Celebrating 2017 Charter Award Winners and Finalists

By Megan Gilbertson

Congratulations to all of the 2017 Charter Award winners and finalists! More than 100 people gathered Wednesday at the Hotel Palomar Phoenix to honor these outstanding examples of public charter school success. Guests included state legislators, corporate partners and last year’s award winners, who introduced the 2017 recipients.

The stories of our 2017 Charter Award winners and finalists are truly inspiring. These committed educators are positively impacting thousands of Arizona students, and we are thrilled to call them our Transformational Leader, Business Leader, Teacher and Charter School of the Year.

For the last two decades, our state has been a national leader in education freedom as evidence by the rapid growth of charter school enrollment. We at the Association have worked to provide a strong and unified voice for public charter schools.

Of course, school choice is no choice at all without quality options. Hard work remains to bring more excellent educators and schools like our 2017 Charter Award winners to ALL communities.

We’d like to thank all those who attended, and once again congratulate our award winners and finalists. We hope you enjoy our 2017 Charter Award videos below.

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Devoted ELL kindergarten teacher sees empathy and flexibility as keys to success

2017 Charter School Teacher of the Year: Bonnie Weppner

By Jamar Younger

Bonnie Weppner believes her career has come full circle since she began teaching in 1974.

At the time, Weppner taught English Language Learners and migrant farm workers in Austin, Texas, many of whom were the first non-English speakers allowed to attend public school.

Now, she is working with kindergartners at Pioneer Preparatory School: A Challenge Foundation Academy who are similar to her first students from more than 40 years ago, trying to learn English while adjusting to the rigors of elementary school and, for some, living in a new country.

The veteran ELL teacher has devoted most of her life to educating non-English speakers, developing an approach that relies on empathy, kindness and love.

That approach has endeared Weppner to both her students and their families.

It’s also the reason she was been named the 2017 Arizona Public Charter School Teacher of the Year.

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AAEC business leader uses hands-on approach to serve schools and students

2017 Charter Business Leader of the Year: Suzanne Drakes

By Jamar Younger

Suzanne Drakes’ presence is felt throughout the six AAEC Early College High School campuses.

You can feel it in the architecture and design of each campus, as she worked with architects and engineers to create campuses with open courtyards, horse stables and scenic landscapes.

You can see it in the teachers and administrators she helped hire and continue to support as they work in the classroom.

You’ll notice it in the location of AAEC’s campuses, which are located either adjacent or in close proximity to local community colleges, so the charter can partner with those institutions to concurrently enroll students and help them attain associates degrees before they graduate from high school.

Most of all, you can see it in the students who serve as her main motivation for providing as many resources as possible to ensure their success.

As assistant executive director of AAEC, Drakes has influenced every aspect of the public charter school network, from organizing field trips to making sure the school submits clean financial audits.

Her hands-on approach and desire to serve students have led to her selection as the Association’s 2017 Arizona Public Charter School Business Leader of the Year.

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Arizona Republic: Charter students of every racial and ethnic group top performers

The Arizona Republic recently “Fact Checked” a statement from Arizona Charter Schools Association President and CEO Eileen Sigmund and found that it’s true: Arizona’s public charter school students from all racial and ethnic groups outperformed the state average for their subgroup on 2017 AzMERIT.

“AZ Fact Check made that comparison, however, and found the “percentage passing” in each ethnic subgroup in charter schools was higher than district schools,” according the Republic. “Sigmund’s statement is true using the association’s methodology and the publicly available data provided by the Arizona Department of Education.”

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School choice now mainstream as near majority of students attend school outside the one assigned

By Eileen Sigmund

Does your child attend his or her assigned district school? If so, they’re nearly among the minority in Maricopa County.

That’s according to a surprising new analysis compiled by the non-partisan Center for Student Achievement and researchers at Yale University. The study found that nearly 1 in 2 K-8 students in Maricopa County don’t attend the district school to which they were assigned based on home address. The actual number is almost certainly higher as the analysis only looked at district and charter-school students, and didn’t take into account those who are homeschooled or attend private or online schools.

