From the 1960s to the 1980s, Seattle, Washington public school pupils and their parents, as well as the school board and the courts, were involved in a series of contentious and highly controversial attempts to desegregate the city’s public schools racially. The impact of these efforts were especially felt among African American students who participated in programs that sent them to schools throughout the city and those who remained in predominantly segregated institutions. Because of this instability, one local religious leader, Bishop Eugene Drayton, pastor of the Zion United House of Prayer, founded Zion Preparatory Academy in 1982.
Bishop Drayton and the members of his church initially named the academy Zion Christian School and located it in the leased St. Mary’s Catholic School in Seattle’s Central District, the home of most of the city’s African Americans. The school provided a faith-based education program for primarily low-income African American students. It stressed small classes, basic skills, values, and discipline in a religious atmosphere. In recognition of the impoverished economic circumstances of the students who attended the school, it also provided meals and door-to-door pick up service. School leaders wanted to create the atmosphere of an extended family where parents felt that their children would be safe and develop high self-expectations.
The average annual tuition when Zion Christian School opened was $1,400, which usually was subsidized by major Seattle companies and foundations. Other grants funded operating costs and supplemented salaries for teachers. Under the leadership of Bishop Drayton and Principal Doug Wheeler, the school grew from six to five hundred and fifty students in preschool to eighth grade during its first decade. By 1993 Zion Prep was Seattle’s largest predominantly black private school.
In 1993 Zion Prep purchased a six-acre location, the former H.T. Buckner Rehabilitation and Vocational Center, located in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, for $750,000. Soon after moving into this new facility, the academy began to decline. The recession of the early 1990s reduced corporate subsidies for tuition. Also the academy received smaller grants for child care subsidies from governmental sources such as the Washington State Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS). By the early 1990s, the school also faced competition from the newly founded African American Academy, a publicly funded school (with no tuition charges) that appealed to similar low-income pupils and their parents.
Zion Preparatory Academy closed in 2004. Five years later, the six-acre campus was sold to a real estate developer for $5 million with most of the proceeds going to pay off school debts. With the remaining funds, church leaders still hope to open a new facility. They plan to lease a closed Seattle public school on Alaska Street as a new site for Zion Preparatory Academy.