The idea for SIA was born out of the thoughts of all of its founding staff through the conversations of, “If we had our own school, we would…”. In November 2013, Mr. Franklin invited a group of 15 educators and community members to two separate nights at Gonzaga University to listen to a presentation about opening a charter school. Following these two nights, 9 people signed on to be part of the original design team. Starting in January 2014, this design team met every other week to build the school from the ground up. Everything from our mission statement, logo, teaching philosophy, curriculum, etc. was covered.
From January to July a school was formed. On July 15th, we submitted a 500+ page charter school application to Spokane Public Schools. Later that summer, the founding school board met with SPS to complete the first part of the chartering process. SPS executive administrators asked questions related to the application in an effort to gauge the capacity of the founding team of SIA to carry out its plans. This was followed by a public forum held on September 10th during the SPS School Board meeting. This was an opportunity for each school applying to open to bring members of the community together to show their support. Over 80 people showed up wearing bright blue SIA t-shirts in support of our charter, 10 of whom got up to publicly declare their support for the school. On September 24th, 2014 the Spokane Public Schools board unanimously voted to approve the charter application for SIA and we were off and running.
During the 2014-15 school year, Mr. Franklin participated in a fellowship with the Washington State Charter Schools Association. This allowed SIA to receive ongoing support in everything related to opening the school, including operations, educational program, leadership support and school visits. SIA staff and board members had the opportunity to visit schools in Los Angeles, Denver, Boston, San Francisco, Oakland, Phoenix, and Nashville. WA Charters also supplied the much needed start up funds necessary to purchase the resources SIA would need in its first year and for years to come.
Founding staff also committed to an incredible amount of work to turn the future site of the school, the former St. Patrick Catholic School, into a school again. St. Patrick Catholic School had sat vacant for the previous two years and needed a lot of work! Staff painted, cleaned, moved furniture, fixed fixtures, put together chairs/tables, etc. We would never have opened without the tireless work of this founding group of teachers and community members. This included painting both interior and exterior walls, moving out their resources and filling it with ours and deciding how to create a global look and feel to inspire our vision of teaching students about the world. Staff also participated in 3 weeks of intense professional development and discussion which covered everything from the teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom every day to how students enter and exit the lunch room. Part of this time together was spent participating in an activity known as story of self. Each day of professional development that summer was started by a staff member sharing his/her story of self. This turned out to be a transformational experience for our staff and allowed us all to dive deep into the experiences that shaped who we are today.
On Wednesday August 26th, 2015, SIA officially opened its doors to 160 K, 1st and 6th grade students. It was an exciting day and one we had been waiting for for quite some time. This day was filled with a lot of excitement, anxiety and firsts. All students were fed and made it to and from school safely that day. We even managed to organize ourselves enough to get a whole school picture too!
On September 4th, the 8th day of school, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that the way charter schools received their funding from the general fund in Washington state was unconstitutional. They determined that charter schools were not common schools based on a 1909 Washington law that stated that common schools must be governed by a locally elected school board and therefore should not receive money in the same fashion as other schools. This left us in limbo and put us into unchartered territory not just for our school, but for any charter school in United States history. No other state has ever had authorized charters that all of the sudden didn’t legally exist anymore. We were allowed to continue to operate as a charter until November 2015 when the initiative that created charter schools initially was repealed.
During the month of November 2015 Mr. Franklin worked with WA Charters to decide a future path forward. It was decided amongst the charter schools in Washington that we would partner with the Mary Walker School District in Springdale, WA to become Alternative Learning Experiences (ALE). This required us to technically become part of their district and offer an individual learning plan to each student. These plans known as Written Student Learning Plans (WSLPs) were developed over Christmas break and the month of January and were required to be implemented by February 1st. These plans had to be modified each month and were checked on a monthly basis by auditors from the state of Washington and a private company for their accuracy. Although this allowed us to continue to operate, this exercise added an extra 20 hours or so of work per month to each teacher and staff member in the building. There were times that this exercise brought us to our knees and forced us to rely heavily on the unwavering support of each other to make it through.
Throughout the year, staff, students and families participated in a political campaign alongside WA Charters to create a new charter school law. Students flew to Olympia twice to attend political rallies, meet with legislators and to speak on behalf of the over 1,000 students impacted by the change in the charter school law. In February, a new law was passed with support from the legislature. Charter school families across Washington rejoiced in the fact that we would be able to open the 2016-17 school year as a charter school again.
SIA has grown from that first year to now serve over 500 students in grades K-8 with a staff of over 55. We continue to refine our work and strive to continue to learn and grow. We are by no means done building SIA, but have been so fortunate to be joined on this journey by amazing students, families and staff.