A new public charter school is set to open in Payson this fall for students in the middle grades.
Officials for Life School, the oldest charter school in Arizona, plan to open a one-class school for fifth- and sixth-graders or sixth- and seventh-graders.
The college preparatory school will initially admit 30 students, but Patrick Tatum, the director for the new school, said he expects to expand the school's grade offerings each year.
"From what we've read and found through studies, Payson is ready for some help in the middle school grades," he said. "We believe college preparatory begins at the mid-school level in discipline and study habits."
Rim Country Middle School, which has 665 students enrolled this year, is nearing capacity, Payson School Superintendent Russ Kinzer said earlier this year.
The student-to-teacher ratio at Life School will be 15-1, Tatum said. Tatum and a second teacher or a teacher's aide will teach the class.
Life School is funded by tax dollars and is required to meet state standards. The school is under the same requirements as public schools to accept students. No tuition is charged.
Life School currently operates seven sites in cities around Arizona, including St. John's, Show Low and Mesa.
Tatum said Life School and Payson's first charter school, Payson Center for Success, have different charters.
Payson Center for Success is for students who want an alternative to traditional education as a way to graduate high school, he said. Life School emphasizes mastery of subjects.
"Students must master their subjects," he said. "They must earn an average of 85 percent on each test or assignment. If they fail, they're given opportunities to redo their work until they pass that 85-percent mark.
"We don't do social passing, we insist on parent involvement; we develop individual learning plans for each student and we mentor the students."
Tatum held an open house last week at the Payson Public Library to promote the school and ask for public feedback. He said the response was higher than he expected.
"I ran out of handouts," he said, "and I got five serious intents to enroll."
Many of the parents that attended the open house expressed a real interest in year-round schooling, he said. "I hadn't considered that before, but it's something we're going to take a look at."
If the school follows a traditional school year, Life School is scheduled to open the third week in August. If it adopts a year-round schedule, that target date could change, he said.
"We want students who want to work, but we'll enroll any students who want to register," he said.
Life School has reserved booth No. 21 at the Payson Business Showcase this weekend and will hold another open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 24 at the Payson Public Library.
For more information, call toll free (877) 985-6112.