Simply put, “school choice” has gone mainstream in Arizona.

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Arizona School for the Arts principal inspires students, teachers to think creatively

2017 Charter Transformational Leader of the Year: Sara Maline Bohn

By Jamar Younger

For Sara Maline Bohn, no idea is too far-fetched.

The Arizona School for the Arts principal is always willing to sit with her teachers, students and fellow administrators to discuss a new plan or innovation, and figure out how to make into a reality.

Bohn uses her infectious enthusiasm and sense of humor to encourage her fellow educators and students to engage in challenging work, try new methods and persevere through difficult situations.

As a result, she has helped cultivate a welcoming, inclusive campus culture where students, staff and the community try new ideas, grow, and learn from mistakes.

Bohn’s efforts have led to her recognition as the 2017 Arizona Public Charter School Transformational Leader of the Year.

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KJZZ discusses new school choice research with Dr. Ildi Laczko-Kerr

Dr. Ildi Laczko-Kerr, Chief Academic Officer for the Arizona Charter Schools Association and Center for Student Achievement, recently spoke with KJZZ host Mark Brodie on The Show to discuss new research by the non-partisan Center for Student Achievement and a Yale University researcher. The study found that nearly 1 in 2 K-8 students in Maricopa County don’t attend the district school to which they were assigned based on home address. Find the research here.

Listen to the Interview

Reid Traditional Schools’ Painted Rock Academy

2017 Arizona Public Charter School of the Year

By Jamar Younger

Painted Rock Academy has established itself as a model of consistency since the public charter school opened its campus six years ago.

The school, operated by Reid Traditional Schools, prides itself on its traditional education model, and believes – given the right tools – all students can achieve success. Students analyze classical literature and develop a love of math, science and technology, using strong foundational skills to explore new concepts and ideas in the upper grades.

Teachers and administrators work hard to ensure that each student will receive the same education experience, regardless of which class they attend.

A stable, committed group of teachers and strong parental involvement are the hallmarks of Painted Rock’s success. Parents play a prominent role on campus: assisting in classrooms, planning school events and supporting the teachers so they can focus on academics.

This consistency and stability has helped Painted Rock cement its reputation as one of the top schools in the state, with A-ratings and AzMERIT scores that rank above the state averages.

It’s also the reason the school has been named the 2017 Arizona Public Charter School of the Year.

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2017 Charter Award Winners

Charter schools have been part of the fabric of Arizona’s public school landscape for over 20 years. Through the hard work and dedication of our teachers, administrators and students, Arizona charter schools are outperforming nearly every state in the country.

The Association is proud to celebrate these success stories through our 2017 Charter Awards, spotlighting outstanding examples of public charter school excellence in teaching, academic leadership, business administration and school-wide success.

“The 2017 Charter Award honorees embody the promise of public charter schools and work tirelessly every day to improve education in schools and communities across Arizona,” said Eileen B. Sigmund, President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. “These educators fully represent the quality choices, which are fundamental to Arizona families. Congratulations to this year’s winners!”

Winners and finalists will be honored at a ceremony on December 6 at the Hotel Palomar in Phoenix.

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Association Hires Director of Government Affairs

The Arizona Charter Schools Association is proud to announce the hiring of Matthew Simon as its Director of Government Affairs. Simon, a Tucson native, joins the Association after serving as Education Policy Advisory for Senate Majority Staff. During his time at the Arizona State Legislature, Simon developed a wealth of education finance and policy knowledge. Simon is a former high school science teacher and Teach for America corps member. He graduated from Arizona State University with a B.S. in Political Science and is working towards his MBA in 2019.

“As a former teacher, Matthew understands the impact advocacy and policy can have on the classroom,” said Eileen B. Sigmund, President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. “Matthew brings another layer of support to Association members and we are thrilled to have his expertise on our team to inform policymakers of the excellent work in Arizona’s public charter schools.”

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