Tag Archives: charter schools in Arizona

Russian pianist plays Scottsdale

Story and photos by Daniel Friedman

Sixth grade students in Nancy Carvone’s music history/piano class at BASIS Scottsdale were treated to a private concert by Russian-born pianist Katya Grineva, who is in town for a concert at the MIM on Saturday at 7pm.

Grineva played Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Chopin and De Falla on a brand new upright Steinway that still had the tags on it. The students listened intently as Grineva played, then asked how long she practiced. Grineva said she practiced eight hours a day when she was a teenager, but now “just” three to five hours each day, depending on how much she was traveling.

Katya Grineva signs autographs at the end of class.

They wanted to know how she played so fast. The answer was the same as the classic “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” where New York-based Grineva has played many times: practice.

Grineva told students how she started playing piano when she was 5 and decided when she was 13 to make it her life. Her family didn’t have much money but when they managed to get a piano her mother said if Katya didn’t practice she would gladly sell it.

Grineva and new fans.

On the way out of class, students asked Grineva to autograph their sheet music, and only as the students were waiting to be dismissed did they ask to have their picture taken with her.

Some students asked their friends to take their picture with Grineva.


BASIS opens Chandler campus

BASIS Schools will celebrate the opening of a new campus in Chandler tomorrow with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at which Gov. Jan Brewer will speak.

The BASIS Chandler campus will offer a rigorous curriculum for fifth through 10th grade students this August, expanding to fifth through 12th grades by the fall of 2013.

BASIS has been operating charter schools in Arizona for a decade. The school’s first two campuses opened in Tucson and Scottsdale, and both have received top national rankings by such publications as Newsweek, BusinessWeek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. A third campus in Oro Valley opened last year.

The ceremony commences at 9 a.m., and will take place at the new campus, located at 1800 E. Chandler Boulevard.

Seating is limited, so RSVPs are required for the event. To reserve a seat, call 480-289-2088 or email arwynn.gilroy@basiseducation.net. — Sadie Smeck

The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman

BASIS Schools to expand in Chandler, Peoria and Flagstaff

Craig Barrett, president and chairman of BASIS Schools, and Carolyn McGarvey, head of school, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Oro Valley BASIS school, which opened in August as the third BASIS campus in Arizona. Photo courtesy of BASIS Schools.

BASIS Schools, Inc. recently announced two major financial grants that will help the charter schools expand significantly in Arizona.

Craig Barrett, Ph.D., former chairman and CEO of Intel Corp. and current president and chairman of BASIS Schools, and his wife, Barbara Barrett, are contributing $300,000 over the next three years for the BASIS expansion. The Rodel Foundation is also contributing $300,000 over the same period.

The contributions will play a key role in the opening of three new BASIS schools in Flagstaff, Peoria and Chandler for the 2011-12 school year. BASIS aims to serve nearly 10,000 students in five years.

BASIS Arizona charter schools in Tucson, Scottsdale and Oro Valley have received national recognition for their outstanding academic quality in Newsweek, U.S. News and World Report and BusinessWeek.

“We are extremely grateful to the Barretts and to the Rodel Foundation for their steadfast commitment to world-class public education,” says BASIS co-founder Michael Block, Ph.D. “BASIS produces students who are able to compete with their contemporaries worldwide. The Barretts’ and the Rodel Foundation’s generous contributions will ensure that even more Arizona students will have access to BASIS’ nationally recognized schools.”

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Glenn Hamer believes that the BASIS expansion represents an opportunity for improved economic development in the state.

“Employers want to locate in areas where they can offer their employees outstanding educational options,” Hamer says. “As we saw in Oro Valley, where the town government and area employers collaborated to bring a BASIS campus, this next BASIS expansion will make communities like Peoria, Flagstaff and Chandler increasingly more attractive to employers. This is an exciting time not only for Arizona education, but for Arizona’s economic environment.”

The tuition-free charter schools do not require entrance examinations and are open to all students as long as there is space available. For more information, visit basisschools.org.

