An old strip mall building at 16950 116th Ave. SE is being emptied and renovated as the empty husk of a building prepares to become one of Renton’s newest elementary schools — Black River Elementary.
The school is the fourth from Impact Public Schools, a public charter school organization that looks to bring alternative early education options to traditional public schools. Impact Public Schools has opened schools in Tacoma, Tukwila and Seattle.
Jen Davis Wickens, co-CEO of Impact Public Schools, said the school will primarily be funded by state and federal revenue and it will be free to families and students who enroll at Black River Elementary.
As part of the construction process the school will be given high ceilings over 10 feet tall at times, large windows and skylights as the school was designed to have “big bright classrooms.”
Many of the classrooms will be grouped together in shared spaces so that students of the same grade will be working collaboratively on different projects and activities. According to school administrators, the school, once fully operational will host over 500 students and will include a pre-kindergarten option with full academic units tailored to the age groups.
Davis Wickens said the Impact Public School Model offers an alternative option to traditional public schools and focuses on areas such as social-emotional learning at a young age, personalized learning that allows for flexibility among different students and their progress and competency in specific areas, as well as project-based learning and showcases that allow students to demonstrate what they have learned.
She also said there is a focus on creating a culture of joy and community within the school which she claimed as an identifiable characteristic of Impact Public Schools. According to her, community and family involvement is a large part of the Impact formula with regular community meetings, opportunities for families to provide feedback and an overall effort to accommodate individual family needs.
Another unique feature of the Impact Public Schools model is that each class has two teachers, one with more experience and one who is in the process of learning. Davis Wickens compared it to an apprentice-mentorship model, which also creates a higher staff-to-student ratio than many traditional public schools.
She also said that Impact Public Schools put a priority on hiring a diverse workforce of educators with nearly 60 percent of their teachers being of the BIPOC community.
With the inside of the building needing to be finished and plans for a parking lot renovation and the addition of a couple of outdoor play areas, the school is expected to be finished and open to a few grades by the 2023-2024 school year. Families of students who may be interested in enrolling can apply here: https://www.impactps.org/enroll/.
Black River Elementary is also hiring educators and staff for the school. Those interested can apply at: https://www.impactps.org/join-our-team/.