8/1/2012 10:48:00 AM Top in U.S., charter school looks to quad-cities for interest
BASIS Schools Director of New Schools Development, Nicke Fleege, explains the schools’ pick as #1 and #3 most challenging high schools in the U.S. by the Washington Post and the #3 high school in the nation by Newsweek at Saturday’s presentation.
Parents may have another choice in their children's education in the quad-communities if they can generate enough interest to open a BASIS School campus to serve area children in 5-12 grades.
Representatives from BASIS Schools, ranked #1 and #3 in the nation for Most Challenging High School by the Washington Post, spoke to more than 200 people Saturday at the Prescott Resort about the schools' philosophy, curriculum and expectations. Founded in 1998 in Tucson, the charter now consists of eight schools, including a Flagstaff campus that opened this past year and a new campus opening this year in Washington, D.C.
Laura Robinson, mother of two girls in third and sixth grades at Christian Academy of Prescott, said she visited the Flagstaff campus and found the teachers "articulate, excited and innovative."
"The kids were smiling, eager, interacting with the teacher - it was the best classroom you can imagine," Robinson said. "When I first heard about BASIS, I thought it's too good to be true. I had to see for myself."
After the visit, she realized either BASIS had to come to Prescott, or the family would move to Flagstaff. She signed up her older daughter for this year, expecting to spend the week there with the children and join her husband back in Prescott on the weekends, but ultimately decided she wouldn't split her family; they would wait a year.
Robinson said she is "extremely happy" with the education her daughters receive at Christian Academy. "BASIS is a completely different atmosphere. It is so far beyond any school in Prescott, and we have good schools here. It's not that I dislike our current school or I'm unhappy. This is just another choice for education among other good choices," she said.
The school's rigorous curriculum is modified for newly-opened campuses, said Nick Fleege, BASIS director of New Schools Development. Fifth-graders take nine classes, including Latin I, physical geography, introduction to science, classics, math 8/7 or algebra I, English 5, music, art and PE. Incoming sixth-graders, for instance, would need to begin with these classes, and take Latin II and one hour each of biology, chemistry and physics in the seventh grade, Fleege said.
Since the regular curriculum offers students enough credits to graduate at the end of 11th-grade, students entering at the sixth-grade level would be one year behind in classes, but still graduate in their senior year.
All fifth-graders and new students take a class in organizational study skills. All schools offer student support, peer tutoring, and a homework buddy system. Students are responsible for keeping track of homework assignments, not the parents, he said.
The homework buddy system works when a student is sick or on vacation, the buddy will collect handouts and take notes for the absent student.
Teachers come from the field or profession in which they teach. Fleege said they are highly qualified and passionate about their subject matter, but not all have teaching certificates. Arizona does not require charter schools to hire only certified teachers.
"So sixth-graders will take biology, chemistry and physics taught by a biologist, chemist and physicist," Fleege said. Teachers must demonstrate teaching skills during the interview process and attend a weeklong teacher institute.
Cameron Mackenzie, a seventh-grader this year, will attend the Phoenix BASIS school next year. He is going down to the Valley early to take the study skills class for new students.
"I might be doing the 7:20 a.m. class for extra tutoring and maybe after school for a couple of hours," Cameron said. "I'm thinking I'll be doing a lot of that, and I will catch up by Christmas. It's going to be great. I'm happy to be going there."
Cameron, his younger siblings and mom, Jodi, will stay in a Peoria rental during the week and head home to be with dad, Keith, on the weekends.
Cameron had been working above eighth-grade level math with his math teacher at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Prescott, and he excelled in all other subjects, his mother said. He's looking forward to taking Algebra II.
"I am a math person. It's going to be a great challenge," he said.
Seventh-graders take a foreign language: French, Latin, Mandarin or Spanish. By eighth-grade, they take their first Advanced Placement class (World History II) and start earning high school credit in math classes. All students take a minimum of six AP classes during high school. Fleege said 2012 BASIS graduates took an average of 9.1 AP exams, with a pass rate of 88 percent.
Seniors can take post-AP Capstone courses in a variety of subjects that are the equivalent of college courses. They also may serve an internship in a field they wish to pursue in college.
One ninth-grader sat through the presentation and already talks about a senior project he'd like to do at the base camp of Mt. Everest. He and his sister, who is heading into the sixth-grade, also want to take French.
"I'm not being pushed enough," the sixth-grader said. "At this school, I won't be bored. And as long as I'm getting a good education, I'll do the homework." Students in the fifth-grade can expect 75-90 minutes of homework daily, Fleege said.
This family has ties to a local school district and did not want their names published. The family hopes to find enough interested students to open a BASIS school next year in any of the quad-communities.
Caroline Dixon, sixth-grader, said she found the math classes at her school consists of "75 percent review." She took a science class in fifth- grade and said she didn't learn much.
Her mother, Allison, said, "When a parent hears that, they say, 'We're moving to Tucson.' I can't stand hearing that." She said she was following news about BASIS schools for the past four to five years and considered moving when her daughter entered fifth-grade. She has signed up on the school's website tracking interested families.
A good target number of interest is about 500 students, Fleege said. He will return for another informational meeting in about three weeks. In the meantime, parents may sign up at www.basislink.org. This list is the only way BASIS officials track interest.
Fleege said the schools offer a variety of after-school activities, clubs and sports, but these are probably the school's weakness. One of the Tucson schools offers fencing and the Scottsdale school has cricket and rugby. "We let the kids determine what they want," he said. "I tell them, 'If you want a prom, I'm going to ask you to organize it.'"
He said BASIS is an open-enrollment, public charter school which is free and has no admission test. Schools also do not keep track of income levels or offer lunch.
"BASIS believes a student who is less fortunate is not less capable," he said.
The Washington Post said BASIS Tucson listed 1 percent of its 662-student enrollment as students with special needs. The BASIS Scottsdale school listed 0 percent. As a general rule, Fleege said he does not give out percentages of students receiving special education.
For more information, visit www.Basisschools.org or email quadcitiesforBasis@gmail.com to connect with local families.