New Phoenix charter school has college-prep atmosphere

August 4, 2009

By hammersmith

A new Phoenix charter school wants to attract college-bound elementary students.

University Public School Phoenix launched after a partnership between University Public School Inc. and Phoenix Elementary School District in May. Classes start for 550 preschool-eighthgraders near downtown on Aug. 10.

Twenty-seven teachers reported July 20 and started lesson plans, said Debra Gomez, University Public School Phoenix interim executive director. Eventually, the campus at 735 E. Fillmore St., will grow into a preschool-12th-grade campus.

“Due to our affiliation with ASU, our students have the opportunity to access various resources and faculty and facilities on the campuses,” Gomez said. “So that being in a college atmosphere becomes part of their expectation as well as their parents.”

The charter school, an affiliate of Arizona State University, also operates Polytechnic Elementary School in Mesa. The Phoenix charter school’s connection to ASU is through the University-Education Partnerships, which coordinates programs for teachers at Arizona colleges and oversees the university-public school initiatives to create campus schools.

When the Phoenix charter school decided, for example, what students should learn in classrooms, ASU professors in math, reading, literature and science provided advice, Gomez said. They helped the school create a road map to how and what students should be taught and how the lessons must align to the Arizona standards, she said. Eugene Garcia, vice president of ASU’s University-School Partnerships, said ASU plans to stay involved in the charter school’s growth.

The university will help the school usher in new education programs such as online classes or research projects about how students learn. “We are not about just demonstrating that we could build good schools, we are about what is it that we learned… from that school that can impact other schools,” Garcia said.

University Public School Phoenix was chartered through the Arizona State Charter Board, which gives the new campus more freedom over its budget and educational programs and allows it to decide which students should enroll. The board requires state certification for all teachers. The school also has its own governing board. The five-year partnership allows the charter school to use space at the former Phoenix Preparatory Academy.  Phoenix Elementary will continue to transport district students to the charter school and feed them lunch.

The adjustment is in response to a declining student enrollment slide to 7,794 students last year, down from 9,115 students in 1997 districtwide. Maricopa County’s oldest elementary school district now has 14 campuses.

District officials polled parents in 2005 about what they wanted of Phoenix Elementary schools. They preferred to send their kids to K-8 campuses, so that brothers and sisters attended the same campus instead of sending the older children to a separate junior high school. The district accommodated the parents and enrollment stabilized.

The trend affected Phoenix Prep, which was designed to benefit 1,300 to 1,400 seventh- and eighth-grade students. Phoenix Prep, which opened in 1992 with 1,308 students, closed in April when enrollment dipped to 498 students. Phoenix Prep dropped its name and became University Public School Phoenix.

Phoenix Elementary governing board members see the charter-partnership as a win-win arrangement. It’s “a wonderful campus with a new opportunity to continue its tradition of service to the children of central Phoenix,” said Ruth Ann Marston, Phoenix Elementary board president.

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