Reimagining Education in High Need Areas with Cascade Public Charter Schools

“Well, I always blame it on Scott,” Garth Reeves tells me jokingly when asked about their initial idea of opening up a free, public charter high school in the Midway/Woodmont neighborhoods of  Federal Way, Kent and Des Moines in the Fall of 2020.

Coming from “non-traditional” education backgrounds, Garth and Scott Canfield first met at West Seattle high school four years back when they were brought in to inject energy around grading practices, inquiry-driven curriculum and other aspects of “non-traditional” education into a traditional, comprehensive high school setting.

While proud of accomplishments and growth achieved at West Seattle, they remained frustrated by intransigence and a lack of urgency around underserved and marginalized students and shifts toward deeper learning pedagogies in general. “We were able to implement school-wide Advisory, a 1:1 mentorship program for students needing extra support, and dramatically decrease discipline disproportionality by bringing in restorative practices, but it still felt like playing around the edges of the fundamental issues. So, when Scott came across a school incubation fellowship, it just felt like, yes, we should do this,” said Reeves.

The state of Washington has some of the strictest charter school laws in the country, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Among them:

  • The state law includes all of the model law’s provisions for transparent charter application, review, and decision making processes.
  • The state law includes all of the model law’s provisions for comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes.
  • The state law includes many of the model law’s clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions.

Cascade Public Charter Schools has the vision “to reimagine public education, co-constructing an innovative network of mentorship-based, deeper learning schools with the communities we serve”.

They are launching in the Midway/Woodmont area. Cascade was looking for an area in need of more educational opportunity. It is an area where just 50 percent of ELL students are graduating on time and the gap continues to grow. In terms of location, it is also located at the intersection of 3 school districts and will offer students in these neighboring districts additional innovative educational options.

To understand what makes the Cascade Public Schools stand out is to understand that instruction is built around relevancy, personalization, and empowerment. This makes it possible to drive what students are learning based on what is impactful to the community and focus on cultivating students to become global citizens. Each of these program elements is designed with varying degrees of individualization to create an academic experience that reflects students’ post-secondary goals and aspirations.

Cascade Core Programs
  • Interdisciplinary, inquiry-rich, and competency-based approach to the academic core
  • Built on topics and issues relevant to students and the community
  • Asks students to solve complex problems through project-based learning, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration
  • Students demonstrate mastery of standards-aligned Learning Goals through exhibition and portfolio
Individual Pathways
  • An advisory-led culture of high expectations and high support
  • Individual Learning Plans, personal and academic goal setting and progress monitoring
  • Daily literacy and numeracy blocks support student academic needs from intervention to acceleration
  • Explicit post-high school planning and goal setting starting in 9th grade
Leaving to Learn
  • Interest-driven, community-based internships
  • 1:1 mentorship focused on supporting and developing college & career readiness
  • Integration of “school” and “real world” learning with deeper learning competencies
  • Students develop personal and professional  networks, building social capital

Cascade looked to several schools for inspiration with their own school design. They looked to Big Picture Learning for their career-connected learning and personalization, Evergreen State College for their core programs, High Tech High for their learner-centered focus, and Rise Up in Denver for their culture and family atmosphere. Similar to many of their inspiration schools, the curriculum will be competency-based with student exhibitions and portfolios. Cascade Public Schools has also developed key strategic partnerships with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound to offer 1:1 community-based mentors for every student, and the National Center for Restorative Justice to design and implement school-wide restorative systems to promote relationship-building and a positive school climate

Looking forward, Garth and Scott hope students graduating from their school are empowered to set and achieve personal goals, develop a social network, and have a clear post-high school plan that will prepare them for success in this ever-changing world.

Our team is excited for the opening of a local charter school, expanding choice to students in our community and look forward to following the Cascade Public School’s journey.

For more, see:

Stay in-the-know with innovations in learning by signing up for the weekly Smart Update.

Katie Vander Ark - Getting Smart

Katie Vander Ark

Katie is an education and innovation enthusiast.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.