VIDEO: See inside West Seattle’s first charter school, Summit Atlas, 3 weeks before it opens

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Classes start August 21st at the former supermarket and church that is becoming West Seattle’s first charter school, Summit Atlas.

Today – six months after a ceremonial groundbreaking kicked off extensive remodeling, and days before work begins on an addition – we got our first look inside, with a tour that included future students and their families.

It’s been two and a half years since we broke the news of the charter-middle-and-high-school plan for the property at 9601 35th SW (southwest corner of 35th/Roxbury), discovering an early-stage proposal in city permit-application files.

Former owners Freedom Church/Jesus Center sold the site in 2015 to Washington Charter School Development for $4.75 million. WCSD is the regional branch of a California-based company that specializes in building schools for charter firms like Summit (also California-based) – this is their fourth in Washington, all repurposing existing buildings, WCSD’s James Heugas (a West Seattle resident) noted after today’s tour. (We got a look inside one of the others, Summit Sierra in the International District, a year ago.)

But before we show you what’s been done inside and what’s about to happen outside, some updates:

Principal Katie Bubalo says her staff is all hired except for one (they’re looking for a paraprofessional) – she’s at right in our photo below with assistant principal Andrea Klein:

She has a staff of 15 to start with, including five ninth-grade teachers, four sixth-grade teachers, and two specializing in electives.

Summit Atlas is opening a year later than first planned because of the court battle over whether charter schools were eligible for public funding in our state; before that situation was semi-resolved, Summit announced it would push the West Seattle opening back to fall 2017. But it’s still opening in the sequence planned – 6th and 9th grades this year, adding one middle-school grade and one high-school grade per year until it’s a full 6th-through-12th-grade campus.

First day of school for ninth graders is Monday, August 21st, and the sixth graders start the next day, Tuesday, August 22nd. Bubalo says the calendar will mostly follow the Seattle Public Schools calendar, except for the start and end (mid-June) dates, which are both about two weeks earlier than SPS.

When they opened enrollment, they had plans for a lottery, should they receive more applications than they had openings. That didn’t turn out to be necessary. They still have spaces in both 6th and 9th grades, Bubalo says. Currently they have 102 sixth graders enrolled, with the ability to go up to 115; they have 80+ ninth graders, which means about 20 openings there. “We’re getting (new enrollees) every day now.”

Of those already enrolled – only a fraction of whom were on today’s tour- Bubalo says about one-third are African American, one-third other people of color, one-third white. Geographically, she says most are from West Seattle and White Center.

While leading the tour, she described the school’s teaching philosophy, including pushing back against the common claim that schools like hers mostly stick students in front of computers and leave them there.

Yes, every student is assigned a laptop, and yes, they do have some of what’s termed “personal learning time,” but Bubalo contends that’s when the students learn study skills that will carry them through college, which is a major focus of Summit. Here is much of what she said and showed, in two video clips:

There are two STEM-focused classrooms, with details (as noticed by students participating in the tour) right down to the eye-washing station for science lessons.

Community service will be part of the curriculum, and the school will work with “partners” in a variety of programs. PE is now in the curriculum – one parent was surprised, saying it hadn’t been part of the plan at a previous meeting – and Summit Atlas expects to visit nearby parks and fields as part of it.

Now, to the building itself. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in the school, you might remember it from its church and/or Safeway grocery-store days. Inside – as with Summit’s International District school – there are brightly colored walls, lots of windows, and garage-door-style openings, in an “open” floor plan.

WCSD’s Heugas (below) says there are earthquake-safety upgrades throughout – the walls were largely unreinforced masonry, but now have been reinforced with braces.

Lead paint and asbestos were removed when they started work.

Some rooms have sliding partitions that can be used to split them off on a moment’s notice.

We asked about energy efficiency, and he showed us the controls for the “variable speed” heating/cooling system – the first time his firm has used one in a building.

There are also acoustic ceilings to help keep noise from circulating between the rooms. That might be helpful for a while as construction proceeds on the two-story addition, which will stretch along the north side of the campus, almost all the way toward Roxbury, except for a landscaped buffer, which will feature a raingarden. The front entrance will have a plaza.

The remodeling and 12,000-sf-footprint addition were originally planned to be built all at once, Heugas acknowledged, but the charter-law fight and opening delay led to those parts of the project being split.

Meantime, while principal Bubalo said she’d assured some that high school at Summit Atlas will be like a “regular” high school, with proms and events, one thing it won’t have, we learned during parent Q&A – no parking for high-school students who might want to drive themselves to school.

Outside the building, though, there will be basketball courts, something Bubalo finds a delight as she not only plays basketball, she coached it in previous jobs – this year, she told the visiting families, is the first year she won’t be coaching.

She’ll be running a new school, though, which is bound to keep her plenty busy.

Summit Atlas will have a ribboncutting ceremony at 5 pm Wednesday, August 16th.

