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About The daily Astorian. (Astoria, Or.) 1961-current | View Entire Issue (Sept. 15, 2017)
THE DAILY ASTORIAN • FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 2017
Erick Bengel | Features Editor
Quiet opening belies avid enthusiasm
for the Cannon Beach Academy
After nearly five
years of pursuing
a charter school,
By NANCY MCCARTHY
For EO Media Group
hil Simmons is a rock climber. He
told me once that sometimes, when
he climbs a rock, he can’t always
see the path to the top. But, he added, oth-
ers who have been there assure him that a
So he starts his climb, one step at a time.
Eventually, he starts to find his way, and
the path begins to appear; Simmons fol-
lows it, until his long, unsure trek is com-
pleted, and he reaches his destination.
• • •
The Cannon Beach Academy opened
for the first time last week. Parents, their
children in tow, rang the buzzer, and school
Director Amy Moore opened the doors to
the new school.
It was such an inauspicious beginning
to an effort that began nearly five years ago
and took so many twists and turns that any-
one following the story could get dizzy try-
ing to keep up.
In a Seaside School Board budget
meeting in April 2013, then-Superinten-
dent Doug Dougherty announced that the
Cannon Beach Grade School — which had
been the village’s educational and commu-
nity center for 100 years — would close in
The reason was clear, he said: The dis-
trict had a budget shortfall of $1.5 mil-
lion, and the cost to teach each student at
Cannon Beach was $2,500 more than the
cost to teach students at Seaside Heights
or Gearhart elementary schools. Cannon
Beach had 80 students, far fewer than the
other two schools.
But Phil Simmons, who was already
leading an effort to build a school out-
side the tsunami zone, had something to
say when the school board agreed to close
“You’re sacrificing our local school,
and it frustrates me,” he said.
“We had this plan,” Simmons added.
“It really feels the rug was pulled out from
under us. Whether you like it or not, there
will be a charter school. I’m confident of
That June, hundreds of former students,
teachers and community members bid fare-
well to the school during a barbecue on the
school’s playground. They shared many
memories: Debbie Nelson, who runs a flo-
rist shop in town, recalled all of the plays
the students staged. Her father, Jim Webb,
class of ’44, remembered being in a one-
room schoolhouse before the current cam-
pus was built in 1951. Marlene Laws, who
attended the school from 1945 to 1953,
said she had remained friends with several
of her Cannon Beach classmates.
The push to replace the village school
continued in earnest. Parents filled the city
council chambers several times to urge the
Cannon Beach City Council to support
the creation of a new charter school. They
formed task forces to search for buildings
to house the school. They examined edu-
cational plans, they researched state and
federal laws governing charter schools,
and they met with officials from the state
Department of Education and the Seaside
Although they knew that, by law, the
school district would have to reimburse the
charter school the amount it would cost to
educate each student at Seaside Heights,
the charter school board members needed
more funds. A campaign was mounted to
collect financial pledges from the commu-
nity. Another $10,000 came from donation
jars placed in local businesses.
And every time the school district
denied their proposal for a charter school
— because they didn’t have an adequate
budget, or they still hadn’t pinned down a
building, or their educational plans weren’t
entirely complete, or their enrollment was
insufficient — the charter school’s support-
ers insisted that, eventually, the Cannon
Beach Academy would be a reality.
Plans to open in the fall of 2015, then
2016, fell through. Those who weren’t
active with the charter school doubted it
ever would open.
Finally, though, perseverance paid off.
Last October, the Seaside School Board
Photos by Nancy McCarthy
Sampling juice before class begins on the first day at Cannon Beach Academy are, from left, Jayden Ahlstrom-Woody,
Rian Dewey and Hallie Kropf.
Theresa Dennis, first/second grade teacher, starts her class on the first day of
school at Cannon Beach Academy. Volunteers are needed to assist with a vari-
ety of functions at the school.
LEFT: Parent Shelley Parker, center, talks to Cannon Beach Academy Director
Amy Moore, left, and academy board President Kellye Dewey, right. Twenty chil-
dren, all from Cannon Beach, were enrolled on the first day. RIGHT: Several col-
orful signs hang on the Cannon Beach Academy’s walls, welcoming students
and introducing them to their classmates.
Before school begins on the first day, students Sam Cole, front, Jayden Ahl-
strom-Woody, back left, and Rian Dewey, back right, play with plastic building toys.
approved the school’s plan to offer classes
from kindergarten through second grade.
In March, the school received a $100,000
federal grant. Simmons thanked the Sea-
side School Board for its assistance in
securing the grant.
“They’re really trying to help us pull
this off,” he said.
But before the academy could open, it
needed a building. The academy board set-
tled on the former Cannon Beach Athletic
Club space and put aside money for renova-
tions. But the estimate came in at $240,000,
and that was too much, especially when the
building lacked an adequate playground
and was still in a tsunami zone.
The board turned to the Cannon Beach
City Council (full disclosure: This reporter
is a City Councilor) and requested the use
of the city-owned building that, until last
year, housed the Cannon Beach Preschool
and Children’s Center. The city leased the
building to the academy and granted the
school a temporary occupancy permit until
November. The school still needs to install
a fire safety system — something the pre-
school didn’t have.
When the academy secured the build-
ing, volunteers rushed to help in the month
the academy had left to fulfill the deadline
the Seaside School District had given it.
“I can’t even describe to you how many
volunteers we’ve had,” Amy Moore said.
“People came out with our landscaping
party and our painting party. We’ve had
donors who have given us supplies. We’ve
had individual families who have helped us
with maintenance. We’ve had housekeep-
ing services. We had volunteers at our open
house. I can’t even begin to thank them
from the bottom of my heart.”
Just before the first day of school
Sept. 5, the Cannon Beach Academy was
opened to the community. Bright posters
saying “welcome” and other greetings for
the new students were taped to the newly
scrubbed and painted walls. In the kinder-
garten room, desks replaced the cribs from
the former preschool.
“It’s so exciting,” said kindergarten
teacher Dawn Jay. “It’s so exciting to have
the first day!”
This year, kindergarteners will learn
their alphabet and how to read and write,
“Excellent academics” is what parent
Jessica Stapleton expects for her 6-year-old
daughter, a first-grader. “And great friend-
ships,” she added.
The school opened with 20 students, all
from Cannon Beach. Although the acad-
emy is five students shy of the enrollment
agreement it had with the school district
and has about 20 fewer students academy
officials thought they would have, Moore
is optimistic that more students will enroll
once word gets out that the public, tui-
tion-free school is open.
Academy board President Kellye
Dewey has worked alongside Phil Sim-
mons ever since parents began meeting
at the fire station in Cannon Beach to dis-
cuss the possibility of a charter school. Her
daughter, Rian, 8, will attend second grade
there, and Dewey hopes that Rian will ben-
efit from the same small classes and good
teachers that Dewey experienced as a stu-
dent at Cannon Beach Grade School.
The academy, Dewey said, is the “heart-
beat of the community.”
“We’ve seen a change since our school
shut down,” Dewey said. “Families have
moved away, and we’re hoping that bring-
ing a school back will revive that part of
the town that’s been missing.”
• • •
Phil Simmons wasn’t at the Cannon
Beach Academy the morning of the first
day of school. He has said he wants to pull
back, now that the path has been cleared
for Cannon Beach Academy, and the com-
munity has reached its destination.