Chartering New Territory

Alternative schools take different approaches to public education

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The Rim country's educational offerings include a small group of charter schools public institutions that provide alternatives to mainstream public education.

The charter school movement began in the early 1990s, with Arizona passing the strongest of the nation's charter laws in 1994. As of January, there were 352 charter schools operating in Arizona more than any other state.

Since charter schools are, in essence, small public schools, they are funded by the state according to enrollment.

An extensive five-year study by the Goldwater Institute's Center for Market-Based Education gives Arizona's charter schools high marks for innovation, but also reveals some developing problems that threaten their long-term success. The Goldwater Institute is a Phoenix-based research organization that is generally pro-charter schools, and the study does emphasize a number of strengths.

According to the institute, charter schools are able to rapidly respond to marketplace changes and to serve disenfranchised and diverse students. The schools in the study also were praised for offering parents choices through a wide variety of curriculums, and for leading reform efforts in areas such as recruitment, facility construction and marketing and advertising.

But the study also finds fault with charters in a number of areas, including their failure to retain teachers, to ensure that all students get quality teaching, and to standardize curriculum. The study also noted that charters generally have high student turnover rates.

The Rim country has three charter schools: The Shelby School, a K-8 institution in Tonto Village that was private until receiving a charter in June 2000; Life School College Prep, a school for children in fifth grade through eighth grade that opened in August 2000; and the Payson Center for Success for students ages 16 to 21, which opened in 1996 and is sponsored by the Payson Unified School District.

Shelby School

The Shelby School, located in Tonto Village, has 53 students and a unique philosophy:

That education fails if it becomes separate from the family.

That the child's development as an emotionally well-balanced, expressive and compassionate being is as important as intellectual development.

That children have an inherent sense of their own purpose and a desire to serve and succeed, and need only our support and encouragement.

Working within that framework, the goal of The Shelby School is to create happy, communicative and serving adults who know that they are doing the best they can.

Classes at The Shelby School are small, allowing a student-teacher ratio of 6 to 1, and parents are intimately involved in its daily operation as administrators, teachers, coaches and drivers.

Life School College Preparatory

Billed as a "safe, small campus in the pines," Life School College Preparatory is completing its first year of operation in the Rim country.

Part of a chain of Life Schools based in the Valley, it is a whole-language school that teaches basic phonics principles to children in fifth grade through seventh grade. The Life School operates on an extended calendar that helps prevent learning burnout.

Payson Center for Success

The Payson Center for Success is unique as a charter school because it was chartered by a local school district and is operated as a district school.

Since first opening its doors to students 16-21 in 1996, the school has lived up to its promise of providing a coordinated program of core academic instruction and experiential learning to ensure improvement in student achievement.

Founded for students who need an educational setting which is nontraditional, the school embraces the philosophy that all children can learn given an appropriate and secure environment that emphasizes personal self-worth, promotes creativity and initiative, and meets the individual needs of each student's learning style.

The charter requirements that set Payson Center for Success apart from traditional schools include:

The use of a computerized learning lab for curriculum delivery.

An open entry/open exit format that allows students to enroll at any time within the school year without danger of being behind in a specific class.

Flexible scheduling options that include a mandatory 20-hour school week earned in five-hour morning or afternoon blocks of time over a 4-day week.

An all-school focus on career exploration and the attainment of technology skills and work ethics.

Collaboration with the community to implement the City-As-Schools program where students actually learn in the community through the use of mentors and internships.

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