Remodeling set to start by year’s end at future West Seattle charter school

(WSB photo: The open 2nd floor at Summit Sierra in the International District)

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.

16 Replies to "Remodeling set to start by year's end at future West Seattle charter school"

  • anonyme August 19, 2016 (2:17 pm)

    I thought this nonsense had been stopped – as in, FULL stop.  Never read anything about a new law allowing the charter school to proceed.  WTH???

  • PSPS August 19, 2016 (4:11 pm)

    How lovely that taxpayer money that should be going to education goes, instead, to line the pockets of the CEO.

  • Seattle parent August 19, 2016 (4:24 pm)

    If this school helps alleviate potential future capacity issues for middle and high schools in West Seattle, I am all for it.  But, I have no confidence that anyone, anywhere, is crunching the numbers regarding how this will impact enrollment at Madison, Denny, West Seattle, and Chief Sealth.  Also, I have no confidence that anyone, anywhere, is crunching the numbers regarding how much less money the legislature will be sending to SPS if and when this school opens.  Remember all those parents protesting October staff cuts last year?  That was in part because SPS didn’t adequately account for the kids matriculating at new charter schools, and so the district got less money from the legislature because SPS had lower than anticipated enrollment.  (And I acknowledge that this can be very hard predict, because some of the kids who go to charter schools transfer from private schools, and not all of the kids who go to charters come from inside of the district.)

    I wish this school well, but I hope it is coordinating with SPS on these issues.  Charters aren’t accountable to SPS, but their existence very directly impacts SPS’s state funding and their enrollment projections.  So my request as an SPS parent to Summit–please be a good neighbor to all of the surrounding schools.  Figure out your enrollment early, and where your kids are coming from.  Please, please provide that info ASAP to SPS.  Work with them on enrollment projections.  Oh, and when you schlep your kids to Olympia to advocate for charter schools, would you also advocate for McCleary?  Because it was awfully aggravating to have the legislature spend so much time, money and energy on you guys, while they were ignoring the hundreds of thousands of kids being harmed by lack of McCleary funding. 

    But if you are nice to us, we will be nice back.  I promise.

  • Paul August 19, 2016 (6:04 pm)

    I have personally visited some amazing charter schools around the country. Glad we have this option here. I wish this school and all the students well. 

  • Mark Ahlness August 19, 2016 (9:03 pm)

    Good luck to those who have to drive on 35th SW, down to one lane in each direction.
    The impact of the new, larger  Arbor Heights Elementary this fall will be tough enough on traffic, which is already abysmal. Just wait until next year, when this charter school starts drawing them in. Guess how virtually every single student will get there – by car. 

  • Peter August 19, 2016 (9:28 pm)

    Charter schools are NOT welcome here. They exist only to siphon money away from real schools and put the money into the pockets of con artists. This is not acceptable. This money needs to go to our public schools, not to institutions that only exist for the purpose of defunding public schools. This is not acceptable. 

  • Bill August 19, 2016 (11:25 pm)

    Sure am glad that way back in the olden days they actually had chairs and desks — never had to sit of the eff’n FLOOR!

    • WSB August 20, 2016 (12:48 am)

      They do have chairs and desks too. I just didn’t use that photo.

  • anonyme August 20, 2016 (6:36 am)

    It seems American taxpayers exist to support private business these days.  What about our choices?

  • WSMom August 20, 2016 (7:02 am)

    I wish them luck.  This and the new AH school will help spruce up the neighborhood because anything is better than that old grocery store/church.  I am not an advocate of charter schools.  I believe they are there for NIMBY parents who don’t want their kids in public schools with ‘those kids’ and will pull them out to send them to charter schools.  (just like those who send their kids to Vashon.  It’s the same thing, they don’t want to go to their neighborhood school so they send their kids to an 80% white school)  I don’t believe that we should be funding these schools when we cannot fund our own public schools.

  • mark47n August 20, 2016 (8:34 am)

    Charter schools have been around for awhile now, nationally, and the data exists that shows that the performance in charter schools is similar to that of public schools. 

    Alas, I don’t have it myself. My wife the former teacher/administrator has reviewed it and expressed frustration over it often, especially when that initiatve rolled through.  So, what that  means is that we are spending money on a non-solution that in not accountable in the ways public schools are although they funnel money away from those selfsame public schools.

  • Lynn August 20, 2016 (8:49 am)

    So thrilled to have an alternative for all the students in our community who do not thrive in a traditional schools one size fits all learning model. Every property owner funds public schools and every community member deserves a school that can meet their children’s needs. The people who oppose charter schools are lucky that their kids feel safe and learn in a traditional school environment. Good for you. 

  • Lynn August 20, 2016 (9:03 am)

    Oh God, before WSMom can misconstrue my earlier comment about kids feeling safe and interpret it as a race issue let me clarify that there are kids in existence with anxiety disorders that are overwhelmed and don’t feel safe in large school environments. All of the WS kids that I have personally known to commute to Vashon (which is admittedly only 5) fit into this demographic. All have families that value diversity and see the lack of it in private/charter/Vashon schools as being a negative thing.

  • anonyme August 22, 2016 (9:21 am)

    Long, funny, but with many not-so-funny facts about charter schools:

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