Charter Award Winners Announced

As a national leader in the charter movement, Arizona has numerous examples of charter success. The Arizona Charter Schools Association is pleased to honor exemplary educators with our 2016 Charter Awards, which annually recognizes the top charter teacher, leader, business manager and school in Arizona. The award winners highlight some of the best of what Arizona’s charter movement has to offer.

“I’m thrilled to recognize these outstanding recipients of the 2016 Charter Awards, which honor the very best of Arizona’s public charter schools,” said Eileen B. Sigmund, President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. “What these winners have in common is their innovative approach to education and committed focus to the success of their students.”

Winners and finalists will be honored at a ceremony on November 2 at the Hotel Palomar.

2016 Charter School of the Year

Academy of Math and Science – Prince, a K-8 Blue Ribbon charter school serving 420 students in Tucson. Celebrating its 15th year of success, this STEM-focus charter school has high academic rigor and expectations for students while providing a well-rounded college-preparatory education. With more than 70 percent of its students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch, AMS-Prince does not let circumstance determine a child’s success in school. In addition to a strong focus in STEM where students learn pre-algebra as early as third grade, all students play either piano or guitar and speak Russian, Mandarin, or Spanish. As an A-rated school for every year since the label was given, AMS-Prince continues to be one of the top performing elementary schools in the state.

Finalists: Havasu Preparatory Academy, a K-8 charter school in Lake Havasu City, and ASU Preparatory Academy- Polytechnic, a K-12 charter school in Mesa.

2016 Charter Transformational Leader of the Year

Valerie Merrill, principal at Legacy Traditional School – Gilbert, a K-8 charter school serving 1,200 students in Gilbert. Valerie is an inspirational leader and a quintessential role model for everyone involved with the school. Two years ago, Valerie took over the Legacy Gilbert during a period when the school’s growth needed strong direction and attention. Once at the reins, Valerie turned around teacher and parent satisfaction almost immediately, helping the school grow an additional 300 students in just two years. As a former classroom teacher who was named Higley Unified School District Teacher of the Year, Valerie is not one to seek the spotlight herself. She understands that her strength as a coach always is reflected in the performance and happiness of her team.

Finalists: Christi Reay, assistant director of American Leadership Academy- San Tan, a K-6 charter school in San Tan Valley, and Susan Douglas, administrator of Mesa Arts Academy, a K-8 charter school in Mesa.

2016 Charter Business Leader of the Year

Betsy Rosenmiller, finance director at Metropolitan Arts Institute, a charter high school serving 250 students in Phoenix. Although Betsy has a background in business administration, her passion is art. She started her career as a gallery director at several art galleries throughout the Valley before joining Metro Arts in 2009. Betsy transformed the small charter school’s business office, providing more support for teachers and staff, and ensuring the school’s compliance and audits are spotless. Always looking for to put more money in the classroom, Betsy is constantly researching new vendors and improving efficiency. In addition to her business support, Betsy also handles student scheduling, co-teaches art coursework and currently leads the craft club. Betsy is a true example of commitment to a school’s mission.
Finalists: Jennifer O’Connell, Director of Business Operations at Desert Marigold School, a K-12 charter in Phoenix and Suzanne Drakes, Chief Financial Officer at AAEC Early College High Schools, a network of five charter high schools serving 1,500 students throughout Arizona.

2016 Charter Teacher of the Year

Richelle Lewis, a third-grade teacher at American Leadership Academy – Queen Creek Elementary, a K-6 charter school serving 760 students in Queen Creek. Richelle understands and embraces that all students learn differently, and tailors her lessons to each child to ensure all students make growth in her classroom. But Richelle says student success can’t be contributed only to her teaching. She has a team of 27 leaders helping: the students themselves. In addition to outstanding academic results, Richelle’s support of students goes beyond the classroom. Even though she is a busy mom, Richelle takes the time to attend important life events, sports games or recitals of her students outside of the school day. She is truly invested in the whole child, and works daily to ensure her students feel loved, supported and motivated to achieve in school and in life.
Finalists: Forrest Radarian, a science teacher at Phoenix Collegiate Academy High School, a 9-12 charter in South Phoenix and Carl Vasil, a middle school math and science teacher at BASIS Goodyear, a K-8 charter in Goodyear.

Want to learn more about the winners? Click on the Charter Award winner pictures to watch their video or read their profile. Find out more at