New charter school being proposed for Moscow

By Kate Baldwin, Daily News staff writer
Published: 08-15-2006

Bill Rivers is trying to bring a new charter school — the Palouse Prairie School — to Moscow, but he knows that the failed Renaissance Public Charter School is still on people’s minds.If there was a good thing about the Renaissance Public Charter School closing, he said “it allowed us to redefine our charter based upon the things that didn’t work there.”

“We tried to take all those lessons to heart and we tried to put those into our charter in a better way,” said Rivers, chairman of the Palouse Prairie School board.

Rivers and his board members will try to allay concerns when they review their plans during a public meeting Thursday.

“A lot of people still don’t understand charter schools,” Rivers said. “I think there will be some explanation of what is this and how does it work.”

Charter schools are public schools that receive state funding for each pupil like a typical public school. The meeting is part of the required procedure for establishing a new charter school within the state.

The Palouse Prairie School submitted a petition this summer to the Moscow School District asking it to be its charter authorizer. The designation would make the district responsible for overseeing the charter school and making sure it fulfills the terms of its charter. This can be done with annual reports, onsite reviews and visitations, among other things.

The Moscow School Board will have 60 days to review the petition and make a decision. If the board decides not to accept responsibility, the charter school can submit a petition directly to the State Department of Education to be its charter authorizer.

The district already supervises the Moscow Charter School, which has a focus on technology and the performing arts. It also had supervised the Renaissance Public Charter School, which closed due to problems with governance.

“Obviously, the sooner we can (get approval) the better, because next school year we hope to be up and running,” said Olle Pellmyr, a parent and board member.

Pellmyr said he hopes to work with the Moscow School District because it has tremendous experience that can be shared through a collaboration.

“We should be self-sufficient,” he said. “But we want the best relationship possible with the public school district since we’re just another public school.”

The Palouse Prairie School will serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade, with plans to eventually include seventh and eighth grades. It would use the Expeditionary Learning ­Outward Bound model of education, which uses real-world projects to let students participate in research-based learning that has community outcomes.

The failed Renaissance Public Charter School also was an ELOB school, but Rivers said there are more than 140 successful ELOB schools across the country, some of which are located in the state.

Pellmyr, who is a research scientist, said he has confidence in the model because it has been tested. He also likes its flexibility.

“In many ways, it’s less regimental,” he said. “It puts a strong emphasis on collaboration and it works across the grades. It makes teaching realistic and takes it out to the community.”

Charter school benefits can include a different learning model for students and typically smaller classroom sizes.

There are concerns about how the school could impact existing schools. Drawbacks of a charter school may include a potential decline in enrollment for the hosting district and problems that can arise if a charter school is closed.

Moscow School District Superintendent Candis Donicht said enrollment is an important issue.

“It depends on where the kids come from,” she said. “If the kids were all previously homeschooled, then it doesn’t impact the school district. If they were attending here, we would no longer have them on our rolls and they would be transferred to the charter school.”

When a student transfers, state funding for that student transfers with the student. Because this point creates some obstacles in gaining support, Rivers argues in favor of more learning options.

“This school does not pull any children from any school district. Parents do,” Rivers said. “They are doing that of their own free will because they are looking for something different than what is currently being offered.”

As news of the meeting and the school spreads, Rivers said more people are asking for information.

Donicht said people have been stopping by the district office to pick up copies of the charter.

“We’ll open the doors and see who comes out,” she said.

IF YOU GO

* WHAT: Public Meeting on the proposal for Palouse Prairie School

* WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

* WHERE: Moscow Junior High School Music Room

* CONTACT: Moscow School District at (208) 882-1120 for more information.

Kate Baldwin can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 239, or by e-mail at kbaldwin@dnews.com.

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