New kids on the block

From South Mountain to Sahuarita, Arizona schools are growing to serve more students. Take a look at four schools across Arizona providing a quality education by implementing innovative education ideas and expanding their reach to more students in the state.

College-like feel in South Mountain

South Phoenix is a competitive school market, with several dozen district and charter schools. To better serve students, South Mountain High School, part of the Phoenix Union High School District, underwent a $30 million transformation, separating the comprehensive high school into four different academies with an emphasis on workforce development.

The college-like campus, renamed The Academies at South Mountain, provides students access to specialized curriculum, but also to the sports, facilities and counselors of traditional high schools.

Phoenix Union already has several small specialized schools, such as Bioscience Academy and Phoenix Coding Academy. But, the waitlists are long and due to the large size of the district, the campuses are not convenient for all students. So, the district is bringing those specialized programs to its comprehensive high schools.

“It’s a big school advantage with a small school experience,” said Craig Petinak, communications director at Phoenix Union High School District.

If successful, Phoenix Union plans to expand the model to more schools, beginning with Trevor Browne, the district’s largest school.

Growing great schools in low-income communities

Academies of Math and Science (AMS), a network of public charter schools, is known for its history of academic excellence, winning the 2016 Arizona Public Charter School of the Year. AMS was the first public school system to earn a spot in the Credit Enhancement Program, which provides schools access to lower interest rates, reducing the cost of new facilities. Those reduced rates allow Arizona’s best schools to replicate and serve more students.

The Credit Enhancement Program has saved the network nearly $2 million, putting more funding back into the classroom rather than interest payments.

“A great education at scale is not possible without adequate resources,” said AMS Chief Financial Officer Steven Hykes. “The Credit Enhancement Program has been instrumental in us expanding our program from 2,000 scholars as of the end of May 2017 to a projected 3,900 scholars that we will serve in August 2018. We save a significant amount of money all of which goes right back into our schools to create a world-class education for all the scholars we serve.”

AMS is not done growing yet. Hykes said the network’s goal is to serve more than 10,000 students in low-income neighborhoods across Arizona by August 2022.  

Expanding access to Prescott middle school students

For the last decade, Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy has been providing a quality education to 160 high school students in Prescott. The high school prides itself on its small group style learning experience that gives students individual attention and fosters accelerated academic progress. One issue that Northpoint identified is that students entering freshman year routinely require academic intervention in math. Wanting to boost math skills prior to high school, Northpoint is expanding to apply its small group learning model to students in middle school.

The new school, which opened on Aug. 6, will serve 50 students in grades 7-8 and have six full-time staff members.

The Expeditionary Learning Model inspires students to become self-motivated learners and challenges them to think critically and take active roles in their classrooms and communities, said Northpoint’s middle school director Melissa Wagoner.

“The Expeditionary Learning Model is a powerful pedagogy to add to the mix,” she said. “We are thrilled to add another option for parents and students for middle school in Prescott.”

By applying ELM at a young age, students will take a strong foundation in critical thinking and problem solving into high school and beyond, she said.

Sahuarita expands to meet community demand

Sahuarita Unified School District is in a rapidly growing community south of Tucson, adding nearly 1,300 students over the last five years. With the help of a $25 million bond approved by voters last year and 90 acres of donated land, Sahuarita is opening a brand new elementary school in January 2018.

Wrightson K-8 School will include classrooms, multi-use and fine arts spaces, athletic fields, and play areas. Funds raised by the community will not only support the new school, but also the replacement of old portable buildings on Sahuarita’s main campus on Sahuarita Road, said Sahuarita Unified School District Superintendent Manuel Valenzuela.

“It is a partnership with our town, businesses in our region, and different cross sector organizations,” he said. “By accommodating the growth of our community, this school will advance our mission of providing 21st century education for the success of each student, which is a mutually beneficial outcome for all.”


Megan Donahey

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