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.