While Superintendent Lynn Robershotte gives a tour through Gilbert's Edu-Prize School, a young boy runs up to tell her hello.
She asks him what he wants to do when he grows up.
"I want to build a school next to Edu-Prize," he beams.
"When he heard that Dr. Robershotte started her own school that got to have its own focus, he said to me, ‘When I grow up, I want to start a school,'" the long-time educator says as she continues the tour. "It's awesome that they feel empowered to start their own school or business."
In 1995, Robershotte and a group of former Mesa educators launched one of the first schools to receive a charter under a law that created public charter schools in Arizona.
Since then, Edu-Prize Schools have grown, adding a campus that now serves 1,800 students in Pinal County, with thousands of parents clamoring for a lottery spot.
It's not just that the school is doing something different. Based on state and national recognition, the school is doing something right.
Next week, the innovative leader will be recognized during Lynn Robershotte Day, a follow-up to the Arizona Charter School Association naming Robershotte the 2010 Educational Leader of the Year.
With a doctorate degree in curriculum, Robershotte has been challenging the way students are taught for years. Edu-Prize's science-based curriculum is centered around applied learning, where students read about the subjects, then take the ideas and test them or apply them to hands-on projects or future business plans.
"Schools that say you can't teach it in a fun way and meet the standards haven't gone from grassroots up to build their own curriculum. They're teaching out of textbooks that don't do that," she said.
Maps of the United States and Arizona are painted on the concrete by the playground. The campus includes a large hydroponic greenhouse. There are five tech labs and two science labs on the Gilbert campus. Every corner has an animal, poster or display. Lessons morph from inside the classrooms to the hallways to outdoors.
"Dr. Robershotte stands out as a model leader because of her dedication to education, the charter movement and her students," Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association, said in an e-mail. "Her 15 years of involvement in the charter movement has produced high levels of student achievement, innovative curriculum approaches, and an overall feeling of love and community among her staff."
Gilbert Mayor John Lewis will also be on hand when Robershotte is recognized next week.
"I have seen first hand the wonderful education that is, and have been involved with the school extensively in the last couple of years," Lewis told the Tribune. "Parental involvement is about as good as I've ever seen. They have a strong sense of community."
When she began Edu-Prize, Robershotte said she knew it would take off.
"I had a 10-year plan" of expansion and growth, she said. In 2007, the Pinal campus opened.
"Every year we get parents coming to us and begging us to bring Edu-Prize to their communities," she said. "It's been quite an act of love and passion and at times, frustration."
That frustration, she said, stems from the way public schools - particularly charter schools - are funded in the state. She plans to keep fighting for improvement, but recognizes there may be limits as the state's economic situation sags along the next few years.
Edu-Prize turned to creative scheduling to add more students as a way to increase revenues. In addition to a regular school-day offering, a voluntary alternative schedule is offered that brings students to school five straight hours a day with no breaks. It allows classrooms to be used twice as much and moves students off the growing wait lists
"We're here and we'll continue to service children," she said of the future for the schools. "Financially it's going to be a challenge for us. But I'm a careful manager of those funds."