- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - Washington’s statewide charter schools commission decided Thursday to approve one new school and reject three others.

Approved was a proposal from Green Dot Public Schools to open a middle and high school in Seattle in fall 2016, which would be the charter-management organization’s second school in Washington. Earlier this year, the California company got approval to open a school in Tacoma in fall 2015.

The most heated conversation at the meeting in Yakima surrounded a proposal for a school in Sunnyside, in central Washington, because the organizers did not appear to have community support and the ability to work in a culturally diverse community.

Several commissioners expressed dismay at some things in the Sunnyside Charter Academy application, and they did not like the answers to some of their questions.

“There’s a lot more to cultural competence than proximity to culture,” said Trish Millines Dziko, a member of the commission and executive director of the Technology Access Foundation, which runs a group of education programs in western Washington.

Nearly 90 percent of the students in Sunnyside are Latino, and the majority of the school’s organizers are white.

Brittany Weaver, board chairwoman of the Sunnyside Charter Academy, said she was shocked and disappointed by the decision and felt misunderstood by the commission.

Their application had received a positive recommendation from a group of outside experts. Each application goes through a similar process. Of four proposals to the commission this cycle, two received positive recommendations and two did not.

The commission is not required to follow the evaluators’ recommendations. Earlier this year, when the commission discussed the first group of proposed charter schools, it approved one school that didn’t get an endorsement from the outside evaluators.

At the meeting on Thursday, however, commissioners and members of the public also expressed concerns about the school’s academic plans and its ideas for teaching kids who are just learning English and those with special needs.

Weaver said it was unlikely the group would try a third time to get a charter and she would focus her time instead of helping the traditional public school system as a volunteer.

“I don’t know how we could have done it any better,” she said, after wiping away some tears. “I don’t have any regrets. I feel like we did everything we could have done.”

Also rejected were proposals to open a bilingual school in Vancouver, Washington, and a school for children with special needs in DuPont, a community near Joint Base Lewis McChord. The commissioners encouraged the organizers of The Village Academy to keep working on their proposal and improve their plans for transportation and academics.

The state’s first charter school opened this fall. Another eight schools are already set to open in 2015, including one approved earlier this month in Spokane.

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