In a quiet classroom, 25 students sit in desks, heads down, working on the day's writing assignment, a compare/contrast essay about men and women.
The ninth-graders in Robert Witz's honors English language class are sitting in one of two English courses they're required to take at Scottsdale BASIS, a charter school organization that has received national recognition.
Like its Tucson and Oro Valley counterparts, Scottsdale BASIS prepares students for Advanced Placement classes years before other public high schools.
Beginning next fall, students in the East Valley will also have a chance to attend a BASIS campus.
Former Intel Chairman and CEO Craig Barrett and The Rodel Foundation announced a combined $600,000 over the next three years to open BASIS Schools in Chandler, Peoria and Flagstaff. Barrett is now president and chairman of BASIS Schools.
Nick Fleege, director of new school development for BASIS, said plans are underway to build a new facility in Chandler, rather than renovate an existing building. The campus will open next fall with about 400 fifth- through 10th-graders, he said.
Parents approached BASIS about opening a school in the community, Fleege said. Combined with the businesses and employee base in the city, it made Chandler an ideal candidate, Fleege said.
Christy Allen, 16, is an 11th-grader at the Scottsdale campus. She came to BASIS from district school in the eighth grade. But because she was behind in math, based on her placement test for BASIS, she was told she would have to repeat the seventh grade or study and retest before entering school.
Allen did that and today she is set to graduate a year early.
"The difference I think lies in the respect for the students," Allen said of her experience at BASIS. "The kids (at the district school) didn't care and didn't want to be there. Here the teachers know they can learn from us. We want to learn. We want to be here. It's not for everyone."
BASIS sets students up so they could have all the required academic classes to graduate after their junior year, she said. But most students stay to continue higher-level "capstone" classes their senior year that include a research project. Allen, however, wants to study in France.
Her coursework this year includes Advanced Placement classes in calculus, U.S. history, English language and biology, along with honors chemistry, advanced topic financial economics and government.
English teacher Witz came to Arizona from South Carolina where he taught at a magnet school with an emphasis on academics. He heard about BASIS and jumped at the opportunity to teach for the schools.
"What's different are the expectations placed upon everybody in the building," he said. "I think it's understood by most people if you have high expectations the students will rise and meet them," he said. "Here the expectations are very, very high but the theory is proven. The students do rise."
It takes an extra measure of work by the staff as well, he said.
"If the teachers aren't willing to work hard, and go the extra miles, the students can't get there. We have this building where everyone works really hard and everyone cares."
Besides the curriculum, the schools also offer martial arts-based physical education classes. And starting next year, eighth-graders will be tested using the Cambridge test, a European-based exam, to measure how they're doing against 10th-graders around the world.
In Arizona, charter schools are privately-operated public schools funded with state dollars based on enrollment. The movement started 15 years ago, and today, 10 percent of students in a public school are educated on a charter campus.