January 28, 2005
East Valley parents stuck on the waiting list to get their children into the state’s top-performing charter high school soon will have options.
The same rigorous curriculum that has delivered results at Tempe Preparatory Academy since 1996 will come to a new site this fall in Chandler with financial backing from the Walton Family Foundation and other donors anxious to see the spread of the school model.
Other East Valley sites will follow at locations not yet determined.
Organizers of the expansion hope to dot the Valley with as many as 12 college preparatory charter schools by 2012 — all modeled after Tempe Preparatory and each serving about 350 students from seventh through 12th grade.
The second site in the plan, Veritas Preparatory Academy in Phoenix, opened in 2003 and already has topped all surrounding public schools on the Stanford 9 test.
"Think of the possibilities if there were Tempe preparatory academies — and Chandler and Veritas preparatory academies — spread throughout the metropolitan Phoenix area," Tempe headmaster Daniel Scoggin said.
At Tempe Preparatory, juniors rarely take AIMS because 100 percent in most years pass all three portions of the highstakes graduation test on their first try as sophomores. Overall, the academy has led all Maricopa County schools on AIMS four years in a row.
Meanwhile, the average SAT score for Tempe Preparatory graduates since 2001 has been 1240 — better than 83 percent of all test-takers nationwide and 210 points above the national average.
"This school was built for average kids who are willing to work hard," Scoggin said.
The curriculum includes no electives, but plenty of homework.
Every student performs in at least one Shakespearean play and studies Latin, music theory, visual arts, science, humanities and advanced mathematics. Tempe Preparatory is also a Class 1A member of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, and more than 70 percent of students participate in at least one sport.
Classes are capped at 20 students so that teachers can use the Socratic method — asking questions and allowing students to learn by discovering the answers themselves. In one classroom this week, hands shot up four or five at a time as freshmen debated an ethical point from Herman Melville’s "Billy Budd, Sailor."
Next door, seniors compared Montaigne’s essays on virtue with Aristotle’s definition of happiness. And across the main courtyard, seventhgraders raced each other to conjugate Latin verbs.
Meanwhile, three sophomore girls stood in front of another room and fielded questions from their peers about how they solved a certain physics equation.
"We needed the net force and the force of gravity to find the force of water," one of the girls said in response to one question, and the class nodded in understanding.
The teacher, Tom Hickernell, has a doctorate in physics but seemed content to sit quietly at a student’s desk in the back of the room and watch the students discover the subject for themselves.
"We want students who have profound eloquence," Scoggin explained.
Scoggin also knows what he wants in his teachers: "People who have a life calling to work with teenagers."
Plenty have applied already to teach at Chandler Preparatory Academy, Scoggin said, holding up a thick stack of resumes that he said came almost immediately after the publication of a classified advertisement. Besides offering a salary similar to those at most East Valley school districts, the academies also give each teacher two preparation periods during the day so they will stay fresh.
As public charter schools, Tempe Preparatory and Chandler Preparatory are privately operated but funded with public dollars and are tuition-free. Parents, however, do have to provide students’ transportation. There are no admission requirements; parents simply provide the school with the student’s name and contact information, and students are then selected through a lottery.
Scoggin said the cost to open one academy ranges from about $650,000 to lease property and $1.1 million to purchase property.
After the academies open, Scoggin said funding from the state falls about $1,000 short per student per year. The rest comes from private donations, he said.
Open enrollment: For information on Chandler Preparatory Academy, call (480) 839-3402.