Wallowa School District is investigating the value of converting from a public school to a charter school. A public meeting with Steve Kelly, an Oregon School Board Association moderator, and the Wallowa School Board was held last week to kick off the discussion. Approximately 24 attended.
“This really is the beginning of a conversation,” Kelley said. “The community and the school district get together and talk about what they would like to become. It’s almost a revitalization or a rebirth.”
The board examined the idea because the school is facing myriad challenges, said school board member Polly Devore.
“Small rural schools the size of ours are going to charter,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to have a restart for our school. It’s a way for the community, staff and students to get excited about their school. We wanted to bring this to the community to find out what their thoughts are.”
Members of the school board began researching the idea by calling superintendents of eastern Oregon schools that have transitioned from public schools to charter schools to interview them about the experience. Only superintendents with experience in both public and charter schools were interviewed.
So far, all of the reports gathered have been entirely positive and even when pressed to come up with a negative, school administrators of other area charter schools could not do so, said Wallowa School Board member Carrie Hermens.
“When you get your charter, you have to have a focus and direction that your community and school has decided on,” she said. “I interviewed the superintendent of Pine Eagle and she said it was really wonderful how the process brought the community and the school together. It got everyone on the same page and got everyone thinking and everyone really excited. She said that was the most beneficial, thing and it is still helping their school today.”
There are 124 charter schools in the state. As of 2011, charter schools were required to define their focus as general, contemporary public education curriculum; progressive, child-centered, democratic, normative; specialized, trade specific, content specific; or traditional, perennial or essentialist. Charter schools often have multiple orientations.
Imbler Charter School is traditional, Joseph Charter School is general, Pine Eagle is also general.
While emphasizing that no decisions had been or could be taken without more conversations with the community, Dave Flynn, Wallowa School Board chairman, said that the board had no plans to hire uncertified teachers, which is allowed for charter schools. Several WSD students have gone on to top colleges and making sure credits transfer to those schools is important to the board and the community.
Another public meeting will be scheduled.