East Mesa is the newest battleground in the fight for students. This fall, two new academies will open — just one mile apart from each other.
“We’ve been eyeing Mesa for the last two or three years,” said Dan Scoggin, chief executive officer of Great Hearts Preparatory Academies, which runs three charter schools in the Valley, including the prestigious Tempe Preparatory Academy. Great Hearts now plans to open a fourth school — Mesa Preparatory Academy. “We noticed a lot of our families come from far east Mesa, and a lot of them had complained about the long drive.”
Not so fast. The Mesa Unified School District also plans to duke it out for those kids — sharp students who are willing to work hard and go beyond the typical classes and homework.
“We want to provide as much music and foreign language instruction as we can, but when the rubber hits the road, the bottom line is we’re looking at academics, and acceleration. It’s advanced studies,” said Bob Crispin, principal at the Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, which will also open in fall.
Both schools require a more extensive application process. Both require uniforms and the study of foreign languages. And both encourage students to lead classroom discussion by asking questions.
Enrollment in the Mesa Unified School District has declined for the second straight year. The district has 447 fewer students than it did last year.
Joe O’Reilly, executive director for student achievement support, said that loss cannot be wholly attributed to competition from local charter schools, because they, too, have experienced declining enrollment this year.
The drop in students appears to be regional, and could be related to high housing prices, he said.
Still, district officials hope their new “focus schools” will jump-start enrollment. The Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies will emphasize a core curriculum of math, science and language arts, but will allow students to explore those topics in greater depth. Students will learn by asking and answering questions about classroom topics and by completing research projects, officials said.
In addition, Mandarin language classes and Suzuki Method violin instruction for all students will likely be offered, said Crispin, currently the principal of the district’s Carson Junior High School in west Mesa.
The academy will be hightech, with wireless Internet and laptop computers in the classrooms, and students will be required to take applied technology courses. In addition, the school will seek candidacy from the International Baccalaureate Organization, which would allow it to offer a seamless transition to the high school IB program at Mesa’s Westwood High School.
The district’s academy will serve fourth through ninth grades, while the Great Hearts new charter school, Mesa Preparatory Academy, will enroll seventh- and eighth-graders. The charter plans to add one grade each year through 12th grade.
Mesa Prep will offer a rigorous curriculum and use the Socratic Method, in which students lead discussion by asking questions. “We’re going after the average student who really wants to work hard,” Scoggin said. “It’s traditional liberal arts. ... We encourage profound thought.”
Moving against specialization of any kind, the charter school aims to provide a “classical liberal arts” education for students, who will study great thinkers and authors of Western Civilization, he said.
For example, eighth-graders will read “Beowulf” and “The Merchant of Venice,” study advanced algebra, music theory, the fall of Rome, the Great Depression and calligraphy, in addition to other topics.
While some small charters do not offer much in the way of art, Great Hearts Academies requires music theory and recorder lessons, as well as two fine arts in each grade level. By graduation, students must perform in four plays, Scoggin said.
In keeping with its classical approach, seventh- and eighth-graders will take Latin, but can choose a modern foreign language in ninth grade.
While some school districts encourage students to choose a path of study early, Scoggin supports the opposite approach.
“We want our students to be that true classical sense of what a Renaissance man or woman is. We don’t want them to specialize, to say ‘I’m going to be an engineer so I’m going to only study math and science,’” Scoggin said. “We want them to study the great subjects of Western Civilization.”
Mesa Preparatory Academy
Operated by: Great Hearts Preparatory Academies
Grades: 7,8, eventually through grade 12
Location: 6659 E. University Drive
Application process: Parent and student short answers, signed letter of understanding
Transportation: Public bus tokens offered to students in need
Foreign languages: Latin, Spanish, German and French
Capacity: 120 the first year, eventually 350
Web site: www.greatheartsaz.org/
Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies
Operated by: Mesa Unified School District
Location: Southeast corner, Power, Brown roads
Application process: Submit 2 years of academic history, most recent AIMS scores, teacher recommendations, letter of commitment and interview with the principal.
Transportation: Bus service along main roads
Foreign languages: Mandarin and Spanish
Capacity: 500 students
Web site: www.mpsaz.org/academy/index_eng.html