There is a reason charter schools continue to gain students in Arizona. Parents are demanding options. Indeed, the market has responded, offering parents a long list of ways to educate their children, all of them tuition free. Our lawmakers have wisely created an atmosphere in which quality charter schools can flourish.
Primavera has recently joined a long list of charter schools that have been targeted by The Arizona Republic as the paper seems intent on halting the growth of charter schools and limiting options for parents and students.
The Republic’s anti-charter agenda runs counter to what parents and students need and want.
Primavera is an online charter school, designated by the state as an “alternative school.” Nearly 80 percent of our students come to us missing critical skills, behind in school credits, or needing more support and flexibility than traditional schools are able to offer. Operating over some 20 years, we now educate upwards of 24,000 students per year.
Some of our students have been bullied at their previous school. Some are low income students working to support their families or teen moms needing a more flexible schedule. We have a large contingent of LGBTQ students who felt unwelcome in other educational settings.
More than 20 percent of our students are between the ages of 18 and 21, most of whom had previously dropped out of high school. Primavera offers tuition free summer school to our students. This ensures that every student has access to the same educational options, regardless of their ability to pay.
Without Primavera, Arizona’s overall dropout rate would be higher. Primavera is the top choice for students who need to make up classes they’ve failed or missed. Without this option, they won’t stay on track to graduate. Yet The Republic took aim at Primavera’s dropout rate without context. Students who successfully complete classes with us, leave our program and transfer those credits back to their home school are picked up in the drop-out statistic used by The Republic. These are not drop-outs at all, but students who came to our school and got what they needed.
Compared to our peers, we excel. In 2018, 13 percent of all alternative school students passed the AzMERIT test for English Language Arts (ELA) and 10 percent passed the math portion. But at Primavera, 36 percent of students passed the ELA portion and 23 percent passed math.
The Republic also takes Primavera to task for having significant cash reserves. This money has been accumulated over the past ten years in our nonprofit and can only be used for educational purposes. We have invested it to grow our resources, just as any responsible entity would. Those reserves are now being used to develop brick-and-mortar charter schools and our nonprofit is currently developing more charter schools, beginning in the West Valley. Applications to build the new schools have been submitted to state education officials.
Our average teacher salary is $53,000 a year, considerably higher than the statewide average. In a state where teacher pay has lagged behind other school priorities, we are proud of our track record.
Our student-to-teacher ratio is actually 35-to-one, not the 215-to-one ratio cited by The Republic. The Republic simply added up the number of students we serve and divided that by the total number of teachers. As in any high school, one teacher may have 35 students per class but teaches five classes per day. Using the Republic’s math, that school would show a student-teacher ratio of 175-to-one.
What Arizona’s charter school revolution has taught us is that educational approaches can be as diverse as the ever-changing needs of Arizona’s students. And thanks to our governor and state Legislature, those diverse needs are being served. It would be a shame for parents and students if the charter school revolution came to an end because a handful of anti-charter advocates managed to convince an even smaller group of reporters that Arizona neither needs nor deserves choice in education. After all, if charter schools were not doing a good job overall, why are so many students flocking to them?
— Donald Mitchell is principal of Primavera Online High School.
Editor’s Note: A family member of Arizona Capitol Times Managing Editor Gary Grado works for Primavera.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.