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News / Clark County News

Clark County to get 1st charter school

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 25, 2023, 6:04am

Clark County’s first state-approved public charter school, the Rooted School Vancouver, is set to open its doors to ninth grade students this fall.

The founders of the Rooted School, which follows the model of locations in Indianapolis and New Orleans, say the school’s goal will be to attract a diverse student population with a focus on project-based learning and preparing students for job opportunities immediately upon graduation.

“The school mission is simple: to provide our students personal pathways to financial freedom,” said Jonathan Johnson, the school’s founder.

Rooted opened online applications in October and expects to open with about 35 ninth-graders this fall. By 2027, the school hopes to serve 135 to 140 high-schoolers.

Now in the “demolition” phase with just months until opening, the Rooted School will operate at 10401 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd. in Orchards — a site that was most recently home to a YMCA child care facility.

What makes a charter school different?

The Rooted School Vancouver was approved by the Washington State Charter Schools Commission in late 2020, making it the 18th public charter in Washington approved by the commission — and the only one in Clark County. Like any public school district, Rooted will report to and be overseen by the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for curriculum advice and professional development opportunities.

Also like public schools, enrollment to Rooted is free and open to all.

Rooted’s leaders said the school will focus on providing students with internship opportunities and industry connections in emerging fields like cybersecurity, web services and trades.

“We’re just looking to provide a different choice. Not anything better than, just a value-add that doesn’t exist,” said Johnson. “What makes the Rooted choice different, too, is our targeted focus on reducing income gaps.”

Johnson said what attracted him and the school’s leaders to Washington, and Vancouver in particular, was its stark wealth gap between white and nonwhite families.

Historically in Washington, public charter schools serve greater populations of students of color than public and private schools. In the 2021-2022 school year, 62 percent of students in Washington’s 17 public charter schools — a population of about 4,700 students — were students of color, compared with 50 percent in Washington as a whole.

In looking to open a school in Washington after being recruited by the Charter Association, Johnson said he was introduced to Vancouver as an option because of its shifting demographics, increasing population and emerging economic opportunities. To support underserved student communities and target that wealth and income gap, Rooted leaders say a focus in project-based learning will help retain students in marginalized populations better.

“(Project-based learning) isn’t necessarily unique, but it is a strength of the Rooted model. It allows students to demonstrate mastery, and maybe in something they find personally interesting,” said Steven Carney, the school’s executive director and a Washington native. “We’re working on ensuring that our policies are anti-racist and that we can create a sense of belonging. Our policies keep students in school.”

For more information on the school, enrollment, and staff openings, visit Rooted’s website at https://www.rootedschoolvancouver.org/.