This week marked National Charter Schools Week, which for this father of three has meant a chance to reflect on what school choice and charters schools have meant in my own household.
All three of my daughters attend outstanding public charter schools; two attend BASIS Scottsdale and another is at a Great Hearts school. These are two Arizona born and bred school networks receiving national accolades and expanding into other states. The girls also have had the privilege of attending great district schools. Public district, public charter, magnet and private schools are all components of a world-class education system. But in the spirit of Charter Schools Week, I want to share some of the great things that are happening at innovative schools throughout Arizona.
Across the state, charter schools are making a positive impact in thousands of families’ lives. They are driving successful educational outcomes in urban neighborhoods, rural areas and in parts of the state that are struggling economically.
In Maryvale, the Western School of Science and Technology, where over 93 percent of the school’s students qualify for free and reduced price lunch, is transforming the neighborhood around it by improving low income west Phoenix students’ opportunities for advancement in the global technological economy by preparing them for the rigors of college. There are no high schools with an “A” rating from the Arizona Department of Education in Maryvale, but Western, which opened in the fall of 2014, plans to change that.
In Tucson, the Academy of Math and Science is earning national recognition, like the National Blue Ribbon Award and the EPIC Award, for continuously delivering superior student achievement in low income neighborhoods. With three high performing schools already delivering an excellent education to students in Tucson and Phoenix, AMS plans to open its fourth campus in the Phoenix urban core in August.
Far outside metro Phoenix in Kingman, one of the state’s original charter schools, Kingman Academy of Learning, has grown from a K-6 elementary school with 200 students, to four campuses educating 1,400 K-12 students. The high school may be small, with just 108 graduates this year, but the students receive a world class education. Kingman Academy partners with Mohave Community College to offer students college credits for courses from welding to calculus. Over half of Kingman’s graduates took advantage of the opportunity, saving families an estimated $50,000 in tuition costs.
Despite these success stories and the thousands of K-12 kids who have been given better educational options thanks to school choice in Arizona, we still need to expand access to high quality public schools, district and charter.
The drive to expand and replicate outstanding public schools is a major agenda item for charter school stakeholders, the business community and Gov. Doug Ducey.
Within the high poverty Phoenix urban core, there are very few A-rated schools. The Arizona Charter Schools Association, led by the transformational Eileen Sigmund, launched a separate nonprofit, New Schools for Phoenix, which is committed to helping district and charter leaders combat that issue by reforming current schools and opening or replicating 25 A-rated public schools by 2020.
A for Arizona, a project led by national school reformer and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan in partnership with the Arizona Chamber Foundation and the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, exists to support and expand the number of our best A-quality leaders, educators, and public school models, especially those serving primarily low-income students.
And Gov. Ducey’s Public School Achievement District is based on creating a structure whereby our best public school models can expand, while putting empty or underutilized school buildings back into the service of educating kids.
Together we are poised to dramatically upend Arizona’s educational status quo. To steal a line from former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, we have the potential to turn Arizona into the “Silicon Valley for charter schools.” (I can’t wait to hear from Joel next week at the governor’s Leadership Summit.)
As we celebrate National Charter Schools Week, my hope is that all of Arizona’s students and families, regardless of zip code, can choose a quality public school option that best fits their needs.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.