25 Replies to "VIDEO: See inside West Seattle's first charter school, Summit Atlas, 3 weeks before it opens"

  • Jack Sparra July 28, 2017 (5:59 pm)

    So happy to see this charter school in West Seattle! More!! Innovation, creativity…yes! 

  • Westello July 28, 2017 (9:53 pm)

    “…eye-washing station for science lessons.” FYI, most SPS high schools and middle schools have these.  PE, too.  Acoustic ceilings, too.

    I didn’t see any info on transportation to the school or food service.  

    • WSB July 28, 2017 (10:27 pm)

      Don’t know about transportation but it’s a good question, will ask. Re: food – one of the photos I didn’t use showed their kitchen. Nothing was represented as something that other schools didn’t have. For me, part of the point of curiosity was seeing inside this building, which has sat fallow for a couple years in a very prominent spot. – TR

      • Aly July 31, 2017 (2:54 pm)

        For public transport, Rapid Ride C Line is across the street and the 21 and 21X bus stops are right in front of the school. I would think they would be optional ways for transportation. 

  • TJ July 28, 2017 (10:19 pm)

    I agree! More options for our kids. Seattle Public Schools can’t pull it together, and I hope we see a trend towards more and more charter schools coming up. 

  • Tim Thomas July 29, 2017 (7:54 am)

    I am fundamentally against charter schools. They take public education  money from all  but do not have to handle the more challenging educational needs of the community. We would be best served by putting all our efforts into improving the public schools. When you bring profit motive into the educational system it does benefit some, but it also drains resources that are needed for the public schools to handle students that are not served by the charter schools.  

    From a community perspective, we should strive to have our educational system treat every child they way we would want it to treat our own. 

  • Bunnyfer July 29, 2017 (10:16 am)

    As a resident of SW Seattle and living 1/2 block from the new school, I’m very concerned about the street parking. On our side of the block alone, where there were once 7 houses, there are now 28 houses and townhouses, all with one parking spot or less. Street parking is a nightmare without the school being open: what is going to happen once they get all the teachers and parents and students coming through? How are they going to keep street parking available to the residents who need it? I’m so disappointed by the zoning that allowed this. 

    • KM July 29, 2017 (11:28 am)

      Street parking (public street) is open to all, and not prioritized for residents (unless parking RPZs are in place). 

      Has the zoning changed recently? It used to be a grocery store and a church.

      • WSB July 29, 2017 (11:49 am)

        No, the zoning has not changed. This is being built under the same zoning the previous use was under. It’s zoned NC3P-40. If there had been a rezone involved, it would have taken a much longer time (like the Church of the Nazarene townhouse project that’s just now getting to the City Council with its rezone after four years). And so it’s actually going to be less dense and tall than it could be if there was a development maximizing the zoning (40 means four stories – this will be no more than two, and only on the addition along the north side of the site).

    • Kathy M August 3, 2017 (4:40 pm)

      That’s not a charter school problem that’s a living in Seattle problem. 

  • Olive July 29, 2017 (10:23 am)

    What is so dang innovative? Everyone who is pro-charter loves to proclaim all these amazing innovations and opportunities for kids, but i have yet to see any real evidence of it.

    Just because one says their ideas are fresh, does not make it so. Whether or not one believes in the said “freshness” depends on how much they knew about education in the first place.

    For every new idea or “innovation” charters claim, public schools can demonstrate that it has been done and/or is being done already.

    Charters are a drain on public funds with questionable motivations. 

    And, in my opinion, a blight on our community. 

    We need to be focusing on how to improve our public schools and a great place to start is MONEY. 

  • TJ July 29, 2017 (10:56 am)

    So Tim, basically you are saying there shouldn’t be different educational opportunities for students that could benefit them more than being in traditional public schools? I have 2 kids in the public schools, and there seems to be a socialist philosophy of holding back the potential of greater learning opportunities for some students in the name of equality for all. And in a way we really do have a for profit public school system now with the teachers union and bloated school district beaucracy. There is never a end to the cry for more money, and even though the state just passed a budget that adds TONS of taxes for us here in Seattle and that governor Dimsley touted as “finally closing the funding gap for schools”, I predict Seattle Schools will still be saying it’s not enough.

    • Melissa Westbrook July 30, 2017 (4:42 pm)

      Well, there are different educational opps in SPS.  There’s that.

      Yes, SPS does have issues and they need to be addressed.  But no, our schools have not been fully funded for decades.  That takes a toll on a system.  And no, the money is really not what was specified by the court so it will be interesting to see what they have to say.  And all those tax dollars from Puget Sound properties?  Some of it is going to Eastern Washington.  I appreciate they don’t have the property values here but I also don’t appreciate that they rarely pass any school levies.

