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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Phoenix Union Planning for Growth With a Portfolio of Options

Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Chad Gestson unveiled plans to address growth in the district and expand the portfolio of schools and programs.

Gestson outlined a vision that focuses on three areas of the 220-square mile district–south, northcentral and west. The Salt River and Interstate 17 are the dividing lines between the three regions.

The first projects are developing the Academies at South Mountain, launching a college prep academy in partnership with the Wilson School District in the east, and a gifted and talented academy in the west, starting in the fall of 2017.

The Academies at South Mountain will be made up of four small schools within the larger school, retaining the magnet programs and adding career and technical education (CTE) programs, as well.

“We continue to look at ways to transform our current comprehensive campuses. The transition of South Mountain High School to the Academies at South Mountain is a great example. ” Gestson said. “We see this as a way to bring back kids who may be leaving for Tempe, or other schools to the west.”

Those academies should be fully operational by 2018, and may take some construction and re-design of the campus. While the academies will give the campus a small school feel, there will still be big school opportunities like sports, music, JROTC and other activities.

Gestson also believes that south Phoenix needs a small, support school, to address an area of concern–the high percentage of “opportunity youth,” also known as “disconnected” youth 16-24 that are not currently working or attending school. He envisions a Linda Abril Educational Academy or Bostrom-type alternative school to engage “opportunity” youth at risk of dropping out.

Enrollment growth is expected in Laveen when the new South Mountain Freeway spurs development near 59th Avenue, but Betty Fairfax High School should be able to handle future growth in the far southwest portion of the district, according to Gestson.

The Northcentral portion of the district has many schools, both large and small, but North High School had the largest increase in enrollment this year with almost 900 freshmen, and a recent demographic study shows that that trend will continue. Camelback is also growing, expecting almost 700 freshmen next year. So, the district entered into a lease agreement with the Wilson Elementary School District to take over a small high school building it built that had been vacant for several years.

“We lose a lot of students from Wilson and Balsz to other districts and schools, so launching a school there will be an opportunity to capture some new enrollment from what has been an enrollment dead zone.”

The real attraction is the programming for this Phoenix Union-Wilson partnership.   The school, at 3005 E. Fillmore Street, is across the street from Wilson Elementary School. It will be built upon the foundation of the highly successful AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) College Readiness System that both Wilson and PUHSD have incorporated into their curricula. In fact, Wilson Elementary has earned the distinction as an AVID National Demonstration School, implementing AVID Elementary strategies schoolwide. This high school will be the first of its kind in the nation designed to provide AVID Secondary College Readiness to all students. The school will start with a maximum of 120 freshmen and add a class every year.

To the west, the issue is too many students. Trevor Browne and Maryvale continue to have enrollments over 3,000 students each, and Alhambra is full, as well.


“We have come up with small schools, schools-within-schools, but for the most part the west valley has been neglected. We need a lot of investment in the next five to ten years on that side of I-17.”


The first project is a new gifted and talented “micro” school, which will initially be housed at Maryvale.


“We have some remarkable learners throughout our valley, and this is a great opportunity to attract some students who don’t typically come to Phoenix Union. It will cater to the needs of an underserved population and much like other small schools, such as Franklin Police and Fire, it will start on a big campus, and can grow into its own small school.”


The district owns a small parcel next to Trevor Browne High School and is in the process of acquiring four more acres, fronting Thomas Road at 73rd Ave. This land can alleviate parking and traffic in the short term, and with a successful future construction bond, allow the district to build another structure, perhaps connected to Trevor Browne, or a stand-alone school.


Alhambra is beginning a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) Academy next fall, and discussions are underway for an Educator Academy partnering with Grand Canyon University, in which Phoenix Union students matriculate into college education programs, and return to the district and their neighborhoods to teach. This homegrown talent has significance for the near west side economy, as well as the cultural competency and diversity these new educators bring to the high schools.


“The primary reason behind the expansion is that we are at our highest enrollment since the 1977-78 school year and we are predicted to increase annually through 2024.  Additionally, in order to stay competitive in this choice-rich, open enrollment environment, it is critical that we stay relevant in today’s educational marketplace by continuing to offer new and unique schools and programs to meet the needs of our community,” Gestson said.


Phoenix Union currently has 17 schools, serving 27,761 students, and employing almost 3,000.   It is projected to grow to over 29,000 students over the next eight years.

For more information about the new AVID college prep academy, which is yet to be named, contact Dr. Zack Munoz at 602-764-1335 or zmunoz@phoneixujnion.org. For information on the gifted and talented academy, contact Dr. Renu Singh at rsingh@phoenixunion.org or PUHSD Exceptional Student Serivces at 602-764-1025.








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