Teachers’ associations express concern over proposed charter school

Only a couple of people spoke at the State Charter School Commission’s public forum on the charter school proposed on Grays Harbor at Hoquiam High School Thursday night, and most were against the proposed school.

The speakers included presidents of the Hoquiam and the Aberdeen teachers’ associations, a former member, and a former teacher.

The forum is part of the commission’s process for considering 19 applications around the state for charter schools, including the Evergreen State Military Academy proposed on the Harbor. The state voted to allow charter schools in 2012. The final decision on which of the schools to approve (they may choose up to eight) will be made at the end of the month in Seattle.

The public forum began with a 10-minute presentation from William Lay, who, alongside his wife Catherine, is proposing the military academy to be located at the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport’s workshop and classroom site located in Aberdeen. The couple founded the Willamette Leadership Academy, a fully-accredited military charter school in Springfield, Ore., more than 20 years ago, but have since retired from the program and moved to Aberdeen to be closer to family. That school is the model for the proposed school.

Lay told the board the academy, while military-influenced with uniforms a team-centric approach, is not a “boot-camp” program. However, he said they do hope for accreditation from the armed forces as a Tier One military institution like the designation that is held by the academy in Oregon.

He said the main objecctive is to be a school for students who, for one reason or another, have not been successful in more tradition schools. Accountability, including a rigid start time for students, and also awards ceremonies to build their self-esteem are part of the program, which he said they have copyright protected because of its originality.

Members of the local teachers’ associations spoke against the proposed school for a number of reasons, including the rankings of the program in Oregon, which is ranked in the bottom 5th percentile for the state.

“That seemed glaring to me,” said Laurie Gordon, president of the Hoquiam Teachers’ Association. She said while she appreciated the goals of the academy, she believes many of the components Lay addressed, like accountability, are already playing out in the school district. “We start at 8:05, and that doesn’t mean 8:06.”

Joan Lesman, president of the Aberdeen Teacher’s Association, said she, too, feels that many of the components of the proposed charter school are already playing out in the school districts. She added that while she is “not exactly sure how funding for charter schools works,” she worries about the school district’s budget and the impact the academy’s estimate of eventually taking up to 230 children may have in this area with high levels of poverty.

The Lays say the comments were not a surpise, due to the level of court action the teachers’ unions have had with this new law.

“It was to be expected. I think once we are established and they get to know us, they’ll see we won’t destroy their economy as much as they think we will,” he said, adding their main focus is as a “service industry,” to aid the districts, not work against them.

The Lays say their overall impact on districts will not be more than one or two percent, and addressed the low ranking of the school in Oregon to The Daily World, saying that it was due to the fact that there they work to send successful students back to their regular districts when the time is right, causing poor graduation rates for the academy. Catherine Lay said this school will be more concerned with its graduation rates, due to state standards associated with the new charter law. They will be subject to annual performance reviews and be held accountable for academic growth, retention, financial stability and graduation rates — among other factors. But, she also said that the “majority” of the students who attend the charter school will still “probably go back to school,” meaning they will transfer back to their district if possible.

“We’ll have to change some of our record keeping and methodology,” said Lay, adding keeping track of graduation of students, wherever they may go after attending the academy, will help their retention ratings.

The Lays have also met previously with Aberdeen School District Superintendent Thomas Opstad, and the district’s business manager David Herrington, who have said that they have the capacity to aid them with transportation and food services — and that they are looking at working together to serve students.

A retired Elma school teacher, Diana Hill, of Montesano, spoke at the end of the forum in favor of the proposed charter school. She said that she taught high school, elementary and preschool levels in both special and general education classes, but believes in the promise of the new charter school.

“I’ve been excited since I’ve come to know about the program,” she said. She said her own son was unable to be successful in school, or an alternative program, but ended up “acing” his GED. “(He) is someone who could have benefited from a school like this.”

She emphasized that the school’s goal, which the Lays promote, is to help the student transition, so that “they get to be able to handle the regular classroom and be successful in a regular classroom.”

The Washington State Charter School Commission will also accept written comments on the proposals. They are to be limited to one page of 12-point font, and sent to Washington State Charter School Commission, P.O. Box 40996 Olympia, 98504-0996.

Sam Luvisi: 360-537-3935 or sluvisi@thedailyworld.com and @DwSluvisi on Twitter.


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