Followup: See who’s behind the plan for West Seattle’s first charter school, at current church site in Arbor Heights

(WSB photo)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Eight days after discovering West Seattle’s first charter school is planned for the north edge of Arbor Heights, we’ve found out much more about the plan.

When we first reported on it January 4th, we knew only that Washington Charter School Development, an arm of Los Angeles-based Pacific Charter School Development, was proposing to remodel and add on to the Freedom Church/Jesus Center property at 9601 35th SW (SW corner of 35th/Roxbury) for an unspecified charter school. Our state’s voters authorized creation of charters two years ago; 10 are approved so far, but only one is open.

We’ve been working for the past week-plus to find out more about the West Seattle plan and have finally connected with WCSD to get answers to some of the many questions raised by the early information we found in city planning files:

First: WCSD is under contract to buy the entire 2 1/3-acre Freedom Church site (price not yet disclosed – the county values the land alone at $3.2 million), with the sale expected to close within three months, according to Patrick Ontiveros, general counsel and Washington state project director for PCSD, which he describes as “a non-profit developer, with a mission to provide long-term affordable facilities solutions to increase the availability of high quality charter schools,” adding that his company “is working with the Gates Foundation to open charter schools in Washington State.”

That organization is providing money, but the school’s operator will be Redwood City-headquartered Summit Public Schools, according to Ontiveros, who says it’s working with his company “to purchase and remodel the site for a high school. In addition to West Seattle, Summit Public Schools plans to open charter schools in Seattle’s International District and Tacoma.”

The latter two, both announced as high schools, are the only schools for which Summit has authorization from the state Charter School Commission, so it will have to apply for permission to open a third school. The next application period opens in February. The ID and Tacoma schools are scheduled to open next fall; for Summit’s ID campus, to be called Summit Sierra, WSCD just bought the former Asian Resource Center for $4 million, according to our partners at The Seattle Times.

Summit’s roots go back to the turn of the millennium in Silicon Valley, according to its website, which shows that it operates seven schools in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

With the charter school intended to use the entire Freedom Church site (previously a Safeway store), Ontiveros adds, “The plan is that the existing building will be redeveloped in addition to new construction to accommodate future expansion. There is a provision where the church can lease back the building until construction is ready to begin, if they desire.” (Here’s the early-stage “site plan” that’s been in the city’s online files since New Year’s Eve and led to our first report, showing a 2-story addition along the Roxbury side of the site.)

The development company is “still wading through all the permitting issues,” he said in response to our question about what kind of reviews they expect to go through. They hope to “have the first phase of renovations completed in time for Summit to open in 2016.”

He added: “We want your readers to know that we are open to meeting with neighbors, community stakeholders and other interested parties. Although we are simply the non-profit developer, we realize that charter schools are new for Seattle. Based on the early interest, we are working with Summit Public Schools to schedule a community meeting.” No date yet, but they promise to give plenty of advance notice.

Four current/future campuses are within a mile of this site – Roxhill Elementary at 30th/Roxbury, the Arbor Heights Elementary rebuild on 104th west of 35th (opening fall 2016), the starting-this-fall campus of Westside School (WSB sponsor) at 37th/104th, and Explorer West Middle School (WSB sponsor) on 28th south of Roxbury.

Meantime, we’re still seeking answers to questions – including, is there a conflict with a medical-marijuana enterprise, Northwest Patient Resource Center, kitty-corner from the prospective charter-school campus? – so you can expect more followups to come.

36 Replies to "Followup: See who's behind the plan for West Seattle's first charter school, at current church site in Arbor Heights"

  • Eddie Westerman January 12, 2015 (8:49 pm)

    Our tax dollars going to Pacific Charter School. Here is one link to help you see where valuable money will be headed…down the drain.

    • WSB January 12, 2015 (8:58 pm)

      Eddie – I think that is an unrelated company, albeit with a confusingly similar name. “California Pacific Charter Schools” describes itself as operating a network of online schools in CA, with its parent organization California Virtual Education Partners, according to your link. The company developing, but not operating, the school here, and other physical campuses, is an arm of “Pacific Charter School Development,” a nonprofit whose reports are on GuideStar here:
      I am checking directly with my contact to be certain.

  • clark5080 January 12, 2015 (9:25 pm)

    I thought Charter Schools would we organized and run by local people not out of state organizations.


