Innovative teaching model earns Arizona charter school top marks

Walking into a BASIS elementary school, you’ll notice there are two or more teachers in every classroom.

What makes these Arizona-grown public charter schools different is that all students, no matter the grade level, have teachers with subject level expertise. At the elementary school level, students also have “learning expert teachers,” explains Patrisha Leybovich, a parent of twins at BASIS Chandler Primary North.

“The way the children experience the course of the day is unlike anything I’ve seen before. They don’t have designated classroom, instead they are assigned a ‘crew’ and move from room to room with their learning expert teacher,” said Leybovich, whose kids’ assigned team names are “Zinc” and “Argon” from the periodic table of elements. “The subject level expert teachers are true professionals and highly accomplished in their subject areas, instead of one generalist teacher.”

Early learners at BASIS Curriculum Schools, like these BASIS Peoria Primary students, are encouraged to love learning.

Peter Bezanson, BASIS.ed Chief Executive Officer, says their model allows teachers to take a deep dive into subjects they’ve studied extensively, whether poetry or history or physics, and provide students access to and an understanding of higher level content. In this way, BASIS primary schools are more like middle and high schools than they are elementary schools.

As a public charter school, BASIS provides a free public education to Arizona students with no barriers to entry. Critics say the success of BASIS is due to “cherry picking students.” Bezanson says that’s not the case.

“We don’t cherry pick our kids; our kids cherry pick us. In a choice-rich environment like Arizona, our goal is to create a school that students and families want to choose,” he said. “As a result, instead of being ‘assigned a school,’ we get students who actively seek us out and want to attend our schools.”

BASIS cannot choose its own students even if it wanted to.

State statute specifies that Arizona charter schools are open to any student who wishes to attend. An enrollment brief published by the Arizona Charter Schools Association and written by David Garner and Nathan Arrowsmith, with Osborn Maledon, a highly respected Phoenix-based law firm, explains what Arizona law requires.

“By law, charter schools must admit all students who submit a timely application, up to the capacity of the school. If the number of students interested in attending the school exceeds the school’s capacity, the school must institute a random drawing – or ‘lottery’ – process for admissions,” the legal brief states.

BASIS started in 1998, when its founders Michael and Olga Block couldn’t find a school for their daughter that fit their educational philosophy.

“Our original school in Tucson was really started by a mother’s love for her daughter,” said Bezanson.

BASIS Curriculum Schools have a unique two-teacher model for students in 1st through 4th grade.

Olga Block and her daughter moved to the U.S. in 1996 from Prague, in the Czech Republic. While Olga was fluent in English, her daughter was new to the language.

Michael Block, a University of Arizona economics professor, saw that foreign students were better prepared and consistently surpassing American students because math and science education was much better outside the U.S. Together they built a public charter school that fuses Asian and European curriculum into a “new American education.”

“Almost overnight, BASIS Tucson became one of the top performing schools in the state,” said Bezanson.

BASIS Charter Schools grew slowly, opening its second campus in Scottsdale in 2003. The network didn’t open a third campus until 2010.

When former Intel executive Craig Barrett took over the helm as Chairman of the Board in 2011, he led the effort to grow the BASIS Charter School footprint, allowing thousands of students access to its high-quality schools in just a few years.

Today, nearly 15,000 Arizona students attend one of 20 BASIS public charter schools in Arizona, with several thousand more students in BASIS charter schools in Texas and Washington D.C., plus a new campus opening this fall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There are also private BASIS Curriculum Schools in California, Virginia, and New York, and private international schools in China.

All told, according to Bezanson, there will be more than 22,000 students in 35 BASIS Curriculum Schools this coming fall, and those schools are seeing success.

In the just-announced U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s top public schools, BASIS claimed the top five spots.

“When freedom from regulation, high-quality charter legislation, and a friendly business community come together, the result is an environment that fosters growth of extremely high performing schools that produce great outcomes for students,” said Bezanson.

Megan Gilbertson

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