School officials: Weekend arson won’t sway them - East Valley Tribune: News

School officials: Weekend arson won’t sway them

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Posted: Monday, March 17, 2008 3:08 pm | Updated: 10:52 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Mesa Arts Academy is a place of thought, where underprivileged children from the surrounding impoverished neighborhood come to learn.

Blaze damages Mesa school structure

VIDEO: See footage of the damage to the school

Yet during the weekend a thoughtless act of destruction - arson - wrecked one of the charter school's buildings. Despite this crime, educators are determined to continue teaching.

"This is not going to stop us," teacher Roger Healy said Monday, as he sat outside the charred, boarded-up portable building. He had been there the night before after news of the fire broke.

The fire was set shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday at the school, 221 W. Sixth Ave. According to investigators, someone pushed a blue plastic recycling bin against the portable's wall and then set it on fire. There are no suspects.

Damage is estimated at $350,000, Deputy Fire Chief Mike Dunn said. No one was hurt.

The portable, one of five, housed the school's offices, a meeting room and library, Principal Sue Douglas said. Lost are computers, a copier, collections of the children's artwork and, possibly, 13 years of records.

"Our homerooms are OK; the classrooms are fine," Douglas said. "We have a safe place for the kiddos - that's what matters."

Mesa Arts Academy is fully owned and operated by the East Valley Boys and Girls Club, and is located on that organization's Grant Woods Branch campus. Its student body comprises 200-plus children taking classes at every level from kindergarten through eighth grade.

Douglas said 80 percent of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for the federal school lunch program, and half come to the school speaking no English.

Despite those hardships, in 2006 all of the school's eighth-graders passed the math and writing portions of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards.

"And 83 percent exceeded in math, and that was the highest score in the state among public schools," Douglas said.

The school has been deemed so successful, paying a visit a year ago was U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.

Spring break is this week, but some students who live nearby watched their school burn on Sunday night.

When classes resume on March 24, a morning pep rally is planned. The AIMS test is in two weeks, and school officials said they aren't about to let a criminal's act interrupt the students' education.

Anyone with information is asked to call (800) 352-7766.

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