Charter leaders sacrifice to see dreams become reality

By Jamar Younger

When Nick Schuerman reflects on the fact that he’s responsible for the education of the 225 children who attend his school, he is nearly moved to tears.

Schuerman opened Victory Collegiate Academy, a K-6 public charter school, this month in Phoenix’s Maryvale neighborhood, fulfilling his dream of providing a quality education to underserved students.

“I’m seeing the fruits of my labor. It’s here now. I have to sit back and pinch myself,” he said.

Lori Weiss and Melissa McKinsey experienced a similar feeling when they welcomed almost 300 students to Synergy Public School, their brand new central Phoenix campus, which also opened this month.

These schools started as a kernel of an idea just three years ago, but have grown into the manifestation of their founders’ dreams.

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Association Response to K-12 School Funding Inequities

“First and foremost, Arizona charter schools are public schools. For more than 20 years, Arizona has been a pioneer and leader when it comes to empowering parents and families to select the best school for their children.

“Unfortunately, some self-declared ‘education advocates’ long for the bad, old days when district enrollment boundaries were iron-clad and the strength of a student’s classroom experience was determined by their home address. These charter critics cloak their true motivations behind a series of shifting arguments, but it’s clear what they seek is nothing less than to strip the sacred right of Arizona parents to make educational decisions in the best interest of their children.

“The fact is, Arizona families increasingly choose charters – approximately 180,000 students now attend one of nearly 600 public charter schools statewide. While district attendance is stagnant or in decline, charter schools account for virtually all of Arizona’s growth in K-12 enrollment. That says something.

“This shift in enrollment patterns helps explain desperation on the part of groups such as the so-called Arizonans for Charter School Accountability. They employ fuzzy math and fiscal sleight of hand to suggest Arizona charter schools are financially advantaged over districts, when the opposite is true. They cherry-pick numbers to mislead Arizonans and tell a fundamentally false story.

“Here’s the truth: All public schools in Arizona – charters and districts – are starved for dollars. The nearly 40-year-old system that funds K-12 schools in our state is broken.

“Rather than working to pit one type of public school against another, now is the time to work toward solutions that ensure all Arizona schools are supported and every Arizona student has access to the quality education they need.”

Data shows 1 in 5 eighth-graders not counted in AzMERIT math results

The Center for Student Achievement, a division of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, released data showing that, in 2016, one out of every five eighth-grade students took a high-school level math course, such as Algebra I, Geometry, or Algebra II.

However, the results for these students are not reflected in the state’s reported 2016 AzMERIT scores. That means the number of eighth-grade students who passed AzMERIT is actually higher than what’s reported in the test results.

The Association’s Chief Academic Officer Ildi Laczko-Kerr and Director of Research Kelly Powell break down the numbers and provide observations about accelerated student performance on the Center for Student Achievement’s blog.

In an Arizona Capitol Times op-ed, Laczko-Kerr and Association President and CEO Eileen Sigmund explain why the lack of transparent data on accelerated eighth-grade math students creates big hurdles for policy makers who look to advance policies that will drive academic excellence.

Here is the op-ed in its entirety:

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Quality matters

By Yvonne Watterson

What do we look for in a quality school? Test scores? Funding? Class size? The principal’s resume?  Do we know why some schools do a better job than others in helping students learn? At a time when Arizona is facing challenges that include improving literacy, the high school graduation rate, the recruitment and retention of effective teachers and leaders, and ensuring equitable funding for its schools, these are critical questions.

As parents, educators, community members, and business leaders, we want to feel confident that Arizona’s children will emerge from our schools ready for the demands of college or the work-place. We should demand nothing less. In order to achieve it, however, we must share a common understanding of what quality looks like.

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Arizona’s “wild west”approach allowed charters to blossom

By Jamar Younger

Arizona’s “wild west” reputation seems to inject itself into numerous topics, including education.

In the charter school realm, Arizona is known for its massive growth of public charter schools in the early days of charters, leading to the movement’s association with the “wild west” moniker.