  • MMB January 12, 2015 (9:50 pm)

    I have mixed feelings about charter schools, will follow this with interest as we live < 1/2 mile from there.

    The church has been a good neighbor, keeping the property very tidy, immediately painting out graffiti, etc. I hope this charter school that's moving in will be a good neighbor too, although I think it bodes ill for traffic congestion at that intersection.

    I still miss the old Safeway there – we could easily walk there to shop. Sigh, I am just an old-timer! Thanks, WSB, for keeping us up-to-date.

  • sophista-tiki January 13, 2015 (3:56 am)

    Really?! Thats their location choice? thats the crappiest intersection with loads of sketchy people lurking around. I’ve sat in that parking lot across the street waiting to pay my Clear internet bill, its a depressing spot.

  • Curious neighbor January 13, 2015 (5:06 am)

    Is Freedom Church moving, or will they also be using the building?

  • Joe Szilagyi January 13, 2015 (6:34 am)

    What was the law with existing MMJ facilities? I’m assuming a grandfather clause for location…

  • JoB January 13, 2015 (6:52 am)

    “I thought Charter Schools would we organized and run by local people not out of state organizations.”
    this isn’t what people were sold when they were sold charter schools.. is it?

  • anonyme January 13, 2015 (7:21 am)

    Terrible idea. I’m against charter schools in general, but having one at this location is insane. The new AH elementary and the other new private school (can’t remember the name) will cause a traffic explosion as it is. An additional school on that busy corner will create a logistical nightmare.

  • bmc January 13, 2015 (7:26 am)

    That was the fear of many – outside interests running the schools and/or corporations.

  • Paul January 13, 2015 (7:41 am)

    It seems like this would be a pretty small school. I can’t imagine it would have a serious effect on traffic congestion.

    I wonder if this school would even have a gym?

    It would be nice if the property across Roxbury would get redeveloped. Sketchy people lurk in their parked cars there.

  • WestofJunction January 13, 2015 (7:50 am)

    We already have a number of established excellent private schools, both parochial as well as independent, non-religious ones. I would have preferred a voucher system.

  • Lynn January 13, 2015 (7:51 am)


    Nope. Locals with no experience and no funding from the Gates Foundation will find it nearly impossible to set up a new charter school. No state funding arrives until the students are in the seats and the state provides no support for renting or purchasing facilities.

    Those that do manage will balance the books by using Teach For America temporary instructors and/or substituting banks of computers and online learning for actual teaching.

  • Ben January 13, 2015 (8:41 am)

    I’m a bit confused.

    I’m reading through the comments section and many have already formed strongly-founded viewpoints on all charter schools and specifically this hypothetical one at this intersection. Yet, the entire state of Washington has only 1 charter school.

    How can people be so categorically opposed to this idea with such virulence?

    I follow the state of Seattle Public Schools quite closely and can honestly say that although the Charter School approach admittedly has some issues. However, we should certainly consider it as an alternative and monitor its progress closely. I am under the predisposition that the Seattle Public Schools will continue their dysfunction and malaise indefinitely—so why wouldn’t we consider Charter Schools?

    Why is there such animosity towards this proposed school?

  • bertha January 13, 2015 (8:53 am)

    I was strongly opposed to charter schools and I voted against them but after 20 years of dealing with Seattle Schools administration I am considering a charter for my child. This district is a mess: lack of transparency; a central staff more interested in protecting their turf than educating our children; special education is a disaster; Title IX requirements are not being met; a School Board that seems unwilling to stand up to staff; hiring Nyland because he is good enough; student information data breaches (2 that we know of); the Jon Greenberg debacle at Center School (given the current race situation why would you punish an award winning teacher and discontinue his racism class?). And, of course, the state legislature is in contempt of court for not meeting their legal requirement to fund education at appropriate levels. This is not the fault of the teachers but rather a dysfunctional central staff. I have had it and can’t wait to kiss Seattle Schools good-bye.

  • eddie January 13, 2015 (9:11 am)

    Hi Ben, I am categorically opposed for so many reasons. Mostly, it is because charter schools are not better than public schools. They perform at about the same level or below. I don’t like tax dollars going to schools that don’t have the same accountability our public schools have and, mostly, I don’t like that charter schools “pretend” to be open to all but have the ability to simply say, “Ben, you have a great kid but she’s really not a good fit at our school. You should go elsewhere.” There are many more reasons, too. I have been following this issue for many years and have friends who teach at charter schools and who attend charter schools everywhere from New Orleans to LA — they are simply not the way to go. We have sorely underfunded schools. To see money going from public schools to charter schools makes me sad.

