Jim Spady continues pursuit of charter school success

No name is more synonymous with charter school fights in Washington the past two decades than Spady.

No name is more synonymous with charter school fights in Washington the past two decades than Spady.

Ever since Jim and Fawn Spady moved their son out of a Seattle public school and into a private one in 1994, they’ve been on the front lines of a string of unsuccessful ballot battles to legalize this alternative form of education.

They were oh-so-close to winning in 2004 when lawmakers passed and then-governor Gary Locke signed a bill allowing charter schools, only to see voters repeal the law months later.

So no one could have been happier than the Spadys when voters passed Initiative 1240 last fall, clearing a path for publicly funded, privately run schools to open starting next year.

“I was delighted to see others catching the charter school fever,” Jim Spady recalled of his reaction to the November election. “It’s all about the kids. There are a lot of kids out there today, just as there were 20 years ago, who are not getting the opportunities in public schools they deserve.”

That victory didn’t end Jim Spady’s pursuit. Rather, he’s on a new mission to make sure everything he has boasted about charter schools delivering high quality education proves true.

He has joined the board of the fledgling Washington Charter School Association, which seeks to become a one-stop shop for potential operators, whether they are a group of parents with a dream or a national organization with established campuses around the country.

Bill and Melinda Gates, who dumped a couple of million dollars into the campaign to pass the initiative, provided $800,000 from their foundation to jump-start the association. Spady, vice president of Dick’s Drive-In, anticipates contributing in the future.

Founders say this group will offer services ranging from writing a charter, finding a location and hiring a principal. Eventually, association staff will stand ready to provide start-up funds, academic strategies and management advice.

But it will not push a particular curriculum, teaching methodology or organizational structure, said Chris Korsmo, chief executive officer of the League of Education Voters and spokeswoman for the group.

“We’re agnostic as to how success can be reached; just that it can be reached,” she said.

This association also could be called upon one day to marshal legal forces if a coalition led by the Washington Education Association challenges the constitutionality of the measure.

A lawsuit is “in the works,” said Rich Wood, spokesman for the WEA, which is the largest statewide union of public school teachers. But he said right now members are focused on making sure the Legislature complies with a Supreme Court directive to amply fund existing public schools.

Political muscle may be another resource demanded from the association down the line.

Spady expects charter schools will pan out well and state lawmakers will be pressed to erase the limit of 40 imposed by the initiative.

“We want to be sure we get the best 40 charter schools that we can,” Spady said. “We do hope to see the cap lifted at some point in time.”

He’s just hoping it doesn’t take another two decades of convincing.

The Spadys’ children did attend Mercer Island schools for a time. Fawn Spady ran unsuccessfully for a position on the Mercer Island School District Board of Directors  several years ago.