Lt. Col. Ed Fox’s vision to create a free Air Force academy for teens took just nine months to become reality.
"Not many have an opportunity in their life to establish something and build it from the ground up," Fox said. "Working with young people is exciting."
The Technology and Leadership Academy, the Gilbert Unified School District’s new magnet high school, was just one idea offered to Superintendent Brad Barrett and the governing board when the district decided to make a former holding school-turnedwarehouse into a magnet school.
The board wanted a school that would draw students into the district.
Headmaster Fox, Highland High School’s former director of Air Force ROTC, promises high standards at the academy at Greenfield and Elliot roads, approved in November.
"Just watch us," he said.
While requirements to enter the school of at least a 2.0 grade point average and a clean discipline record set the stage for Fox’s promise, the school also could set social standards, he said.
"We don’t have cliques and haven’t seen any catfights," said mother and volunteer Carol Riley. "These kids are really looking out for each other."
The roughly 100 students have the support to set standards, including enough parents in the booster club to match enrollment.
"I’m just pretty much excited to build on each year," said 14-year-old Brittany Czarnota, a sophomore who already is making her own plans for improving the new campus. She said she’d like to see a more spacious campus and an easy atmosphere between teachers and students.
Fox, a 1993 Air Force retiree who later earned a doctorate in education administration, came to the district and, with academy ROTC instructor Sgt. Paul Swietek, started the ROTC unit at Highland High in 1995. Swietek worked with juveniles in the state Department of Corrections.
"It’s much better to teach them than to lock them up," he said. "We do have kids here who are from (single-parent) homes, divorced couples, who are in need of some kind of structure. It’s rewarding."
ROTC director Jim Bower retired in July from the Air Force to teach the upper grades ground school, or the basics of flight.
"We’re going to blow the doors off all other academic schools," he said. "We’re going to produce solid leaders for the community and state."