Kent public charter school to close

Excel opened in 2015

Monica Camp directs the orchestra at Excel Public Charter School. 2015 FILE PHOTO

Monica Camp directs the orchestra at Excel Public Charter School. 2015 FILE PHOTO

Citing low student enrollment and related operational challenges, the Green Dot Public Schools Washington’s Board of Directors has voted to close Excel Public Charter School in Kent at the end of the current school year.

The board also decided at its June 6 meeting to shut down Destiny Middle School in Tacoma, which has struggled with dwindling enrollment. Washington State Charter Schools Association, in a statement released last Friday, concluded that it is not able to sustain programs in Kent and Tacoma.

“First and foremost, our hearts go out to impacted students, families, staff and communities,” Patrick D’Amelio, CEO, Washington Charter Schools, said in a statement. “While school closure is never a desired outcome, one of the great hallmarks of the charter public school sector is that we are able to respond, adapt and make improvements quickly when something is not working. As with any initiative focused on change and innovation, there has been both progress and setbacks.

“Five years in, we are still learning,” D’Amelio said, “and we know that many schools are drawing demand from surrounding communities, while a few have struggled with low enrollment and financial sustainability.”

Excel – a public, state lottery-supported, tuition-free middle school focused on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics programming (STEAM) – officially joined Green Dot on 2017 after the Washington State Board of Education and Washington Charter Schools approved the merger. Los Angeles-based Green Dot has a nonprofit network of four public charter schools in the Puget Sound region. It also operates schools in Los Angeles and Memphis, Tenn.

Excel opened its doors on Aug. 18, 2015, as the first charter public school in Kent when it was open to sixth and seventh graders. Seventy-two students were in its first graduating class (of eighth graders) last year.

Excel’s last day of instruction is June 21.

The Kent school – housed in the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, 19300 108th Ave. SE – had a peak enrollment of 188 students (grades 7-10) as of last October.

The closure, according to Green Dot officials, will affect paid staff members, many of whom will be offered jobs elsewhere in the network, Green Dot officials said. They did not yet confirm the number of paid staff members impacted.

Green Dot announced that it will consolidate operations and continue to offer a middle and high school program at Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (RVLA) in Seattle.

“Students at Excel have been offered a seat in the (grades) 6-12 program at RVLA,” said Joe Hailey, board chair of Green Dot Public Schools Washington. “The realignment across our network means that despite this news, we are positioning ourselves for a successful and sustainable long-term model. We are actively working with each family individually to help with best placements for their student in the coming year.”

In addition to low enrollment, Excel faced the challenge of finding an affordable new home for next school year. Excel’s lease with the church expires next year. The arrangement with the church, Green Dot officials said, has been “wonderful” and appreciated.

The financial health of public charter schools have been impacted by state action. Lawmakers from the recent legislative session chose to prevent charter schools from accessing state funds that enhance local tax levy collections of traditional school districts. Charter schools draw some money from the state lottery but primarily operate on a lean financial model.

“The necessity of this decision was driven by waning enrollment, amplified by recent actions in Olympia to lock public schoolchildren out of public funding,” Hailey said. “Green Dot seeks to serve those families whose experience of the public school system is not consistent with the expectations they have for their children – here, this is mostly children from lower-income backgrounds, and mostly children of color. Destiny, Excel and Rainier Valley Leadership Academy opened to serve these exact families.

“Green Dot’s mission to help transform public education means that our model is premised on sustainably operating on public financing,” he said. “The ongoing fiscal gap that restricts public charter schools like ours from accessing local levy funding means that there would be a permanent structural deficit for our schools.”

In wake of the closures, Hailey hailed progress in the state’s public charter schools, whose students’ assessments exceeded national growth targets and test scores have shown significant growth in each grade.

“Our schools serve a student population that is reflective of the vision of the charter public school movement, serving significantly more students of color, students with disabilities, and students in poverty than our surrounding districts, Hailey said.

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