  • TJ July 29, 2017 (11:44 am)

    “A great place to start is money”. Well, like mentioned, the state just passed the budget that increases our taxes disproportionately here for schools. Everything can’t come down to money. But, I guarantee we will hear the cry for more and more. From my understanding, a lot of the new money goes towards pay increases for teachers? I hear the cry that we need smaller class sizes like we had years and years ago. Well, I looked at my first grade class photo from 1979, and there are 29 kids in my class. More than my sons class this year. Charter schools are an option for greater learning for some students and I hope for more in the future. I would love to have my kids in private school, but can’t stomach the thought of paying the tuition for that while still paying for public schools. I feel for the parents private schooling their kids. They should have the ability to deduct their taxes going towards public schools and use it towards their pirivate school tuition

    • Wrong July 31, 2017 (1:17 pm)

      @TJ-  incorrect about letting people redirect their sps bound tax money. If parents who didn’t use sps didn’t have to pay those taxes, neither would all the people who are not parents, or not parents right now- and school tax money would shrink to nothing..

  • WSMom July 29, 2017 (12:06 pm)

    Olive, I couldn’t agree more.

    TJ, you are aware that Washington state schools are literally criminally underfunded, right? The state legislature is being fined daily for their inability to adequately fund public schools. The district I graduated from in suburban DC funds their schools at TWICE the per pupil funding as Seattle.  That’s because they prioritize education (oh, and they have a state income tax- the horror!). I don’t even know where to start with the teacher’s union BS. Teachers aren’t in it for the money.  SPS isn’t the mob. It’s a for dang sure NON -profit made up of people who could make a lot more money in the private sector, struggling to make it work with paltry budgets. Obviously you don’t have a child with special needs or you wouldn’t deign to characterize equality of access to education as socialism. It’s always people outside of education who think these schools offer something that public schools don’t. Seattle has alternative schools. They would have more if they could afford it, they would have smaller class sizes if they could afford it. 

    I hope the students and staff there have a great year. 

  • anonyme July 29, 2017 (12:40 pm)

    An appalling waste of taxpayer money.  I’d like a choice, too – as in, a choice whether or not to support private schools funded with public money.  And to add insult to injury, those who have chosen

  • Jack Sparra July 29, 2017 (12:52 pm)

    Anyone who’s had children experience public education knows the issue isn’t JUST money…it’s LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY….sorry for yelling. I’d triple my cost if they would make that change, hold teachers accountable for performance…if you think that’s happening, you’re head is in the sand. More choice, more choice, vouchers….let’s go!! Empower families!!

  • WS Guy July 30, 2017 (12:10 am)

    Our Public School system is a failure.  It’s built to sustain administrators and teachers unions.  Direct customer accountability and parent choice is the best answer.  I support this charter school and hope that we see more like it.

    • Melissa Westbrook July 30, 2017 (4:44 pm)

      Just not true and you can’t prove it.  I can certainly prove it isn’t but I’ll let you go first. 

  • Hillary Shaw July 30, 2017 (10:04 am)


    It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” -Washington State Constitution 

    – – –

    If your chose a charter school because your child’s basic educational needs are not being met in public schools, please know that your child’s needs not being met is contrary to our state’s constitutional obligation to *all* children and a result of decades of underfunding schools. Learn more and join the conversation about fulfilling our state’s paramount duty:

    Just days ago, the NAACP called for a moratorium on charter schools, which is particularly timely and apt for states – such as ours – in which charter schools further weaken $trained schools by using much-needed public funds.

    Public schools are what *we* make them. While there are already many choices within Seattle Public Schools, there can be more when the state steps up and provides the funds needed to enhance and expand upon choices. Community participation is essential to productively shape the future of public schools, and all are welcome and encouraged to participate. Please connect with your school board director (our West Seattle director is Leslie Harris) and constructively engage as much as you are able.
  • Jack Sparra July 30, 2017 (3:51 pm)

    We pay seattle schools to run great schools which they don’t, that’s not my “We” job. Why are you so afraid to try alternatives….

    • Melissa Westbrook July 30, 2017 (4:47 pm)

      First, SPS does have alternatives and has had them for more than 20 years.  Twenty years.  

      There are great and good and fair and poor SPS schools.  Just like in the charter system although the big point is that charters, overall, do no better AND have more schools in the poor category. 

      So be careful what you wish for (or at least do your homework.)

  • Kathy M August 3, 2017 (4:44 pm)

    I can’t wait until this school takes off and excels well beyond the very low bar SPS has set. Everyone on here that says SPS is so great has bought into the stats that are produced to make the people at the top look good. Open your eyes to other options you may be surprise. GO SUMMIT ATLAS!!!!

  • anonyme August 3, 2017 (5:24 pm)

    Jack, what exactly is “your” cost?  Last time I checked, the taxpayers were picking up the tab for all of this.  You actually get tax breaks for having kids, which means I’m funding more of this than you are.  And if you’re willing to “triple”…your “cost” – why don’t you do exactly that and put your kid in a private school?  Why must other people pay for your demand for infinite choice?

    This is the biggest private profit taxpayer ripoff scheme since ‘too big to fail’.

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