Charter school in Seattle celebrates the academic success of its students

Jul 12, 2019

Rainier Prep Charter School, located in one of Seattle's low-income neighborhoods south of the ship canal, recently celebrated the academic success of its 335 middle school students.

The school is ably led by Maggie O’Sullivan. A former principal at a traditional public school, and a teacher, coach and para-educator in Seattle’s public schools for twenty years, she helped start Rainier Prep shortly after voters in 2012 made Washington the 42nd state to allow charter public schools.

Rainier Prep opened in 2015. Now, four years later, the success of this school validates the faith voters placed in the charter school model as a way to make a great public education available to all.   

Rainier Prep offers a rigorous academic program in Grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. Eighty-one percent of its students are low-income; 41% are Hispanic, 35% African American, 9% Asian, and 5% white. 

Rainier Prep teachers set high expectations for their students, allowing students to take Algebra 1 in eighth grade, and giving reading assignments from great books literature. The school’s mission describes the school’s values in the acronym GUIDES (standing for Grit, Urgency, Integrity, Discovery, Excellence, and Society) Students, staff and families are expected to live by these values every day. Students wear uniforms as a reflection of school pride.

Students at Rainier Prep are passing state tests at much higher rates than students at other Seattle public schools, as shown below.

The learning achievements of Rainier Prep's students of color match or exceed levels seen in Seattle public schools located in wealthier white neighborhoods in the north of the city.

Success like this should be celebrated by everyone. But officials at the powerful WEA union are angry that students of color are succeeding at a non-union public school, and are working to cut charter funding.  Resources for Seattle's charter school families have been cut about $3,000 per student.

Leslie Harris, President of the Seattle School Board, and Superintendent Denise Juneau have decided to cut local levy funding for charter school families from the district's $1.04 billion budget.

They have also cut funding for classrooms, buildings and other facilities, so that charter public schools actually have to pay rent.

Some state officials are also working to harm charter families.  Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), representing one of the wealthiest areas of the state, helped defeat a fair-minded amendment by fellow Democrat, Sen. Guy Palumbo, that would have partially equalized charter school funding.  The equity amendment was voted down in the closing hours of the session.

Before cutting charter school funding again, Senator Wellman, Ms. Harris and Superintendent Juneau might consider taking a field trip to visit Rainier Prep students, at 10211 12th Avenue South, near the South Park neighborhood. They would learn firsthand about the importance of resisting WEA union bosses who work to hurt low-income children attending these schools.

Supporters of school choice are often accused of being racist.  Such narrow-minded bigotry is hard to listen to when one has visited the shining success of popular alternatives like Rainier Prep.  If charter school opponents spoke from knowledge instead of ignorance, they might think twice about denying equal funding to families of color, especially those whom administrators routinely consign to some of the worst schools in the state.

These families don't want special treatment.  They just want what state leaders consistently promise, access to a fair and equal education for all.