Destiny primed to grow as first class graduates

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Destiny Middle School marked the graduation of its eighth grade class last week, with about half of the class having attended all three years since the charter school opened. The former Rogers Elementary school will also be home to the SOAR Academy, when the charter elementary school moves to the Eastside in the fall. Photos by Steve Dunkelberger

The handing out of 103 eighth-grade diplomas last week marked not only a milestone for the students as they head into high school but for the school itself. More milestones are in the works for next year.

This year’s Greater Tacoma Peace Prize Laureate Melannie Denise Cunningham, who is also a Destiny board member, served as the graduation’s keynote speaker with the message that students should set goals and follow their own paths that might not include financial wealth. 

“You can’t take money to the grave with you,” she said. “But what you can create is a life you deserve. You have to dream as big as you can. … Your future is what you can design.”

She then led the graduating eighth- graders into a chant to guide them through their future education and life after high school and college.

“It’s more than my aptitude,” she said, asking the students to repeat after her. “It is my attitude that determines my altitude.”

The commencement ceremonies marked the graduation of Destiny Middle School’s inaugural class, with about half of its eighth grade starting their middle school at the school when it was created three years ago.

Destiny opened its doors in 2015 at the former John R. Rogers Elementary School in Tacoma’s Eastside neighborhood. It underwent a $6.9 million renovation after being vacant for more than a decade. Tacoma Public School District had closed the aging school in 2002. Plans for a homeless shelter and then a private housing development fell through over the years, leading to charter school operator Green Dot Public School to eye the building for a Tacoma location. 

The 111-year-old building, which was originally designed by noted architect Fredrick Heath, is now home to 250 sixth- through eighth-grade students. 

More students are set to join them in the fall as SOAR Academy prepares to leave its Hilltop location and move its kindergarten to eighth-grade students into the former Rogers building alongside Destiny. Both schools opened three years ago, following the creation of the state’s charter school system. The schools will remain independent of each other and simply share space in the building.

“It will be kind of two schools who are collocated,” said Green Dot Public Schools Executive Director Bree Dusseault. 

The move comes because 165 students at SOAR’s kindergarten-to-fifth grades have outgrown the school’s Hilltop location, and Destiny had unused space in the 53,000-square-foot school. 

“We are moving out of necessity,” SOAR Board Chairwoman Thelma Jackson said. “It’s a win-win for everybody. It is a beautiful building but underutilized.”

The Eastside school will also have a new playground that will be added to the campus thanks to the work of some 200 volunteers who will construct the equipment on Aug. 25.

“It will be great for the students and great for the community,” Jackson said.

Charter schools are publicly funded, independent schools that receive taxpayer dollars and operated by nonprofits instead of traditional, public school districts. Each charter school functions through a state charter, or performance agreement, with the Washington State Charter School Commission, an independent state agency, to provide more learning options for children much like private schools, but without the tuition. Charter schools are annually reviewed as well as receive on-going oversight by the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Green Dot is a not-for-profit network of 28 charter schools that operate in California, Tennessee and Washington, including Destiny, Rainier Valley Leadership Academy in Seattle and Excel Public Charter School in Kent. 

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