A Shrinking Zion

Seattle’s famous academy for African Americans sees hard times.

Zion Preparatory Academy, acclaimed for years as one of the city’s most successful schools serving low-income African American children, is scaling back to just a few grades next year due to a precipitous drop in funds. Parents—many of them single moms—will also have to pay more.

The private Christian school in Rainier Valley, which currently offers pre-K through 5th-grade classes, will announce the changes this week, according to Doug Wheeler, Zion’s head and co-founder.

While Zion’s official tuition is $700 a month, the average family pays less than half that, he says. But beginning next year, the school will ask most families to pay full tuition.

He blames the economy, which has caused annual donations to shrink by more than half, from about $1.5 million to $600,000.

The school already dropped its middle school last year, and sold its Columbia City campus. It is leasing the site for four more years while looking for a permanent home.

Wheeler acknowledges that this latest decision is a big comedown for the school, founded 27 years ago. Charter-school proponents once held up Zion as a model of the kind of schools they would like to create for needy kids. Wheeler says he intends to build Zion back up when the economy improves.