Arts education – making do with limited resources

The first statewide Arizona Arts Education Census shows that many Arizona schools have found ways to deliver arts education programs with few dedicated resources.

Results from the statewide research show that nearly 90 percent of Arizona students have access to at least one arts education program. But half of the schools responding to the survey reported no budget for curricular support in arts education — and almost eight out of 10 schools spent less than half a penny a day on arts education.

“The results show a remarkable dichotomy,” says Robert Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. “On one hand, we know that there are opportunities for students across the state to access arts education programs, but at the same time limited or no funding exists to support these programs. Some of our Arizona children are attending schools where they receive limited arts education and in some cases they receive none at all.

“One fact is very clear: the arts make a difference. Children receiving art instruction as part of their education have greater success in reading, mathematics, thinking and social skills, and are more likely to stay in school.”

The census, conducted between March 15 and September 15, 2009 by New Jersey-based Quadrant Arts Education Research on behalf of the Arizona Department of Education and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, produced responses from 409 charter and district schools representing 236,645 students in every county and school district in the state.

Funding for the census was provided by the Arizona Arts Education Research Institute (AAERI), a partnership of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Arizona Department of Education, College of Fine Arts at the University of Arizona, College of Arts & Letters at Northern Arizona University and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University. Additional funding was provided by the Arizona Community Foundation.

Highlights of the census are being released today at the first Joint Arts Education Conference at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. Download the full report.

“It is important that the vast majority of Arizona schools are showing that they value arts education by providing access to the arts for their students,” says Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The Arizona Department of Education is eager to learn from schools that are providing high quality and rich arts education programs in these tough economic times, and to help schools having difficulty in providing the arts find workable solutions. Arts education is a vital component of a well-rounded education, and one which every Arizona student should have access to.”

Some highlights of the report, which also includes recommendations for parents, educators and students as well as for policy changes and adaptations:

• 87% of students have access to some dance, music, theater or visual arts in their schools.

• 55% of schools provide the required instruction in music and visual arts while 21% reported no arts classes or courses for students.

• 90% of schools with music and 76% with visual art use certified arts specialists.

• 56% of schools have updated curricula reflecting the Arizona Academic Arts Standards.

• Only 39% of high schools weight arts courses equally with other academic subjects and only 12% weight advanced arts courses equally with other advanced academic courses.

• General music and art are most popular in elementary and middle schools, general art and dance most popular in high schools. More high school students are enrolled in dance than in band, orchestra or theater.

• Charter schools are significantly less likely to provide arts courses for students or have highly qualified teachers providing instruction than district schools.

• More than 134,000 students attend schools every day with no access to arts education taught by a highly qualified teacher.

The Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics in Tempe, New School for the Arts and New School for the Arts Middle School in Phoenix, StarShine Academy of Phoenix, Ash Creek Elementary School in Pearce, Center for Educational Excellence in Tempe, and South Mountain High School in Phoenix led the top 10 percent of Arizona schools for arts education based on the Arizona Arts Education Index, which was created using responses to the census.

Arizona’s immigration law will create “a chilling effect” on education

The Arizona School Boards Association has condemned Gov. Jan Brewer’s signing of SB1070, Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, saying the law “will create a chilling effect that will make some parents hesitant to send their children to school.”

“The Arizona School Boards Association believes the needs of students must be the foundation of, and driving force behind, the entire educational system and that it is the responsibility of the local school district, with the support of the state and federal governments, to create opportunities for success for each and every student,” said Panfilo H. Contreras, executive director of the ASBA, in a statment issues yesterday. “We fear that SB1070 will create a chilling effect that will make some parents hesitant to send their children to school, even if those children are eligible to attend Arizona public schools, thus inhibiting such opportunities for success.”

The ASBA promotes community volunteer governance of public education and continuous improvement of student success by providing leadership and assistance to school governing boards. More than 240 school boards and charter schools from across Arizona, representing 1,200-plus school board members and over 1 million children, are member.

What do you think about SB1070? Let us know.