All children can achieve as long as they have access to a quality education. This statement is a guiding principle at Vista College Prep, a high-performing K-5 elementary school located just south of downtown Phoenix.
Our school was recently highlighted by “A for Arizona,” a project of the Arizona Chamber Foundation in partnership with the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as a “fantastic model closing the achievement gap and dedicated to serving more students each year through growth and replication.”
Before opening our doors in 2013, I had the opportunity to travel across the country, studying the highest performing schools serving low income students. Our school model is based on the best practices of these proof points, and we have been successful for three primary reasons. First, we recruit people committed to a shared vision of excellence and an unwavering focus on the achievement of all students. Second, we have teachers, staff, and administrators who are dedicated to engaging parents and the community through innovative approaches. And third, we devote more time to learning – our day runs from 7:40 am to 4:00 p.m. even for kindergarten students. When combined, and executed well, dramatic and wonderful results for students are possible.
With 97% of our students qualifying for free and reduced price lunch, our students are proving that demographics do not determine destiny. We started last year with 94% of our students entering kindergarten below grade level in literacy, and we ended the year with 92% of our students reading at or above grade level. We retained 100% of our staff in our first three years, and we average nearly 100% parent participation at parent-teacher conferences.
The foundation for our success begins in kindergarten. We have committed to operating a full-day kindergarten program because the data tells us that a full day of kindergarten, especially in low-income communities, is essential. This commitment has only been made possible through substantial grant funding and generous donations. Without an increase in funding for full-day kindergarten, not only does sustainability and the ability to replicate continue to be a challenging proposition for us, but it gives schools the option to opt out of making kindergarten a designated, and fully funded grade.
Kindergarten provides the social, emotional, and academic foundation that allows our students to enter first and second grade with such greater confidence as they move toward the rigors of third grade.
Governor Ducey has outlined several budget priorities that will directly impact and benefit the students and teachers at Vista College Prep – training and retaining the highest quality teachers, increasing base funding so all public schools are not forced to do more with less, and of critical importance, ensuring that low income schools receive increased funding toward full day kindergarten.
Achieving excellence in education is possible, and essential. There are schools in Arizona, both charter and district, that are closing the achievement gap for students. We must invest in these proof points and this budget is the first step.
Julia Meyerson is the founder of Vista College Prep and Teach for America alumnus.
She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.