Tukwila’s first charter school is now open

The new public charter school (Impact Puget Sound Elementary) opened its doors in Tukwila for kids in grades kindergarten through first grade in late August.

Impact Public School is Tukwila’s first charter school and will eventually be open to students in grades K through fifth.

According to Jen Wickens, the chief executive officer of Impact Public School, the school will have a total of about 500 kids, but currently they only have about 180.

“We start small so we can really get the culture right with families and students, and then we add a grade each year. So next year will be K, one, two. So the students that are here now are our student founders. Our first graders will be the first class to graduate as fifth graders,” Wickens said.

The school opened in Tukwila after a lot of research and a lot of coffee, according to Wickens.

“We didn’t randomly pick Tukwila, we set out on a listening tour in different communities across the South Puget Sound Region where we met with community leaders and knocked on doors,” Wickens explained. “We actually ended up knocking on almost every single door within a four mile radius of this school two summers ago, asking for input from community members.”

She said, “Coffee, after coffee… after coffee, the vision for Impact Public Schools was created.”

Wickens said the learning model for this school is quite different from district schools.

She described their teaching methods as a “balanced approach” to education.

One of the first components from the education model is “Lit and Math Studio,” Wickens said.

“Every single child is working at their just-right level in a small group with a teacher,” Wickens said when explaining what Lit and Math Studio is. “The group size is usually six to seven. We’re able to track data on their progress and then push them forward as quickly as we can and also not allow any gaps. It is not an option for us to allow a child to go below grade level.”

Another aspect to the teaching model at Impact Public School is what Wickens calls “workshop.” She said this is “project based learning.”

She said starting in kindergarten, students get to explore “rich, juicy” questions that are meaningful to them, and that are relevant to the world they live in.

The final component is SEL, Wickens said.

“Social, Emotional, Learning. So have what we call ‘circle.’ Students are working on developing social, emotional and learning skills that we think is critical to them becoming effective adults,” she said.

According to the “founding parent” of Impact Public School, Mihret Adera, this education model has impacted her daughter, who is in kindergarten, in a great way.

“My goodness, she loves it,” Adera said.

Her daughter now enjoys reading and doing homework, according to Adera.

She said that’s one of her favorite aspects of Impact, homework.

The homework that is given to students is different from homework at district schools, Adera said. It’s more challenging for students, but also enjoyable.

Another interesting thing about Impact is that there are two teachers per classroom.

According to Wickens, these teachers aren’t your average teachers. She said they did some national recruiting to find the best of the best teachers to work at the school.

She said they also did some local recruiting to have a mix of teachers in the classroom.

“(We) did a local search for great talent that’s interested in our model and believes in our mission, vision and core values and then selected the very, very best,” Wickens said. “We know the No. 1 thing that creates and excellent school is the talent in the building and getting the right teachers in just critical.”

Adera said she loves her daughter’s teacher.

“My goodness, just I get relief when I see her and meet her. I see special talent in her,” Adera said. “Everything is perfect for me, the school, the staff, the teachers — amazing.”

An example of one of the more experienced staff members at Impact is its principal, Carissa Page.

“I have worked for charter schools for a number of years in different states and I believe in the mission of charter schools — close the opportunity gap and provide a choice for parents and an option for a high quality education for all families,” Page said.

According to page, since the school opened, she has received a lot of positive and constructive feedback from parents.

“We love to hear from our parents and listen to their experience and we’ve gotten some great feedback from families,” Page said.

The next big goal, aside from gaining a new grade level per year until they reach fifth grade, is to have eight of these charter school across Washington State, Wickens explained.

She said they are in the process of trying to open up their next charter school, which will also be in the Puget Sound area.

“At the end of the day our mission is to close the opportunity gap for these young people. We know it can happen,” Wickens said.

Swenson Say Faget provided structural engineering for NAC Architecture and Impact Public Schools. The official name for the Federal Way School is Impact Puget Sound Elementary.
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