The Chandler Unified School District plans to open a junior high next fall with a traditional focus.
Next week, parents can learn more about the school, the first traditional junior high in Chandler's history, through informational sessions.
The district now has four traditional academies for elementary school students in kindergarten through sixth grade. The first, Chandler Traditional Academy/Liberty, opened seven years ago with Principal Don Shelley. Now he is at Chandler Traditional Academy/Independence. He has been tapped to be the principal of the yet-to-be-named junior high.
Like the elementary schools, the junior high will require uniforms for its students. Classes will be taught in a group setting with individual help for those who need it. Math and writing classes are academically challenging, with students often learning work a grade level ahead of their peers.
"The plan is to take off where the elementaries leave off," Shelley said. "We hope to be able to take the honors courses and classes the district has created for the junior highs and even accelerate those. Parents will know from day one we expect a lot. I think the structure that's expected now at all of our schools will transfer to the junior high kids."
Parents have been asking for a traditional junior high for some time, said Craig Gilbert, director of secondary education.
Students who leave the traditional elementary schools often go to the district's comprehensive junior highs. Some students go on to Hamilton Prep, a junior high school with a rigorous academic focus. Unlike the planned traditional junior high, Hamilton Prep now serves students in grades seven through nine, with plans to open classes for students through 12th grade in the future.
But some students do leave the district, Shelley said.
"A few do go out to privates and charters," Shelley said. "That's our goal: to give them a choice to stay in Chandler."
Since it was announced this week, Shelley said many parents are excited about the plans.
The new junior high will open in the Pathways Learning Center. The campus was formerly Chandler Junior High and is set up to meet this age level, Gilbert said.
A program for alternative students now housed there will move next year to a new facility.
While other comprehensive junior high schools in Chandler are for grades seven and eight, the new junior high will open with sixth and seventh grades to make a smoother transition and alleviate crowding issues at the four elementary schools, Shelley said.
"We have waiting lists at our schools. Maybe we'll take one sixth grade class out of each of the traditional schools," he said. "The first year, there will be plenty of room. As we grow, there's access and available space there for about 500 kids as needed. We're excited to see it put together and grow."
Eighth grade will be added in the 2010-11 school year, Shelley said.
Other East Valley schools have developed programs for students in recent years with different academic focuses.
Mesa Unified has four Benjamin Franklin Elementary schools with a traditional focus. The Mesa Academy for Advanced Academic Studies, in its second year, is a rigorous program for students in grades four through nine.
Gilbert Unified offers the Gilbert Classical Academy for students in grades seven through 12 and a traditional elementary education at Neely Traditional Academy for students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Tempe Elementary School opened the Ward Traditional Academy in 2005.