Non-profit opens charter schools to serve poorest students

Paulina Pineda//June 4, 2018

Non-profit opens charter schools to serve poorest students

Paulina Pineda//June 4, 2018

cover2A Phoenix nonprofit aiming to open 25 A-rated charter schools serving students in the city’s urban core by 2020 is well on its way to meeting its goal.

Through funding from the Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation, New Schools for Phoenix, an organization associated with the Arizona Charter Schools Association, has worked to open quality schools in high-poverty areas by training leaders who want to open a new school, replicate a successful one, like was the case with the first school opened as part of the program, or reform a failing one.

Since 2014, New Schools for Phoenix has opened 17 schools serving elementary to high school students.

Another five charter schools will open this fall and six others are slated to open in 2019.

Most schools in the program are located in areas where the 2018 per capita income is less than $31,800, with many in areas where the per capita income is less than $24,900, according to a presentation provided to the Arizona Capitol Times by the Charter Schools Association.

At almost every school in the program, more than 70 percent of students received free or reduced lunch through the National School Lunch Program during the 2017-18 school year, with most schools reporting more than 90 percent of its students participating in the program.

Statewide, only 57 percent of students participated in the program during the last school year, according to the Arizona Department of Education.

All together, the schools in the program will serve an estimated 12,500 students in some of the poorest areas of Phoenix, said Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of the Charter Schools Association.

“In our Phoenix urban core, K-12 education is one pathway to lift students and provide them with options and choices for the future,” she said. “We’re making a difference by getting talented leaders to hire great teachers, put them in the right classrooms and relentlessly use data to improve culture, results, curriculum, everything, at each school.”

Sigmund said the program supports leaders who want to open new schools by working with the Department of Education and the federal government to secure start-up funds and grants. The program also helps leaders find a location, train teachers and develop curriculum that best fits the schools’ and students’ needs.

This year, New Schools for Phoenix launched two professional development series designed to help guide new and prospective charter school operators through the process of opening a new school by providing them information about budget and financial management, charter application, and maintenance and operations of a school.

The program also worked with the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools to provide training to charter schools’ founding committees as they make the transition to a school governing board.

Sigmund said the program also raised money to send teachers and school leaders in Arizona to other states with strong charter programs to see how they can replicate those models and use it as a “footprint” for their schools.

“When schools are starting they don’t get any startup money to hire teachers, do marketing, buy buildings. So we support them in whatever they may need,” she said.

While all of the schools aren’t yet A-rated and lag behind the statewide average on the state’s standardized test, the AzMERIT, Sigmund said school leaders are working to identify what works best for its students to achieve that goal.

After 2020, schools in the program will transition to another nonprofit branch associated with the Charter Schools Association, the Center for Student Achievement, which will ensure the long-lasting success of the schools, she said.