Nina Shapiro wrote an article, Schooling the District, about the proposed TAF (Technology Access Foundation) academy at Rainier Beach. Nina does a good job in giving voice to what TAF's perspective is. She highlights past problems with the New School Foundation and the mistrust it engendered coming into TT Minor. I am quoted (from this very blog!) as to what I saw and heard at the Rainier Beach Community Center meeting a couple of weeks ago on the TAF Academy.
What has happened since then is that new information is on the TAf website about the academy. I believe the district should probably have asked TAF not to write anything else about the academy because of the confusion/misunderstandings that could come out of it. What the website says is that TAF envisions RBHS ending as a comprehensive high school and that it would become another academy (them to be decided by staff and the district). They further state that they expect the district to find another "funding mechanism" to make sure that the two academies are funded equitably.
There are a lot of issues to these suggestions. One is simply, what is a comprehensive high school? I have a call into Luis Martinez, the Secondary School Director, to ask for a definition. What I understand is that it means not just core subjects but a wide compliment of other electives plus sports teams. (One problem I had heard for Center School was their lack of sports teams i.e. football, basketball, etc. This issue is huge for Rainier Beach because that is a central focus. Many of their students go to college on sports scholarships. However, I don't know if this is true.)
Second, I don't know what district TAF is thinking of but ours doesn't have huge pots of money sitting around to back up a school so it has funding parity with foundation-sponsored schools. You could find the money from grants but that's not on-going. It wouldn't be easy.
I think the issue here is autonomy. I think that TAF would be able to have more autonomy if RBHS didn't exist. Cleveland exists with 4 academies but they are all under one umbrella. Even though TAF and whatever academy RBHS evolved into would be in the SPS, I think TAF wants as much separation as possible.
Carla Santorno was supposed to have given a plan for community engagement on this subject at last night's Board meeting. I wasn't there. I'll e-mail Carla and see if I can see a copy.
Again, I will say that I believe the TAF Academy sounds great. But a lot of vetting needs to be done. The district needs to set up a policy about public/private partnerships (there is currently none). I had always thought that you set up these relationships to kick-start a program that the district doesn't have the money/expertise to handle. Or to provide something a school can't afford like tutoring. But we are in this position where whole schools are being created. Neither New School or the TAF Academy could exist without the money that these foundations put in. I think creating schools that aren't sustainable on their own is asking for trouble. New School can leave anytime they want at the end of a school year. They are committed until 2012 but the Memorandum of Understanding gives both the district and New School an out on a year-to-year basis. So we build New School a $65 M preK-8 building and they can leave at the end of 2012, leaving the district trying to sustain a program that the New School pumps $1.2M a year into? Is that really the best thing to do?