The first charter school in Whitman County could open its doors as early as 2021 and it would be tuition-free, according to a news release from the Pullman Charter School Initiative.

The Washington State Charter Schools Association recently selected PCSI for its 2019-20 School Leadership and Design Fellowship, which the release says provides guidance and support in designing and launching free charter schools. As a member of the fellowship, PCSI will be provided with a $90,000 stipend to hire an independent contractor, or fellow, for a year to spearhead the establishment of the school and the writing of the school’s charter.

Local Pullman High School science teacher and PCSI member Laylah Sullivan has accepted the fellow position, the release states. She will spend the next year drafting the charter, leading community discussions about the new school and visiting other successful charter schools throughout the country.

“After the first year of applying and (extraneous) reviewing is completed, it typically takes another year to find a location for the school and to hire necessary faculty and staff, hence the fall 2021 anticipated opening date,” Sullivan said.

If all goes as planned, the new school would open its doors to K-3 students in its first year, then add a grade level each year until it can become a full K-8 program. According to the release, the school will be based on the Montessori academic model — a familiar program in Pullman. The city has been home to the private Montessori School of Pullman for more than 50 years and the teaching philosophies espoused by such programs have been in existence for more than a century.

Montessori schools are rooted in teaching philosophies developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori in 1907. While there are numerous differences between Montessori methodologies and those deployed in the traditional classroom, programs typically emphasize more student-directed, individually focused teaching strategies.

Though the philosophies of the method were developed more than a century ago, many public school programs have adopted Montessori strategies like including more hands-on activity in lesson plans. A major hallmark of Montessori programs is the mixed-aged classroom, which advocates say allows children of different age groups to learn directly from one another.

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