Gov. Ducey last month announced that Arizona education must strive to achieve a statewide culture of excellence. Not only are high-achieving public schools possible in all regions of our state – traditional or charter, small or large, on the border or downtown – they already exist, even in the most challenging environments.
There are approximately 100 examples of high performing “A” schools, each serving mainly low-income and many non-English speaking students. With only 8 percent of students in a low-income Arizona public school (district and charter) receiving an “A”-rated education, it is time to advertise the existence of these proven models of excellence, and to support the expansion and new school openings of such model schools in local communities across the state.
One of A for Arizona’s roles in these direct efforts is to bring school and community leaders together to identify and better understand exceptional school models, to offer strategies and expertise about expanding their impact, and to seek philanthropic and policy support for those efforts. Last week, the A for Arizona team hosted a Schools of Excellence Tour Day in South Phoenix, highlighting the work of four of our best low-income models to the media, politicians, business leaders and fellow “A” leaders.
The campus tours were hosted at NFL YET College Prep Academy (grades 7-12), Vista College Prep (grades K-2), Cesar Chavez Community School in Roosevelt Elementary District (grades K-8) and Champion Schools (grades K-8). Each site was a model example of schools that close the education opportunity gap through unique ideas and successful strategies. Despite different philosophies, mission statements and models, the instructional approach at all four schools has led to a no-excuses, high expectations culture and outstanding achievement for all of their scholars.
Local community members learned that despite very different emphases, these exceptional schools share essential practices. All of these schools center their work on Arizona academic standards; gather and share data about student progress; and all of the schools have developed a disciplined school environment and a culture that revolves around individual student need.
It was encouraging and inspiring to see community members and “A” school leaders network and discover common goals. School leaders told us that they found visits to other schools in their same neighborhood tremendously rewarding. Many shared a sense of commitment no longer to compete with each other, but rather to focus on sharing and collaborating on the details of their schools that make all of our students great.
The day provided both hope and inspiration. Arizona has a strong cadre of school leaders and school models that excel in the most challenging of academic environments. We can and should continue to grow and replicate their effective practices. Through future tours and other events, A for Arizona seeks to ignite the conversations, understanding and access to excellent schools that will lead to local action and similar models being adopted in other low-income neighborhoods throughout Arizona.