Rolls Filling, But Still Open At Charter School

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Sixty students have enrolled in the Life School College Preparatory School, a new charter school scheduled to open here in August, but school administrators are still searching for a school building.

"We're looking at a building at 1100 N. Beeline," local Life School director and teacher Patrick Tatum said, "and we're talking with (the board of directors for) a local church."

The school, which is open to students in fifth through eighth grades, will likely be divided into two classes: a fifth- and sixth-grade combination class and a seventh- and eighth-grade combination class, Tatum said.

Each class will include about 30 students, he said, and nine students have been placed on a school waiting list. The school is still accepting students for the waiting list. There is no tuition charged.

Tatum, who will teach one of the classes, is interviewing applicants for a second teaching position.

Although Tatum has several years of teaching experience, he is not state certified. Applicants for the second teaching position don't have to be state certified either, he said.

"A degree would be nice, but it isn't required," he said.

Life School will follow a traditional school schedule this year, Tatum said, but that may change next school year. Classes will begin Aug. 13, the same day classes begin at Rim Country Middle School.

"Holding school year-round has been a hot topic among parents," he said, "but we decided that would be too much too fast. To minimize any chaos or confusion, we decided to go traditional this year, but to look real hard at year-round classes next year."

The school will offer limited extracurricular activities such as dance and art, he said. "We're also looking for a music instructor and we're working on a (physical education) program."

School administrators will host an open house from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Payson Public Library to elect officers for the school's Parent Advisory Board.

The board, which has a limited say in school-related decisions, normally includes 10 to 15 families, Tatum said. Parents who have students enrolled in the school elect the officers, and the officers appoint the remaining board members.

"One of the first topics we'll address is a school dress code," he said.

A library orientation will be held for Life School students and parents at 7 p.m. June 22 and 2 p.m. June 23.

For election-related information, call Emmalee Sweet at 474-3820; for general information, call Christy Walton at 472-8705, and for weekly school updates, call the Rim Country Hotline at 474-4269, ext. 171.

Life School director: 'We strive to build a community'

Life School College Preparatory, a new charter school that will open in Payson in August, is designed to provide students with a close-knit learning community, tailor-made learning plans and one-on-one teacher instruction, school director Patrick Tatum said.

Tatum, who will be available to answer parents' questions Saturday during the school's open house at the Payson Public Library, responded to a round of questions from the Roundup Wednesday.

Q: Who issued your charter? (Schools can be chartered by the state Board of Education, the state Board of Charter Schools or by public-school districts.)

A: The (State) Board of Education.
Q: What is the school's mission and teaching philosophy?

A: We want our students to be prepared for life -- not an idealized or stylized life -- but for real life.

First and foremost, we're academically based. We want students to achieve a mastery of the materials presented. And we strive to build a community. We go back to some of the basics: self-respect, mutual-respect, responsibility, and those aren't things that are out in the Netherlands. Those are things we talk about in the classroom.

Q: Are you certified by the state Board of Education? What is your education background? How many years of teaching experience do you have?

A: No, I don't have a teaching degree. I've worked eight years as a substitute and four years as a full-time teacher. I taught full-time at the Arizona School for the Arts and Life School (in the Valley.)

Q: Will other teachers at the school be certified by the state Board of Education?

A: A degree would be nice, but it isn't required. We're looking for a person who is student oriented.

Q: What is your school's discipline philosophy?

A: I would have to classify myself as a disciplinarian. You have to have discipline in a learning environment. If there's a repeated problem, I'll be on the phone to the parents.

Q: Who makes the decisions at your school? Do you use a parent site council, or are all decisions made by the school faculty?

A: If it's an academic question, that's a decision that lies in my area, but parents can offer input.

Parents also can request specific learning material for their children. This is why our individual learning plans are so important. We'll discuss it and how realistic it is.

The Parent Advisory Board is a separate entity. I'll look for their input on matters such as extracurricular activities, transportation, student council and volunteers.

Q: What expectations does the school have for parents?

A: When we start off, we ask parents and students to sign a compact so everyone understands what the expectations are. We want parents to be aware of what's going on at school.

Q: Must parents volunteer a certain number of hours at the school?

A: Volunteerism isn't required, but we do let parents know how much it is appreciated.

Q: Is the school prepared to handle disabled children or children with learning problems?

A: Yes. We do IEPs, Individual Education Plans. Traditionally, once a learning-disabled student has been identified, the state provides plans for setting and obtaining goals.

Q: Have you been successful in obtaining grants to help students meet those goals?

A: Not as successful as we'd like to be. We'd always like to be more successful.

Q: What standardized tests will you administer to students?

A: Stanford 9, AIMS.
Q: Does the school charge service fees for things such as art classes and extracurricular activities?

A: No.
Q: Why are you opening Life School in Payson?

A: I grew up in Arizona, and I'm particularly fond of Payson. Frankly, I wanted to move here, so I came up to test the waters and see if there was any interest in the school. I've been overwhelmed with the response.

Q: What advantage do you think your school offers over public education?

A: I think the biggest thing is we have lots of teacher-student contact. This is a day and age when teachers are encouraged to distance themselves from their students. We go in exactly the opposite direction. We want to be involved in the students' lives and the lives of their families. It takes more time, but we think it's worth it.

Charter school open house
What: Life School open house and Parent Advisory Board election of officers

Where: Payson Public Library
When: 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday, June 19

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