  • JanS January 13, 2015 (10:51 am)

    everyone wants to “kiss Seattle schools goodbye”. What if enough energy, money, participation, and on and on, would be put into Seattle public schools as everyone is willing to put into the alternative? What about parents who willingly participate in private schools, or STEM schools, or Pathway, but would never ever consider the same for the rest of the public schools? What if the Gates Foundation put the money into the public arena instead of trying to set up their own “system”? Why should any person’s tax money go into a charter school that has the ability to reject their child, just like a private school?

    I don’t get it…when’s the last time any of you parents out there went to a school board meeting, really got involved. complain about the mismanagement, the malaise, etc…but do you really get involved. It IS your children, after all.

  • WestofJunction January 13, 2015 (11:41 am)

    JanS – choice is a very good thing. We have an educational system that tries to be all things to all people – this rarely works. There are a lot of alternatives – homeschooling, private, Running Start, etc. The point is to provide the best education for each child, not just upholding any particular institution. There is nothing sacrosanct about public schools per se.

  • bertha January 13, 2015 (12:02 pm)

    Jan – I have gone to school board meetings, met with teachers, principals and school board members. I have written letters, emails and I have phoned. I volunteered in the classroom and around the school. I participated in the PTA. I did my share of fundraising. I am tired and feel powerless and quite frankly Seattle Schools has failed not only my child but many others whose parents were as involved as I have been. I find it offensive that you just assume that we have not been involved and that you seem to think you know more about my child’s education and school than I do. When was the last time you had a child in the Seattle school system?

  • WestofJuction January 13, 2015 (12:48 pm)

    berths -don’t let anyone make you feel guilty – I was an SPS graduate and vowed to not send my kids there. Yet, there are excellent public schools in many places. The point is our kids education comes before supporting a particular institution.

  • Maria CPT January 13, 2015 (1:10 pm)

    oh bertha, I have a little one and another on the way. I fear my future will be your past. I have a couple of years and want to be optimistic!

  • JanS January 13, 2015 (1:42 pm)

    Bertha, I get what you’re saying…where are the other hundreds of parents who worked alongside of you?

    My daughter is now 34 years old…that’s how long…perhaps you think I am out of touch. No, we had problems back then, too. She started out in a Christian private school, and after 3-4 years, it simply wasn’t working…the “dogma” was too much for me. Her first year in public school was the very worst…a teacher, in a school, who didn’t give a damn, just wanted to get through the day. I had to work to get her where I wanted her to be. Not everyone is qualified to home school, and not everyone has the money for private school. That means public school. I don’t think public schools should be the last choice…I think they should be the first. But, that’s just me…

  • zark00 January 13, 2015 (2:01 pm)

    I would rather see all this money and effort used for our public schools. If you drank the charter kool aid you were sold a bill of goods. They under perform public schools across the board. The only charters that put perform public schools pick and choose the stats, they’re not required to provide all the info of course, zero transparency in charters. They dump poor performing students to raise numbers, and are generally more interested in profit than education. You really think your child’s best interests are served by a corporation that puts profit over education of our kids? That’s some big time crazy logic there. California schools are so wonderful, let’s have THOSE folks run our schools. I’d laugh if this wasnt so sad.

  • Jason January 13, 2015 (2:27 pm)

    We’re so lucky to have so many experts here in West Seattle dumping their negative opinions on everything. Most of you are making no sense and have no facts to backup anything you’re saying. The comment “California schools are so wonderful…” is particularly hilarious. California is a really big state with all kinds of different areas and schools and it’s not like someone from California is coming up here to print out a copy of some random Californian public school. Where do you get this stuff?
    As far as performance goes, I’m sure the performance is worse when the standardized testing is based on the public education curriculum. Some people thrive in different environments, education is a good thing and options are a good thing.
    And for those of you complaining about that corner, it’s really not that bad. I drive through that intersection all the time and while maybe a few pot heads are hanging around waiting for their pizza to get made, I can’t really think of any major recent incidents up there involving police. And who knows, a newly developed high school up there might just have a positive impact, it’s really alright to admit that we have no idea what the outcome will be.
    Are you all this much of a bummer around your families and friends? Always predicting how negatively every single change is going to impact you and/or the community?

