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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Charter Schools Providing Families with Options


Editor’s Note: This the second in a two-part series on charter schools in the South Mountain/Laveen areas. Part one ran in the February 2012 issue.

Over the past decade and a half, numerous charter schools have cropped up all over the South Mountain area. Such schools include South Pointe Schools, Phoenix Collegiate Academy, South Valley/Skyline Schools and its recently opened EAGLE College Prep Harmony Elementary School, and Espiritu Charter Schools. These schools may vary widely in their educational philosophies and methodologies, but they are united in their quest to provide the parents and children of South Phoenix and Laveen with quality choices.
South Pointe Schools
Located in south central Phoenix, the Leona Group’s trio of schools – South Pointe Elementary, South Pointe Junior High and South Pointe High School serve kindergarten through 12th grade.
 “We have 3 very strong school leaders at our schools,” said Mary Berg, Vice President of Academic Support Services for the Leona Group.  “They’re very involved in the community they serve; and they truly love the community.”
It’s that kind of dedication that has served all three schools, including South Pointe’s junior high school.  According to Jenni Kincaid, School Leader for the junior high located at Central Avenue and Olympic Drive, student’s reading scores, once below third-grade level as recently as 2010, have improved markedly.  Kincaid attributes the improvement to her dedicated teaching staff.
“We have a very sound staff in our small school community,” said Kincaid in a recent phone interview.  “They have a vested interest in every student that comes through the door.”
 Thanks to a recent 5-year, $500,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Education, South Pointe Junior High School can now provide additional after-school support to their students.
 “The grant allows us to extend our school day,” said Kincaid. “We can now provide additional academic intervention for reading and math, as well as special activities such as music, art and dance.”
 Those students already exceling also have an opportunity to participate in the “first come, first served” enrichment program.  Instead of remedial services and extra assistance, they’ll have a chance to advance their studies. 
The ability to provide extra assistance to students of all types helps the school meet the varied needs of its diverse student body.
 “We really try to address the whole child,” said Kincaid.
For more information about the Leona Group’s South Pointe school community, visit each school’s individual website: South Pointe High School ( HYPERLINK “http://www.southpointehs.com/” \t “_blank” http://www.southpointehs.com/); South Pointe Elementary School 9 HYPERLINK “http://www.southpointeelem.com/” \t “_blank” http://www.southpointeelem.com/) and South Pointe Junior High School ( HYPERLINK “http://www.southpointejh.com/” \t “_blank” http://www.southpointejh.com/).
Phoenix Collegiate Academy
Phoenix Collegiate Academy (PCA) opened its doors in 2009 to give the underserved South Mountain area a solid path to a collegiate degree.
“Ninety-five percent of our students are considered Title I,” said Rachel Yanof, the school’s founder and executive director.
But, at PCA the demographics don’t matter. According to its website, the school was founded on the belief that “demographics do not determine destiny”.
And the statistics support the school’s mindset: According to Yanof, not only do PCA students consistently outperform district area schools by double digits, PCA eighth graders are already taking high school level math and biology classes.
Yanof and her team believe that more instructional time (students attend school 7:30a-4:30p Monday through Thursday and 7:30a-1:30p on Fridays) means students have more time to perfect the skills they need to reach their goals.
At PCA, the ultimate goal is a college degree.
“Every student no matter where they come from can go to college given the right skills,” said Yanof. “Our job is to teach them those skills.”
Currently, PCA serves grades 5th through 8th. Each year it will add another grade level until it serves all middle and high school grades (5th – 12th).
For more information about Phoenix Collegiate Academy, located at Southern & Central Avenues, visit online at HYPERLINK “http://www.phxca.org” www.phxca.org or call the school at 602-268-9900.
 South Valley and Skyline Schools
Skyline School’s South Phoenix Prep & Arts Academy (serving grades K-4) and South Valley Prep & Arts School (grades 5-8) will be joined next school year by Skyline Prep High School.  Part of the Skyline Schools/South Valley Schools family founded by President Ronda Owens, M.Ed., the high school, currently named Skyline Tech High School, is located in Ahwatukee. 
A science and engineering-focused charter school, Skyline Tech provides students a multitude of ways to learn inside and outside of the classroom.
According to Carl Hill, superintendent of Skyline Schools, Skyline Tech/Prep gears all of its math and science classes toward competitions.  And students seem to thrive on the opportunities, winning first-, second- and third-place prizes year after year.  Just last year, two female students competed and won in an exciting competition held in Tucson at the University of Arizona – their project was water rocket launching. 
In addition to excelling in the math and sciences, the school also recently won the state championship for Ultimate Frisbee.
“[Skyline schools] focus on delivery a quality education above and beyond academics,” said Swen Anderson, responsible for business and planning development for Skyline Schools.
Next school year, parents and students in the South Phoenix area will have an opportunity to experience the Skyline education from kindergarten through 12th grade.
 When Skyline Prep is relocated to its new space at 40th and Baseline (where the other two schools are currently located), students will also be required to wear uniforms as students do at two other Skyline schools in South Phoenix.
For more information about this trio of schools, visit online at HYPERLINK “http://www.southvalleyschools.com/” \t “_blank” www.southvalleyschools.com; all three schools are currently accepting enrollment for all grades K-12.
Espiritu Charter Schools
One of the first charter schools in Arizona, Espiritu Charter Schools was a positive reaction to the violence that plagued the South Mountain Community in the early 1990s. Today, 17 years later, Espiritu offers a safe environment for its students, and a strong sense of community that supports the entire individual – mind, body and spirit – from kindergarten through 12th grade. The 15-acre Espiritu campus encompasses three schools: Esperanza Montessori Academy (K-3rd); Reyes Maria Ruiz Leadership Academy (4th-6th); and the NFL YET College Prep for grades 7th through 12 th.
Espiritu earned a B grade from Arizona’s Department of Education this year.
“Academics are important,” said Adrian Ruiz, the school’s vice president of operations. “We offer mandatory after-school tutoring twice a week as well as tutoring on Saturdays for our high school students.”
Students also are invited to participate in a special program provided in partnership with South Mountain Community College. The program gives junior high and high school students the opportunity to get comfortable with college life, learn college skills and even earn college credits.
But, academics aren’t the only focus at Espiritu.
The school’s after-school programs, provided by National Football League Charities, offers students art and multimedia classes, and chess and robotics clubs among other activities. The partnership also supports a robust athletic program for students; encouraging students to be physically fit and to succeed in school and on the court (or field). This year, the high school boys’ basketball team won the 2A Boys High School State Championship.
In addition, to staying healthy and working hard in school, all Espiritu students are required to lead by example and to be servant leaders within the community.
“For the better part of two decades, we’ve built a sense of community,” said Ruiz. “We don’t just identify ourselves as a school, but as a community where students feel safe; we give our best efforts, and they gain the best education we can offer.”
For more information about Espiritu Charter Schools, visit online at HYPERLINK “http://www.espiritu.org/” \t “_blank” www.espiritu.org; currently grades K-12 are accepting enrollment for the 2012-2013 school year.

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