An opportunity born out of voter approval for charter schools in Washington in 2012 has turned into a flurry of activity for Elke Rushton.
Rushton, who lives in Maple Valley, is leading the charge to establish a charter school in the Covington area.
It’s a grassroots effort to provide a different take on education.
“We aren’t going to revolutionize school,” Rushton said. “We will be a small school, but offering another option.”
The stated mission of the school, which has been named Mountainside Classical Academy and is envisioned as a K-12 school, is “to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through a rigorous, classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.”
Charter schools are, in essence, public schools with no tuition charge and entrance gained through a lottery system. The schools hire state certified teachers and are funded by the per student allotment from the state and through private donations and fundraising. Prospective schools must apply to the state via the Charter School Commission, a process that Rushton intends to complete for Mountainside next year.
“It’s not for a year,” Rushton said of the due date for Mountainside’s charter application. “But I need to figure out where the holes are.”
For now there is a lot of reading on Rushton’s to-do list. She has been busy learning the ins and outs of the charter application process, as well as working with Barney Charter Group, which helps charter schools get established. She is also raising awareness in the community through meetings and bringing together groups of interested residents to participate in community events, such as the Maple Valley Days parade and the Covington Days parade where they handed out more than 1,000 flyers about the school.
“They (Barney Charter Group) are really valuable for a group that hasn’t done this before, in a state where no one has done this before,” Rushton said.
Rushton described the school as having “a lot less rules” and said that it will be about “the things you think of — the things I think of — when you think of education.”
The schools will have to meet the Common Core State Standards, but Rushton said, “Charter schools will be able to move beyond that more than public schools are.”
“What we’re trying to do is bring them up through their childhood to go out and do what they want to do,” Rushton said.
At a recent informational meeting at Ristretto’s in Maple Valley, Rushton walked through what the school will focus on academically.
The elementary years, she explained, will be focused on grammar and providing a solid base of subjects, which include literature, history, government, mathematics, science, music, art and language. That, she said, includes a lot of memorization, but was quick to add that, “it can be fun.”
“One of the problems I see in education right now is that we hide education in games,” Rushton said. “Not that we can’t have games…we don’t have to hide from them that they’re learning.”
The elementary grades, she went on to explain, will be focused on capitalizing on young children’s innate curiosity and desire to know things and learn.
The middle school years will be focused on logic and research, building ideas and students learning to express themselves. A large portion of this, Rushton said, is teaching students how to respectfully communicate and debate.
“If we don’t discuss things that are important somebody else will decide,” Rushton said of the importance of students being able to examine and converse about difficult subjects.
In the high school years, the focus will be on analyzing information and concepts and continuing to refine students’ communication skills.
The school is planned to open as K-8, then adding a year every year to build to K-12, Rushton said. The class sizes are yet to be officially determined, but the current thought is to limit the school to three classes of about 28 students each per grade.
One of the biggest obstacles will be finding a location and facilities for the school. Rushton said that there is no “seed money” for starting the school, and they won’t receive any from the state, so finding and securing a location is dependent on fundraising efforts.
Rushton said the school will offer some athletics, but that students will be allowed to participate on teams in the school’s “home district,” which for Mountainside is proposed to be Kent.
Rushton said that she feels confident that once the school is up and running that kindergarten through eighth grade will be full all the time. She noted that in other states there are fewer students at the high school level who choose to go to charter schools.
Ultimately, Rushton said, charter schools will provide another option for students and their families, aside from pricey private schools or homeschooling.
It’s a daunting amount of work, and starting a charter school wasn’t originally what Rushton had planned when she started looking into education options, but it is something she has discovered she enjoys.
“It’s fun for me,” Rushton said. “This has given me an avenue to research solutions.
For more information on Mountainside visit the school’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/mountainsideclassical.