Enrollment is expanding in at least one of Spokane’s two public charter schools and there’s a significant waiting list. That school, the Spokane International Academy, has expanded from one building to two and teaches kindergarten through eighth grade, except for the fourth grade. The second charter school, PRIDE Prep, teaches sixth-through-ninth graders.
Both opened their doors to reporters Tuesday.
Outside Jose Aguayo’s classroom in Spokane International Academy is a sign that reads Maestro Jose. When you open the door, you understand why. In the front of the room, in a red and gray sweatshirt with black shorts, Aguayo is strumming his guitar, singing with his third graders in Spanish.
[Aguayo sings with his students]
The kids in their red and navy blue shirts with the Spokane International Academy logo sway to the music. This is a Spanish language immersion class. The words on the room’s white board are all in Spanish and these students seem very comfortable with their second language. Travis Franklin is the school’s CEO.
“We have a lot of parents who either travel internationally or have a passion for their kids to learn Spanish or just a desire, like we have in our family, because my daughter goes through too, for her to understand the world that she’s going to be a part of when she grows up,” Franklin said.
In another classroom, students are spread out on the floor, each engaged with a book. In another room, small groups of students work quietly at tables with instructors. School officials say they’re not only dedicated to giving students a strong academic background, but also to giving them tools they need to understand and work in a diverse world.
The Spokane International Academy opened in the fall of 2015. It’s based in a facility in the northeast part of the city.
“The school that our elementary is operating out of right now is about 110 years old. It’s the former St. Patrick’s Catholic School and it actually serves our school well. Amazing that it’s available for us to use,” Franklin said.
Initially the school enrolled 160 students in kindergarten, first and sixth grades. It grew to 260 last year, adding second and seventh grades. Now in its third academic year the school has expanded to 420 students, adding third and eighth grades. Next year it will finish the run by adding fourth grade. The students in this school were chosen by random lottery from a big pool of applicants. There are about 350 children on the school’s waiting list.
Because of the growing enrollment, Franklin says the academy has split its fifth-through-eighth grade classrooms into a separate building in the East Central neighborhood. Eventually, Franklin hopes to reunite the grades, but there are no plans for a newer facility.
The academy is overseen by Spokane Public Schools, which is the only district in Washington authorized to enter into agreements with charter schools. Jeannette Vaughn, the director of the school district’s department of innovation, says the district oversees the academy’s finances and academic performance.
“We have a collaborative relationship," Vaughn said. "We really see the charter schools as being part of our overall portfolio. At the same time the charter schools were authorized, we’ve been adding more options for our families. And I think families care less about whether it’s a district school or a charter school, they just want the right fit for their child and we have really realized that one size doesn’t fit all.”
“I think it is the strongest district-charter partnership in the state and not just because Spokane is the authorizer, but because I think they share common values around innovation, around excellence,” said Patrick D’Amelio, the CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
He says Spokane International Academy and PRIDE Prep are two of 10 charter schools in Washington. Five are located in Seattle and three in Tacoma. The organization says schools approved in Tukwila and Walla Walla will open their doors next year.
During his tour of the academy, D’Amelio says he was impressed by what he saw.
“There’s just evidence throughout the building that it’s a healthy, happy, thriving community where both teaching and learning are happening in really positive ways,” he said.
The academy will begin accepting applications online from parents for the next school year, beginning November first.