Two recent blogs pointed out that Arizona’s somewhat freewheeling attitude towards charters at the time might not have been a bad thing.

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ASU Prep, Tempe Union High School District team up to help students advance

By Jamar Younger

A public charter high school with a college preparatory focus is entering into a unique and potentially groundbreaking partnership with a union high school district to provide more options for students in Tempe.

ASU Prep, a K-12 public charter school network with nine campuses spread across Phoenix and Casa Grande, has joined with the Tempe Union High School District’s Compadre Academy to open a joint school that will integrate ASU Prep’s rigorous college preparatory focus with Compadre’s flexible, self-paced, non-traditional program.

The schools will merge to form ASU Prep Compadre High School in Tempe.

This initiative is designed to provide disadvantaged students equal access to higher level college preparatory classes, regardless of their personal circumstances.

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New York Times publishes Northland Prep student essay

By Jamar Younger

Each year, the New York Times solicits college application essays from thousands of high school seniors around the country who choose to address money, work or social class as their topics.

The newspaper published five essays this year, including a piece authored by Tillena Trebon, an Arizona public charter student who is set to graduate this month from Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff.

In this poetic essay, Trebon describes the intersection of urban and rural existence in her life, how she balances these contradictions and how she’ll continue to “crave experiences only found at the edge” as she enters adulthood.

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Phoenix Collegiate Academy student uses father’s memory as motivation to succeed

By Jamar Younger

Adam Jackson has always been a top-notch student who excelled academically and socially.

However, after Jackson’s father and biggest supporter died unexpectedly from cardiac arrest while being hospitalized for pneumonia, the high school junior lost his motivation.

Normally active and enthusiastic, Jackson descended into a depressive state, which affected his academic performance and caused his grades to temporarily drop.

Jackson grew up without his mother, who wasn’t involved in his life after he moved from the Los Angeles area to Phoenix as a young child, and was now fatherless. His grandparents provided his only familial support.

To make matters worse, his grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer around the same time, although she was able to conquer the disease and make a full recovery.

“I couldn’t find the motivation to continue in school. I lost a part of me,” said Jackson, 18, now a senior who will graduate from the school on May 23. “I just didn’t feel like doing anything.”

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Association Commends Ducey, Legislature on pro-education budget

Eileen B. Sigmund, Arizona Charter Schools Association President and CEO, released the following statement today on the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget:

“On behalf of public charter schools across Arizona, we commend Governor Ducey for signing into law a pro-education spending plan that makes critical investments in K-12 students, teachers and schools.

“Infused with an additional $163 million, this spending plan builds on Proposition 123 dollars recently approved by Arizona voters and signals a renewed commitment to K-12 education.

“Public charter schools were created by the legislature to improve student achievement, and this budget supports schools that are delivering the best outcomes for Arizona students. This new emphasis on results-based funding rewards high-performing schools, especially those serving disadvantaged students.

“Additionally, legislators and the Governor have prioritized teachers with a commitment that doesn’t end with this budget. Our state is truly beginning to take the steps necessary to support our schools in their work to recruit and retain high quality teachers. Arizona public charter schools, who are delivering strong outcomes for students, will continue to elevate teachers at the local level.

“We thank Governor Ducey for his leadership, as well as legislators who worked hard to get this done for Arizona families.”

Beyond survival, charter students build a plan for living in space

By Jamar Younger

“Why not me?”

That’s the question 12-year-old Ruth Cox asked herself before gathering a team to compete in a STEM competition, the Honeywell Fiesta Bowl Aerospace Challenge.

“My oldest brother won the final competition and my other brother made it to the finals, so I always assumed that I would do this,” said Cox, a sixth-grade-student at Challenge Charter School in Glendale. So she called her close friends and fellow sixth graders, sisters Emily and Catherine Taylor, and Ada Stanley, and asked if they wanted to create a team: Team R.A.C.E, one letter for each of their names.

The girls spent six months researching gravity, various methods for growing plants, and other topics, as well as plenty of writing and model building. The goal: build a base on Mars moon Phobos where astronauts could survive in space and conduct experiments, but still live comfortably.

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