The Charter Commission - at the end of almost five hours of presentations and discussions - took a vote to revoke the charter of First Place Scholars and the vote lost, 4-3. And at least two of those yes votes are very tenuous.
First Place Scholars should be a state school, not a charter school. The state of Washington should have at least a couple of state schools to support homeless/traumatized children.
The issues for a homeless school are very different for any other school especially around the coming/going of students. FPS is always going to be an outlier on attrition because of their population. They are always going to need family support and wraparound services.
To try to serve these children under a charter school moniker is likely to mean failure. And I say that with respect to the very hard working the current staff has done to make this work.
Should First Place have been given a charter in the first place? In the past, I have stated that I thought the Commission had some pressure to make them the first charter because of their long history in serving these children and because it was the perfect example of a charter serving at-risk students.
First Place had existed as a school for homeless children (started by a social worker and teachers) for over 20 years. But somehow, the translation between being a private school that ran on state grants/private grants to being a charter school that ran on state money and private grants did not work. It's a mystery as to why not and I wish I understood it.
The Charter Commission has just opened a big can of worms. It's one they said -out loud - that they worry about but, nonetheless, allowed FPS to keep its charter. (FPS is like on double-secret probation, with regularly scheduled goals and monthly votes to stay open. Oh, and they have to be in their beds by 10 pm.)
At least one Commissioner wondered out loud how many chances they could give one charter AND does this mean that they will have to do this for all charters? What if they have 20 charters and eight are problematic? Does the Commission and its staff really have the bandwidth for months and months of check-ins and meetings?
As well, the financial issues are huge for FPS and, if they cannot rustle up nearly $300K by the end of this year (needing $140K by the end of August), they may not be able to open in September. Again, several Commissioners worried out loud about that issue but went forward with leaving FPS running.
Lastly, one person who testified (and loudly) asked a very good question - why aren't all the people who wrote and pushed for the charter initiative/law speaking up for FPS? I have to wonder because I haven't see LEV come and advocate for FPS. Nor anyone from the Gates Foundation/Bill Gates. Or Nick Hanauer. Or the Washington State Charter School Association. All these people/groups who wanted charters for at-risk kids and the first charter in the state that serves the highest of at-risk kids and there's no public support, either verbal or via dollars? Very odd.
I'll write a longer thread but here's basically what happened.
There was public testimony, mostly from teacher and supporters of First Place. (I spoke but only to say the Charter Commission's duty is first to the children in the school and then to taxpayers. It's not about choice.)
Then, the Director of the Commission, Joshua Halsey, outlined what was last said in what? the third chance letter that First Place has received to get its house in both academic and fiscal order. He went thru each issue carefully. First Place has gotten Sped in order, ELL in order but there were a couple of other things that were only partial done and one that wasn't.
So clearly, all the conditions were not met in full.
Then, the Director of FPS, Linda Whitehead, used her presentation time, in its entirety, to talk about the history of First Place, how long she had lived in Seattle, summer school and associated activities, community partners, etc. After she finished, she then took questions.
I was sitting with reporters. We listened to her answers and they were not good, nor clear.
It all seems a lot of crossed fingers and magical thinking but if one thing doesn't work out, this house of cards falls. The issue is largely financial.
The Commission said that FPS had not met all the conditions of what we ALL thought was a stop date for any more chances/extension of June 15, 2015. But the Commission voted to let them go on with even MORE check-ins.
At the end of the day, I think it will not work out unless a real donor angel appears. And if FPS cannot open in the fall, then about 75 kids will likely be making their way to Seattle Schools.