ACLU misses mark, charter schools provide critical alternative

By Eileen Sigmund

The ACLU is worried about public schools with “exclusionary” enrollment policies? That’s good to know.

Because for all but the last 20 years of our state’s existence, where you went to school depended on where you lived. Affluent families could afford to buy homes in expensive neighborhoods with high-quality schools. As for everyone else, we were at the mercy of our local district school. Students stuck in failing schools had no escape.

Talk about enrollment suppression and discrimination …

Thankfully, this injustice was significantly curtailed in Arizona over the last two decades with the adoption of open enrollment policies and advent of charter schools. These were hard-fought wins, achieved over the staunch opposition of the education establishment – namely the teacher’s union and school districts.

Where has the ACLU been? Not with Arizona families fighting for access to better schools.

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New charter schools will provide expanded opportunities for Arizona students

By Jamar Younger

Charter school enrollment has been trending upward for the past 20 years, with charters now serving 17 percent of Arizona’s public school students, a 6 percent increase over FY16.

The trend is set to continue after the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools approved the applications of five new charter schools that are set to open next August. The Board approved the new schools during its regular meeting on Monday, Dec. 11.

These new charters will provide a range of options for students, from STEM curriculums to a dual language immersion program.

The schools will serve about 700 students total, many from low-income neighborhoods in the Phoenix area and Tucson. The Arizona Charter Schools Association provided support for these schools by reviewing their applications, conducting mock interviews and giving guidance throughout the process.

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Central Phoenix charter school makes the jump from remedial to rigorous

By Jamar Younger

Phoenix College Preparatory Academy has embarked on a dramatic evolution since the school opened in 2003.

The central Phoenix public charter school, affiliated with Phoenix College, originally opened as a remedial school that catered to students who fell behind in their studies and needed to recover credits to graduate.

Over the years, the school has moved from one serving students who fell behind to a rigorous college prep school helping students get ahead.

The school’s AzMERIT scores have steadily increased within the last three years, rising above the state average, earning an ‘A’ in this year’s preliminary letter grade system.

Phoenix College Prep’s enrollment has more than doubled within the last five years, from 67 to 175 students. About 90 percent of the school’s students qualify for free-and-reduced lunch, said Principal Keith Brown.

More than half of the school’s senior class is on track to receive their associate’s degree by time they graduate in the spring.

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Association responds to ACLU attack on charter schools

Eileen B. Sigmund, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, has made the following statement:

“Arizona charter schools are public schools and open to every Arizona family. That is the law and has been the guiding principle behind the charter movement over the past two decades.

Public charter schools are meeting tremendous public demand, and 185,000 Arizona students now attend a charter school of their choice. Contrary to the spurious and misleading allegations contained in an ACLU hit piece, enrollment data across charter schools demonstrate they are educating a student population that is increasingly diverse and representative of Arizona’s student body.

It is clear this attack makes broad-brush accusations that are misleading or are not violations of the law. The reason is simple: The ACLU has an anti-charter agenda. That’s why, despite the fact that district schools enroll approximately 84 percent of Arizona students, the ACLU purposefully limited its inquiry to charter schools. The ACLU has taken a similar tact in issuing anti-charter ‘reports’ in other states, with the unspoken intent to roll-back school-choice laws and undermine the ability of families to determine what school is best for their children.

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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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