School Picture

A peek inside local charter schools.

Scattered around town, Tucson's 71 charter schools come in various sizes, shapes, and descriptions.

Founded last year as a successor to another school, with 195 students in grades one through 11, the Academy of Math and Science has 14 teachers, five administrators and an average class size of 17.

Located on West Prince Road, the Academy is housed in a building which is part of a strip shopping center. While there's a parking lot, there's no on-site playground for the school.

The majority of the Academy's students come from lower-income households, and they live either near the facility or on Tucson's southside, according to Principal Tatyana Chayka. She says the school's goal is to provide the best possible education for students who don't do well in a traditional setting. To accomplish that, the Academy has a weekly reporting system which requires parents to sign a journal which indicates how their child is progressing.

On Broadway Boulevard between a picture framing store and coffee shop, Eastpointe High School is situated in a nondescript stucco and metal building. It offers no outside amenities other than parking and has an enrollment of roughly 300 pupils.

With more than 500 students in grades K-12, Southgate Academy is found next to a Factory 2-U store in a shopping center near Valencia Road and Interstate 19. The school is surrounded by a huge parking lot. Primarily an elementary school, the Academy also has almost 60 high-school students.

The lack of outdoor recreational opportunities at charter schools is not universal. The Accelerated Learning Laboratory is located on more than 20 acres in a sparsely developed residential area of rolling desert hills along Camino de Oeste on Tucson's northwest side. The campus, once a mental health facility, is very large by charter standards, with 64,000 square feet of buildings.

With close to 400 students in grades K-10, this charter has been growing since its inception in 1998. Headmaster David Jones says that grades 11 and 12 will be added in the next two years, but the intention is not to get much larger. Average class size is around 20; the school has 23 teachers and the full-time equivalent of 3 1/2 administrators.

Jones is passionate about what the school is doing. "In a free society, all people should have access to the best education that can be offered, irrespective of their socio-economic characteristics," he says.

He thinks the Laboratory has accomplished that with a student body that ranges from children coming from households in poverty to those earning in excess of $200,000. Despite those differences, Jones believes, "Any child can perform at or above the gifted level" with the proper instruction.

"If a child can learn something, we're going to give it to them," he says.

A private school for 14 years until 1999, the rapidly growing Academy of Tucson operates three different eastside facilities for its 63 elementary, 181 middle and 168 high school students. With pupils from all across town, each school has its own dean. There are a total of 27 teachers and six administrators for the Academy.

While class sizes vary according to principal Shari Stewart, they do not exceed 25 students. She says the focus of their program is on families that value quality education and college preparatory work, but can't afford to send their children to a private school.

Unlike many charters which lease their space in commercial buildings, the Academy recently built its own high school on five acres of land along 22nd Street, east of Houghton Road. While it rents its other two locations, Stewart says some day they might also like to build an elementary facility.

Drawing students from almost every zip code in Tucson, the BASIS school has 248 pupils in grades 5-12. It was founded five years ago and is located in a former nonprofit agency building near the intersection of Speedway Boulevard and Alvernon Way. Because of the capacity of its space, Cynthia Bower, associate director for academic programs, says the school enrollment can't grow larger.

The school is part of BASIS School, Inc. which in August opened its second facility in Scottsdale. The Board of Directors of the corporation appoints the school board for both schools.

BASIS in Tucson has 16.5 teachers, 4.5 administrators, and average class sizes which range from 12 to 22. The school is known for its emphasis on math and science along with its drama department. Bower says it has six annual reporting periods instead of the traditional four, and offers a lot of individual attention and help to students in an intensive college preparatory program.

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