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What is a public charter school?

Charter Schools are independently operated, publicly funded schools that are granted greater autonomy through state law. First started in Minnesota in 1991, the charter school movement seeks to create a high level of flexibility with accountability at a local level.

The charter school establishes a contract (a charter) with a sponsor, often a school district, university, or public educational institution depending on the state, to which they are academically and financially accountable. The charter is periodically reviewed (usually 3 to 5 year contracts) and can be revoked if the school is not meeting management or academic standards. As of 2015, 43 states and the District of Columbia have state charter school laws. Participation and support of charters varies widely by state.

Oregon’s Charter School Law

Oregon's charter school law (ORS 338) was approved in 1999 with specific goals in mind:

Helping our South Salem neighbors with our Annual Rake-n-Run community service

Helping our South Salem neighbors with our Annual Rake-n-Run community service

It is the intent that public charter schools may serve as models and catalysts for the improvement of other public schools and the public school system.
— Oregon Charter School Law, 1999

338.015 Legislative intent: goals. It is the intent of this chapter that new types of schools, called public charter schools, be created as a legitimate avenue for parents, educators and community members to take responsible risks to create new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system. The Legislative Assembly seeks to create an atmosphere in Oregon’s public school system where research and development of new learning opportunities are actively pursued.

The provisions of this chapter should be interpreted liberally to support the goals of this section and to advance a renewed commitment by this state to the mission, goals and diversity of public education. It is the intent that public charter schools may serve as models and catalysts for the improvement of other public schools and the public school system.

The goals of public charter schools shall be to:

  1. Increase student learning and achievement

  2. Increase choices of learning opportunities for students

  3. Better meet individual student academic needs and interests

  4. Build stronger working relationships among educators, parents and other community members

  5. Encourage the use of different and innovative learning methods

  6. Provide opportunities in small learning environments for flexibility and innovation, which may be applied, if proven effective, to other public schools

  7. Create new professional opportunities for teachers

  8. Establish additional forms of accountability for schools

  9. Create innovative measurement tools

The Howard Street Charter School Story

8th grader practicing shading/value with a pear drawing

8th grader practicing shading/value with a pear drawing

In the mid 1990s, Salem-Keizer was transitioning from a junior high model (7th-8th grade) to a middle school model (6th-8th grade). Howard Street Charter School was founded in 1997 as an alternative school in the South High Annex when Leslie Jr. High transitioned to a new location as Leslie Middle School .

Working with Salem-Keizer Public Schools, the HSCS Founders used the national template for charter schools to articulate the mission and vision of our program and, when the Oregon Charter Law (ORS 338) was enacted in 1999, we were grandfathered in as one of the first charter schools in Oregon, the first in Salem-Keizer Public Schools.

From Aug 1997 until Dec 2019, our home has been the Annex of South Salem High School. However, with growing enrollment at South Salem High School, we received notice in 2017 that we would need to move. Thus, we began the next step in our journey.

After searching various parts of Salem-Keizer, Howard Street choose to find a place in downtown Salem. This central location will allow us to live up to our vision of being a school for anyone living in Salem and Keizer. With nearby access to public transportation and a more central location, it will be easier than ever for families to get to our school.

Our new home will be 625 Marion St NE - the former Oregon Department of Energy building. Originally built in 1955 as a grocery store, our future home is a strong concrete and metal-ribbed building with beautiful wooden arches supporting the roof. The building will allow lots of natural light and will feature 12 classrooms including a dedicated science lab (a first for us) and music classrooms (another first). Each program will have its own space with a computer lab, kitchen, front office area and a central commons.

We are excited about our new home!


Howard Street Charter School is dedicated graduating well rounded students who are fully prepared for the next level of education. Academic proficiency is achieved through exploration, community partnerships, projects and performance which incorporate the 3 Es: Einstein, Ellington, and Esperanza.


Howard Street Charter School provides an innovative public education balancing the humanities, language, arts, science and technology.