  • Brian M. January 13, 2015 (2:51 pm)

    I wonder if a school in this location would compromise the current location of the nearby dispensary – Northwest Patient Resource Center. If so, this would be a welcome addition to the area.

    • WSB January 13, 2015 (2:54 pm)

      Brian, we’ve been looking into that from the start. Don’t know yet. Even NWPRC’s owner, with whom we’ve spoken, doesn’t know.

  • zark00 January 13, 2015 (4:09 pm)

    Do ya see Washington on that list? How about California? Woulda said DC but that’s not where this for-profit charter company is from. I encourage you to do some research. My opinion is based on researching charter school performance and the impact of charter schools on existing public school districts. What’s your opinion based on? Blind faith in a for-profit education system?

  • j January 13, 2015 (4:47 pm)

    There’s only so many kids in Arbor Heights. Of those kids that live in AH, only a few walk to school. The rest of the students arriving, at this charter school of an undetermined enrollment, at Arbor Heights elementary which is doubling (let’s admit it. They’ll stuff the full 630 students in there), at Westside 500+ students at Explorer West and Roxhill will all be arriving by CARS AND BUSSES into a neighborhood that the city had neglected for years. (Hush Fauntleroy residents… we know AH voted against taxing for sidewalks in 1950 so we do not deserve any funds for at least…what…100 years??? )
    I have no problem with charter schools. I do have a problem with a school taking the only retail location in AH. I have a problem with the city not acknowledging that they are sending a s@#t ton more cars into a neighborhood where we have to walk in the street because we allow improperly parked cars, planter boxes, motorhomes and boats to take the space where we should be walking. Almost every street has a fence (or 3) built out over the pedestrian zone. City code means nothing here.
    Well, i guess AH will remain the neighborhood with the highest rate of diabetes well into the future.
    What a shame!
    I believe this seals our fate for any neighborhood update funds too. Areas with retail get the nod there so people can walk to shopping.

  • Kayleigh January 13, 2015 (5:32 pm)

    I’m against charter schools, period.
    But more importantly, am I the only one who remembers going in there as a kid (when the building was a Safeway) and asking for a free cookie in Ye Olde Bake Shoppe?

  • Gene January 13, 2015 (6:13 pm)

    Just want to speak up for the corner businesses. The pizza place is quite good – everyone should try it (I am not the owner :-). Also it doesn’t seem fair that a legally run business that does not disturb the community and helps people should be forced to close because of a new arrival with deep pockets.

  • Gene January 13, 2015 (6:19 pm)

    If it is to be a high school, the pizza place should do well, I’d guess.

  • Brian M. January 13, 2015 (7:43 pm)

    Tracy, I’m so glad you’re on top of it!

    Between the proprietors that sell tobacco, beer, and medical marijuana (I’ll leave the pizza place alone), there have been a few interesting folks hanging around. With a school nearby, I think things have the potential to improve.

  • Lolapop January 13, 2015 (8:31 pm)

    We need more choices in this area for high schools!
    Everyone keeps talking about AH elementary, Westside and roxhill but not one of these is a high school!
    I love the idea of having another choice to send my almost high schooler to!

  • marty January 14, 2015 (9:21 am)

    My granddaughter attends a STEM charter school in Henderson, NV. Trust me, it is WAY BETTER than Seattle Public Schools. Give this a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised.

  • Jason January 14, 2015 (10:18 am)

    @zark00 I’m not trying to be rude but you’re literally making almost no sense. So you’re saying because the company that is purchasing the property is from California, that the charter school will emulate the educational structure of the worst schools in California? There are a ton of variables here, for example one of them “R.A.A.M.P. Charter Academy” was formed specifically to help at-risk students catch up with their peers – so of course their test scores are low. What you are doing isn’t exactly scientific research, it’s just a simple link with no drilling into the actual cause. And as I said before, the standardized testing doesn’t always tell the full story.
    Sorry they’re putting a school across the street from where ‘interesting characters’ hang out, but at least it will give a bunch of you more people to judge and more opportunity to share your expertise.

  • Gladys January 15, 2015 (12:03 pm)

    “literally making almost no sense” lol Jason

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