By Heidi Sanders
Kent's first public charter school is up and running.
Excel Public Charter School, which is using space in New Beginnings Christian Fellowship Church, 19300 108th Ave. SE, opened its doors to students on Tuesday.
Students, parents and school and community representatives gathered at the school last Saturday to celebrate the opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Excel is one of eight charter schools opening throughout the state this year. The state's first charter school, First Place Scholars, opened last fall in Seattle. Washington voters approved the creation of charter schools in 2012.
Charter schools are independent public schools operated by nonprofit organizations that are allowed more flexibility to be innovative with their educational program and are held accountable for improved student achievement.
Excel, which will eventually serve students in sixth through 12th grade, has 156 sixth-and seventh-grade students enrolled in the school, and will add a grade each year.
"Opening one of the first charter schools in the state's history is a heavy lift," said Adel Sefrioui, Excel's executive director, during the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "It requires a lot of courage and dedication."
The Rev. Leslie Braxton, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Fellowship, said he was excited to have the opportunity to house the school in the church building.
"Exactly 10 years ago, the New Beginnings Christian Fellowship was birthed in the cafeteria of Renton High School," Braxton said during the ribbon cutting. "We didn't know where we were going, but we were going somewhere and we were driven by a vision. ... Ten years later we're in the position to allow a public school to be birthed in our facilities. The reason why we leaped at that chance to have Excel birthed here in our facilities is because we saw our own DNA in them."
Braxton said he is optimistic the school will succeed.
"We'll support the school in every way we can from a facilities standpoint and empowering them so that they have the space and the place they need to execute an effective school program," he said. "There's no religious content in the curriculum of the school. That's not their job. That's mine. Our job is to throw everything we have at them so that this school becomes a model for schools locally and around the world."
'Take a village'
Kent City Councilmember Brenda Fincher, who represented the city at the ribbon cutting, said the success of the school depends on the community.
"It really does take a village to raise a child," Fincher said. "That village and that child could improve the community and lift us all."
State Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, recounted to attendees his first meeting with Sefrioui several years ago when Sefrioui told Fain about his vision for a charter school.
"He talked about the technology," Fain said. "He talked about the hurdles and he talked about the people he wanted to get involved. He talked about the steps he was going to take. As much as I am a believer in this model and what we are doing here, I looked at him and I thought to myself, 'My goodness, you're crazy.' And he very quickly made me, and a lot of people, a believer of what is about to start here today."
Fain also addressed the students who will make up the first class at Excel and the challenges they may encounter.
"This is going to be tough because it is new and it is different ...," he said. "You are going to be the ones, you students are going to be the ones to determine whether your friend learns their material and gets their homework done. That is what community is all about. That's what this school is all about."
Theresa Lucrisia-Bradley, grandmother of Benjamin Moses Bradley, a seventh-grader at Excel, stressed to parents in the audience the importance of being involved in the school and their children's education.
"We may not always be able to be here but there's something we can do," Lucrisia-Bradley said. "One of the things we can do is make sure our kids are doing their homework. ... Support the school in terms of being sure your students are rising to the level where they will be prepared to succeed in the future."
Lucrisia-Bradley's husband, Roland Bradley, said as someone who retired from a career in information technology he is excited Excel will be emphasizing science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM).
"Once these kids are prepared with this and have the excitement and latch on to that gift inside that is hidden that I am hoping that they will discover here that will catapult them to new heights, catapult them to a new standard of living, allow them to provide for their family and also set an example of what can be done and what should be done if given the opportunity," Bradley said.
Benjamin Bradley joined his grandparents and the other speakers to cut the ribbon to mark the opening of the school.
Following the ceremony, students and their parents toured the classrooms and met their teachers.
Jerusalem Gerbrekidan of Covington said she is excited for her son, Noah Kebret, to begin sixth grade at the school.
"We always wished to send Noah to private school," Gerbrekidan said, but added that the cost was a barrier to doing so.
She said when she learned that Excel was opening in Kent, she wanted Noah to attend. Noah was on the waiting list for the school in late April but got in a couple of months later.
"We are so happy," Gerbrekidan said.
Noah's younger sister, Naomi Kebret, 7, already is looking forward to attending Excel in a few years.
"She wants to join the school," Gerbrekidan said.