Enumclaw-based private school looking for public partners

As the founder of a private school, it seems odd that Cedar River Academy’s Roger Franklin would want to eliminate private schools, but he does.

“Private schools are unnecessary,” he said. “Any family should be able to send their kid down the street and get a world-class education.”

Through the years, Franklin has developed an active, student-centered learning program, which is now housed in Enumclaw at the former J.J. Smith Elementary School site. It’s a progressive model of experiential learning and, Franklin said, it’s working.

“I know what Roger’s doing is right. I can see it,” said Robert Hughes, a member of the Washington State Board of Education, who’s partnering with Franklin.

Time-on-task, Hughes said, is the best predictor of student success. Imagine, he said, if students were excited and wanted to spend more time learning.

Increasing student motivation resulting in time-on-task is one of the program’s goals. So is maintaining small class sizes, increasing average teacher compensation through performance incentives and doing it all while operating within normal district and school budgets, calendars and work-day agreements.

Franklin and Hughes are preparing to submit a U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) grant. The federal government is handing out $650 million in grant money to support local efforts to start or expand research-based innovative programs that help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.

That’s their program, they said, but they are looking for public school partners.

They believe they can duplicate the model in the public school setting without spending more money.

“We think it can be done,” Franklin said. “We need someone who is willing to try it.”

Under the guidance of an advisory board, their grant calls for collaboration between a public school system and Cedar River Academy to establish a research-based, active-learning school and to compare its results to a parallel traditional education model. It would be a six-year pilot program for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

The goal would be to demonstrate it is possible to create a replicable model school that can deliver high graduation rates, produce highly prepared graduates who successfully complete university studies and operate within existing pubic school budget constraints.

Cedar River Academy founders would contribute approximately $2.7 million to launch the project.

The biggest obstacles, Franklin and Hughes believe, will be teachers’ unions, because the proposal is based on performance-based compensation without limits based on education or number of years teaching, the adoption of different instructional methods and parent acceptance to change. Franklin believes each of these can be overcome.

Franklin and Hughes say the program is working at Cedar River Academy.

With ongoing assessment and instructional adjustment, Franklin and staff can see the improvement. They’ve also been able to document it. In 2009, without preparation, Cedar River Academy students took the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Cedar River Academy third- and fourth-grade students ranked at the 93rd percentile of all benchmark public schools that administered the tests. The fifth-grade students ranked at the 99th percentile of all benchmark public schools.

“None of our kids are being left behind,” said Franklin, whose school does not tests for admittance and draws from across social, economic and ability borders, including non-English speaking learners.

Franklin has put a significant amount of time, money and energy into Cedar River Academy and wants only to know all kids are succeeding and enjoying school.

Franklin can’t understand why parents and school leaders would settle for anything shy of the best.

“Why would anyone settle for 73 percent?” he said. “They should not be happy with that. That’s embarrassing.

“Why as a society would we settle for anything less than that? It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Teachers start the day between 7 and 7:30 p.m. There’s no bell system, and although teachers head into planning and collaboration time at 2:30 p.m., students begin guitar, violin, physical education or the Ultrapreneur’s Club, where students are creating, producing and marketing a game for sale, with other instructors.

Franklin wants to move the model into the existing system.

“He’s trying to help public schools,” Hughes said. “It’s incredible what he’s trying to do.”

Hughes notes education reform has been in the forefront for more than 20 years, but there’s been little progress. A longtime Lake Washington School District school board member, Hughes is new to the state board, but not to education reform. Before retiring, he was the corporate director of education relations at Boeing. He spent nine years with the Washington Roundtable’s Working Committee on Education Reform, and six years as a member of the Washington State School Directors Association Board of Directors.

“There’s no clear direction on how to change,” Hughes said.

He said public schools continue to use an educational model from the late 1800s that prepares students for factory work rather than the workplace innovation and thinking of today.

He said those interested in change need to look at California’s High Tech High, a nine school, elementary and secondary system. Since its inception, High Tech High has reported a 100 percent graduation rate and 99.5 percent college acceptance rate. It also reports no dropouts.

The grant application process is expected to begin this spring.

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