Law student wins state approval for charter school

February 13, 2014

A state commission has approved seven new charter schools for Washington and one of them — a science- and technology-focused school in Kent — is the brainchild of a Seattle University School of Law student.

Adel SefriouiAdel Sefrioui, 28, will graduate this spring and then spend the next year finalizing plans and preparations for Excel Public Charter School to open its doors in August 2015. The school will eventually serve students in grades 6-12, but will start with just grades 6 and 7, adding an additional grade each subsequent year.

Sefrioui said he hopes to create a school "that redefines what excellence looks like" by following the 90/90/90 principle: 90 percent of students come from low-income families, 90 percent are ethnic minorities, and 90 percent meet or exceed high academic standards.

As the son of immigrants — his dad is from Morocco and his mom is from Iran — Sefrioui was raised to value learning above all else. Education, his parents taught him, is the great equalizer in society.

So in 2007, after graduating with a degree in political science from University of Washington, he deferred a government job in Washington, D.C. and instead went to Chicago for a three-year stint with Teach for America in a Chicago public school.

"It was a life changer for me," he said. "I saw the inequities that exist in society, particularly in education. I saw that there were outside forces holding my kids back."

In affluent neighborhoods, families have access not only to standard public schools, but also alternative schools, schools with special programs, and private schools. Kids in low-income areas don't have those same choices. "You have your neighborhood school and that's it," he said. "Too often, your ZIP code determines your life path."

For those reasons, Sefrioui decided that Kent, particularly south Kent, was the perfect place for a charter school. Washington voters in 2012 approved a law that allows public funding of charter schools; Sefrioui submitted his application last November. He met regularly with a team of business people and teachers to come up with the 466-page plan.

Kent is among the most diverse areas in Washington, with 142 languages spoken there. Of the children in the area his school will serve, 75 percent receive free and reduced lunch, 15 percent are English language learners, and 11 percent qualify for special education.

He is currently working with the Kent school district to find a facility for Excel, preferably a school building the district no longer uses, since it would already have facilities like a lunchroom and gym.

Over the next 17 months, Sefrioui hopes to raise $1.1 million in start-up capital for the school. Public financing of charter schools, which is allowed under legislation passed by voters last fall, won't kick in until after the school year is already underway.

The two driving educational philosophies at Excel will be the excellence of all teachers — Sefrioui's staff will receive eight times more professional development than public school teachers get — and increased academic rigor and expectations. Excel will have a nine-hour school day rather than 6.5, and a 193-day year, compared to 180.

The school's curriculum will focus on science, engineering, and technology with the goal of preparing students to be successful at local companies like Microsoft, Boeing, and Amazon, as well as in fields like medicine and biotech.

Even though Sefrioui always knew he wanted to go into education administration and leadership, he said he chose law rather than education for an advanced degree because of its versatility.

"With a J.D., I could practice law. I could run for office. I could start a school," he said. "And those are all things that I want to do."

While in law school, he stayed active in the field of education by directing a non-profit called STEP Ahead, an innovative program that allows low-income students to get robust college prep and counseling from trained teachers.

Aside from the versatility of a law degree, Sefrioui says he's learned skills in law school that will be invaluable in education. For example, while working on his charter school application, he was able to synthesize large amounts of information into clear, distinct points — and to communicate those points clearly and concisely to others.

In creating this charter school, Sefrioui said he hopes to provide a model for innovation that all schools can follow. "We need proof points that innovation can be sustainable and replicable," he said. "The goal is to make sure that every public school is fantastic."