By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As the charter organization Summit Public Schools starts the second year of classes at its first two Western Washington campuses, it says the third is on track to open in West Seattle one year from now.
We’ve been tracking Summit’s plans for the former church/supermarket building at 35th and Roxbury since discovering an early-stage proposal in city files at the start of 2015. The court fight over charter-school funding led to the California-based organization deciding at the end of last year to push back the West Seattle opening until fall 2017. Last spring, a new charter-funding plan became law (although it now is being challenged).
In the meantime, the principal originally announced for the Arbor Heights school, Greg Ponikvar, has since been reassigned to Summit’s Tacoma campus; he is a longtime Summit star, and they didn’t want to underutilize him, Summit’s regional director Jen Wickens told WSB. But the West Seattle middle/high school, to be called Summit Atlas, has a new leader in place already: Katie Bubalo, who we met during a media open house Wednesday at the Summit school in the International District, which we attended to find out the latest on the plans here.
Bubalo just moved to Seattle after seven years in New Orleans, where she worked at Sci Academy and had what Wickens calls a “background in closing the achievement gap with charter schools.” The school’s website says Bubalo was “dean of literacy.” Bubalo says she had visited Seattle many times before her move because she has several family members here.
Her work in the next year will involve recruiting teachers, enrolling students, and “setting a vision for the culture of the school.” She said she is currently on a “listening tour” of “community stakeholders.”
The Arbor Heights building will be remodeled in two phases, which is what was done with the International District campus we visited on Wednesday, Summit Sierra. Wickens says the same architect is being used for both – NAC Architecture – and that what we saw at Summit Sierra is a lot like what you’ll see at the Arbor Heights campus. Key points: An open floor plan with a lot of flexible space.
Privately funded Pacific Charter School Management, which bought the 35th/Roxbury site for $4,750,000 last year and is leasing it to Summit. It is also managing the construction/remodeling, so we talked to James Heugas with PCSD for the latest on that:
He says they expect to start work on Phase 1 at Arbor Heights this November or December, so that it will be ready for the start of next school year. In addition to the interior work, he says they’ll be replacing the roof and doing some bracing. They’re not sure yet when Phase 2, which will include adding on to the building, will start.
When Summit Atlas opens in August 2017, it’ll have about 100 students for each of the grade levels in middle (6th) and high school (9th) with which it’s starting. Wickens says they expect to start taking applications soon, and will have “information sessions” for prospective families. (Added: September 27th and October 17th are now set as dates for the first two, both at 6 pm, location TBA.) She says their goal is to have twice as many applicants as spots, so they open with “full enrollment and a waitlist”; assuming they do have more applicants than spots, they will have an “open public lottery” to see who gets the seats. That’s expected toward the end of March. There is no residency requirement – “anyone in Washington state can apply to the school,” according to Wickens.
And they reiterate their focus on college preparation – Summit Sierra students, we were told at the open house, had already made their first college visit of the year, going to UW earlier this week – and on “personalized learning.” Some have criticized the latter as leading to students sitting unattended in front of their laptops; Bubalo retorted that the “personalized” philosophy allows each student’s “different set of needs” to be addressed by teachers, to “push kids who need to be pushed – the ideal Summit student is never bored.” She said the student/teacher ratio is about 25 to 1, but because of the “personalized” plan, a teacher could be working with a small group at one moment, a larger one the next.
If this project remains on its current schedule, 2017 will be the third consecutive year with a new schoo opening in Arbor Heights – the rebuilt public Arbor Heights Elementary will open next month; last fall, Westside School (WSB sponsor) opened its new campus – also at a former church.