- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington’s first charter school is struggling months after opening its doors.

The principal of First Place Scholars resigned in November. More than half of its board of directors has left. And the Washington State Charter School Commission has identified more than a dozen potential problems the school must fix, The Seattle Times reported in Wednesday’s newspaper (https://is.gd/U9zYyE ).

Those problems include not hiring a qualified special-education teacher for the about two-dozen students who need those services, since a contract instructor left the school at the end of October. The school also has failed to complete background checks on some nonteaching staff, its fire-drill plans were out-of-date and the school’s main office had no documentation of any teachers’ certification.

The commission, which meets Thursday in Tacoma, is in charge of approving and overseeing most of the state’s charter schools. The commission has approved seven other charter schools, with six scheduled to open in fall 2015. Spokane Public Schools, which also has been approved to authorize charter schools, has approved two more schools scheduled to open in 2015.

Members of the statewide commission say they are hopeful that First Place will turn itself around and that the school is on track to complete its corrective action plan on time.

But if it doesn’t, the school will face stricter negotiations that could ultimately lead to its closure.

Joshua Halsey, the commission’s executive director, said his group takes the problems seriously.

“We’re monitoring this very closely,” he said.

First Place was the first charter to open in part because it wasn’t starting from scratch. It had long been a private elementary school, founded initially to serve homeless students, in partnership with Seattle Public Schools.

The K-5 school focuses on students who have been homeless or have experienced other traumas. Classes have 14-15 students each. Becoming a charter is helping it expand from about 45 students to up to 100.

Halsey, the state charter commission’s executive director, chalked some of First Place’s problems up to being the state’s first charter school.

“It’s one thing for a district to open a new school - it’s a whole different story when you talk about a whole district being established,” Halsey said. “And that’s pretty much what these charter schools are.”

Steve Sundquist, the charter commission chairman, said Tuesday that he didn’t think First Place’s troubles represent a setback for the state’s charter-school movement.

“This will not be the only case of struggle,” he said. “But I believe ultimately we’re going to see a successful story here.”

On Dec. 1, Halsey notified the school that it was putting students’ health, safety and educational welfare at risk, and gave First Place until Dec. 10 to submit a plan for how to get back on track.

At a board meeting Tuesday, Dawn Mason, the new president of the board, said the school expects to be held accountable.

“We’re able to do it. We have board members with the credentials to do the work,” she said, adding that the corrective action plan shows how seriously the state charter commission is taking its job.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, https://www.seattletimes.com


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