believe this urgency must extend to state lawmakers, who have the responsibility to create pathways to transformative quality public education, including solving the problem of fixing inequitable funding that impacts our school community. After years of inaction, lawmakers must ensure that all public school students, regardless of the type or location of their public school, receive a fair shot. This means giving charter public school students equitable resources so their educations are not funded at a lower level than their peers. It also means more special education funding so that our exceptional learners have access to opportunities they need and deserve. Inaction from our lawmakers will continue to signal to our students that our communities do not matter as much as others. This is unacceptable.
Rainier Prep’s eight years of outstanding academic results despite inequitable public funding and investment reflects how we have leveraged our flexibility as a charter public school — which comes in exchange for higher levels of accountability — to be nimble and adapt to the specific needs of our students and their learning. Our work toward educational equity for all students and the lasting impact on their future success is something we pursue relentlessly. How far we can go as a public school shouldn’t be defined by whether or not our fundraising successfully closes the shortfall caused by inequitable state funding. The legislature’s stated commitment to dismantle systemic inequities in our communities requires equitable funding for all public schools. We ask that the legislature be accountable to our students by fully funding their high-quality, gap-closing, community-rooted public education at Rainier Prep. Because someday soon, a Rainier Prep graduate will be legislating with them in Olympia.
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Karen Lobos serves as the executive director of Rainier Prep, a charter public middle school south of Seattle. As the daughter of Latine immigrants, Karen understands firsthand the impact a supportive yet challenging academic community can have on the lives of students and is proud to be working with students and families in the community in which she grew up.