Five groups -- 2 from Sunnyside -- seek charter school approval in Valley

RAFAEL GUERRERO YAKIMA HERALD-REPUBLICNovember 2, 2013 

From a well-known early childhood education provider to a Texas-based nonprofit wanting to expand its brand to the Northwest, five nonprofit organizations are hoping to establish charter schools in the Yakima Valley.

Next February, they will find out who -- if any -- grabbed some of the first coveted slots.

State voters approved a measure last November to allow charter schools, publicly funded entities that are able to follow their own curriculum. Under the new measure, up to eight charter institutions can be established annually for the first five years the law is in place.

A total of 28 groups have sent letters of interest to the state's charter school commission. Another three sent theirs to the Spokane School District, the other charter school authorizer in the state. Long story short: not everyone will get authorization for the 2014-15 school year or the following year.

Those nonprofit agencies who expressed interest submitted a letter of intent to either the charter school commission or Spokane in late October. They now have until Nov. 22 to submit the final application.

One of the most recognizable is Inspire Development Centers, the Sunnyside-based Head Start provider. The nonprofit early childhood service is in the midst of trying to win additional federal money for its Head Start programs.

However, that effort hasn't slowed its intentions to expand into more grade levels. Its proposal is to blend dual-language instruction to kindergarten through second-grade operations, said CEO Tadeo Saenz-Thompson.

Por Vida Inc. is venturing outside of Texas for the first time. The San Antonio-based nonprofit has two schools in Corpus Christi, one in San Antonio and now wants a high school in Yakima. Their schools are intended for at-risk students -- those involved in gang activity, migrant students and high school dropouts.

Yakima-based International Technology and Education Institute also proposed a school for at-risk youth. Its CEO, Earl Lee, who has taught in the Yakima Valley for three decades, said students need another option for public education.

The Cesar Chavez Charter School Foundation, a Yakima nonprofit, intends to develop a dual-language school where students can learn English while learning the core subjects in Spanish to keep students on track with benchmarks.

And in Sunnyside, the group Charter Schools of Sunnyside is proposing a system where parental involvement is a requirement and students would rotate among different methods of teaching, including teacher-based, online and group work.

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