A planned specialty school in the Gilbert Unified School District designed to compete with innovative charter schools has piqued the interest of hundreds of parents. But with a limit of 60 students per grade, the Gilbert Classical Academy will turn to a lottery for enrollment for the first semester in fall 2007, principal Brian Rosta said.
The buzz about the school can be attributed to its offering: Personal laptops for each student, use of the Socratic method of teaching in which students are encouraged to ask questions and use reason to come up with answers, small class sizes, and a rigorous curriculum geared toward better preparing students for college.
It’s not the first time the district has tried to provide a smaller, specialized school and made area parents excited.
The Technology and Leadership Academy, which was touted as being the nation’s first U.S. Air Force high school, opened in 2003 and also drew hundreds of applicants. It is now being phased out because of a lack of interest.
Board member Van Dunham said the classical model has been successful in charter schools and thinks Gilbert Classical Academy will have long-term appeal. He said it cannot be compared to the Technology and Leadership Academy because the situations are different.
The Technology and Leadership Academy, which focused on aviation, was developed in the belief it would have the support of the U.S. Air Force, including personnel and use of a flight simulator, but that didn’t happen. Dunham said he believes some parents also lost interest once the war in Iraq began.
The Gilbert Classical Academy will open next fall with just 60 students each in grades seven, eight and nine, and Rosta has already been contacted by about 300 parents. A grade will be added each year, eventually becoming a seventh- through 12th-grade school.
District officials are hoping the school will attract families in the district who might otherwise opt for a charter or private school.
Rosta said children of district employees are automatically accepted, but estimates they will only account for three or four slots. District residents and students already attending a school in the district will have priority. Because it is a school of choice, any spots remaining will be open to any student in the state.
There are no entrance requirements, but after students are selected through the lottery, Rosta will give parents a tour of the campus and conduct an interview to make sure the school will be a good fit for their child.
“This curriculum is tough,” he said. “(I want to) sit down with parents and say, ‘Let’s make sure we understand what we’re getting into.’ We’re going to offer a lot of support . . . but this school isn’t for everyone.”
To graduate from the academy, students must complete four courses each in English, mathematics, science, social studies and classical studies, as well as two courses each in modern language, fine arts and service learning plus three elective courses. Rosta said students will also be required to take courses in music and Latin.
Amy Haray, whose sixthgrade daughter, Casey, attends Gilbert’s Neely traditional academy, said she is interested in sending her daughter to the new academy because it will be more academically challenging.
Haray also likes that the students will wear uniforms because she thinks they will be more likely to focus on their studies rather than what one another is wearing.
Her only concern is that there won’t be enough room for everyone who wants to attend.
“It seems like there’s gonna be disappointment if you can’t get in,” Haray said. “My daughter’s friends all seem interested — we’ll have to wait (and) see.”