Rooted School, Vancouver’s first public charter high school, is set to open in August 2022. The school, which is part of the Rooted School Organization, has two fully operating schools in New Orleans and Indianapolis and will operate in a former daycare center in the Orchards area. The school recently signed a 10-year lease for the building, and they are in the planning stages of redesigning the space in partnership with an architecture firm. Construction is planned for January 2022.
Jonathan Johnson, CEO of Rooted School, said that the idea for opening a school in Southwest Washington came from a local business owner in the area, Tyrone Foster. Johnson and Foster began a discussion as to how the school could help position local young adults, specifically BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students and students with disabilities to meet the growing demands of the workforce in the Northwest.
“These conversations led to over 100 more conversations and focus groups with various community stakeholders who affirmed the need for a small public high school that would provide more youth a chance at four-year college and an opportunity for immediate entry into STEM jobs in the region,” Johnson said.
Carol Egan, founding principal at the Vancouver location, was recruited out of retirement to run the school. She worked in education for 30 years having served as a teacher, school administrator and district administrator, including seven years at Center for Advanced Learning, a part-time high school program that works in partnership with three school districts in East Multnomah County. When she learned about Rooted School, the model resonated with her.
“When students choose to take a leap towards what drives them, what inspires them, they demonstrate tenacity, motivation and drive to get things done,” Egan said. “Rooted Schools are demonstrating to our K-12 systems that students are ready to be held accountable, are ready to be responsible and trustworthy and are ready to move forward at a faster rate towards a career that can offer them a living wage and beyond.”
Egan said that they will start posting job positions for the school towards the end of December. In addition, Eduardo Torres-Diaz, a long-time Vancouver resident, will serve as the school’s community engagement manager and will start recruitment events for students and families in the next couple of months. The public charter school will be funded in large part through federal and state grants.
“We are targeting historically underrepresented youth in and around the Orchards area, as well as the Chuukese (part of the Pacific Islands) community,” said Egan. “All students living in the Southwest Washington area are welcomed to enroll and participate at Rooted. Enrollment decisions are based solely on their desire and inspiration to commit to a future at our school. As an innovative, public (free) high school, our students will reflect our diverse Vancouver community.”
While the school will focus on workforce training via a student-centered learning model, it will also adhere to all graduation requirements established by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Johnson said that the Rooted School Foundation has two other projects that it leverages to accelerate upward economic and social mobility for youth, including the Green Balloon Fellowship and the Youth Cash Transfer Study. They will seek to offer these opportunities in the Vancouver community, too.
To date, Rooted School has established partnerships with local businesses and experts in the area, including Southwest Washington Tech Council and IT3 Innovation Center at the Port of Ridgefield.
“Everyone we meet is excited and inspired by our work, and they are ready to work alongside us,” Egan said. “Together, we are building a solid, financially healthy, career pipeline for companies and their future employees.”