Articles About Jim & Fawn Spady

Family finally wins on charter schools.

Tenacious Spadys have fought for years
March 12, 2004

By Kery Murakami, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter

While his parents, Jim and Fawn Spady, were holding a news conference yesterday celebrating the Legislature's passage of a law allowing charter schools in the state, 15-year-old Saul sat in the audience with his Nikon camera.

His family has been embroiled in the charter schools debate most of his life. The Spadys have been pushing for charter schools -- in which parents and others can come together and create their own publicly funded schools -- since he was 5.

"He's stuffed envelopes," his mother said afterward.

"More envelopes than I care to remember," sighed Saul, who has the gentle wire-rimmed glasses of his father and the curly brown hair of his mom.

"He's been with us in Olympia, been with us at events where we've talked about this. He's heard us on the phone at home talking about this," Fawn Spady said.

"They used to put stickers all over me, and I'd go walk around with them on in crowds," Saul said.

So when you ask him what he thinks about charter schools, he sounds like he could be on the floor of the House, instead of a sophomore at Mercer Island High School.

"Our education system needs to have more competition. People are fed up and we need to have more innovation, like charter schools." He's thinking about a political career some day.

"It's been a family affair," Fawn Spady said, adding that 18-year-old daughter Jasmine, a sophomore pre-med major at Hillsdale College in Michigan, stuffed her share of envelopes.

Fawn Spady said charter schools became their family project after she was told by Saul's elementary school they didn't want her suggestions on how to run it. Saul was taken out of the public West Woodland Elementary School and placed in a private school, the now-defunct Bjorn Lih School. When other parents told them they wished they could afford private school, Fawn Spady said, she and her husband "just felt despondent" that other families didn't have the same options for their children. Jim Spady runs Dick's Drive-In Restaurants, started by his father, Dick Spady.

They heard about charter schools and in 1995 began hounding lawmakers and showing up in harried reporters' offices pushing for charter schools. Opposed by the state teachers union, they failed year after year and through two initiative drives. "We learned that democracy takes a lot of time. And there are some very powerful forces out there that really aren't acting on behalf of children, even though they are connected to education. And the facts apparently aren't relevant for some people," Fawn Spady said, in reference to the teachers union, the Washington Education Association.

"We really never thought about giving up."

It must run in the family.

"My father even at 80 gets up every morning thinking there's things to do, people to see," said Jim Spady. "He built his business from scratch, was the first in his family to go to college, went to World War II and the Korean War. He believes there's nothing that can't be accomplished. He's part of that Greatest Generation, where people went from just starting to fly to being on the moon."

"I certainly admire their persistence," said WEA president Charles Hasse. "They were persuaded that charter schools benefit children in the state, but at the same time we disagree with that sharply. Personally, I've been an elementary school teacher since 1978. I have a huge personal stake in the quality of public schools and I would put up my record against theirs. I'm sorry this has taken on such a personal and negative tone."

The union is pushing for a veto, but Gov. Gary Locke has said he will sign the bill.

Saul's 15th birthday was Wednesday, the same day as the legislative vote. And after nine years, the vote came first.

The vote had been scheduled for Tuesday.

"Saul, being the keen grass-roots activist he is woke up that morning and said, 'The vote's not going to happen today. It's going to be delayed. It's going to happen on my birthday and I'm going to have to spend my whole birthday alone,' " said Fawn Spady. The family hurriedly had a birthday party Tuesday night, and Jim and Fawn rushed to Olympia on Wednesday.

"It's not over. It's just beginning," Fawn Spady said. Now, the Spadys will turn to creating an organization to guide groups that want to start charter schools.

"Plus, we still have to teach Saul to drive," Fawn said. "That's going to turn what little dark hair Jim still has, white."

P-I reporter Kery Murakami can be reached at 206-448-8131 or

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