Rachel Cesta spent part of this week turning in charter school applications for her children.
The Gilbert mom has looked at a charter school on the Mesa-Gilbert border, a traditional school in the Gilbert Unified School District and another school in Chandler.
“I like that we can choose another school. I grew up in Ohio. When I was going to school, you didn’t get to choose anything. You went where you went. I think it was really hard for a lot of kids. Here, you can go to a different school district entirely. I like that you have options based on what your needs are and how your kids learn. I think that’s important,” she said.
School districts and charter schools in Mesa, Gilbert, Tempe and Chandler have started accepting applications for open enrollment for next school year. Arizona law allows students to attend their neighborhood school, or apply to attend another school in their district or another district, as well as public charter schools.
If there is room available, those schools can accept those students.
In the Mesa Unified School District this year, more than 8,600 elementary school students from within Mesa boundaries are attending a school outside their neighborhood campus. More than 2,700 students in Mesa’s elementary, junior high and high schools come from outside the Mesa district. There are more than 62,000 students in the Mesa school system this year.
“Our goal is for students to be successful and parents are our partners in that. Many of them have a desire and a need for their child to have a specific type of experience. When backed by sound theory and practice, we are glad to offer those opportunities for students, so that all learners can be successful,” said Helen Hollands, the Mesa district’s director of communications.
Some Mesa schools don’t operate with boundaries. Students submit an open enrollment form to attend them.
“But then we have neighborhood schools that have unique characteristics. They aren’t separate programs, but they thrive on unique characteristics, like Zaharis Elementary School and the critical thinking theory and reading-based exploration (principal) Mike Oliver has there. It’s not designated as a school of choice or open enrollment like the Franklins. It’s a thematic program that’s successful for that school,” she said.
Hollands also pointed to Highland Elementary School, which puts a focus on the fine arts and Keller Elementary School that offers a dual language program.
Oliver said students come to his school in northeast Mesa from 10 different communities, and from as far away as Coolidge. About 400 students come to his school on open enrollment from within and outside the district
“I look at our school and think we have expanded the options for East Valley parents and Mesa by one. I think there is great value to provide patrons of Mesa as many options as we can,” Oliver said. “Zaharis is unique in the East Valley, anyway. If that’s what they’re looking for, we have what they want”
“We don’t try to posture ourselves on higher ground than other schools, but we do take great pride that we offer an option they can’t get anywhere else.”
Oliver said the district has received a lot of interest recently because of recognition in Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine as one of the top 25 “cool and innovative” schools in America. But even prior to that, parents came to the campus to learn more after reading about it on the school website or talking to other parents.
“Parents shop for schools today. We have tours … parents take a look at the school, much like when you shop for a car and kick the tires or take a test drive,” he said.
Arizona’s charter schools provide other options for parents. Some focus on the arts or advanced learning. Others use different methods of teaching, such as project-based learning.
The charter schools use their own timelines on when they accept applications for the next school year. If a parent is interested in enrolling, he or she should check the school’s website for campus tour dates and application deadlines.
Sometimes school districts create schools to meet parent demand.
The Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies opened in August 2007 and now offers an International Baccalaureate program for grades four through eight. The academy came about as parents requested more rigorous options for their students.
Other East Valley schools have also been created because of parent interest, including Chandler Traditional Academies and Gilbert Classical Academy.
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