An elite charter prep school wants to bring its traditional approach to education —Socrates, uniforms and all — to Scottsdale.
More than 200 Scottsdale families have already shown interest in Scottsdale Preparatory Academy, which could open in fall 2008, said Daniel Scoggin, chief executive officer of Great Hearts Preparatory Academies, which runs three charter schools in the Valley, including the prestigious Tempe Preparatory Academy.
It’s part of a plan to eventually add nine more schools, which school directors say will outperform the local public schools. Tempe Prep, for instance, boasts some of the highest test scores in the state.
Scottsdale Prep’s broad, traditional approach to education would be nearly the polar opposite of the specialized, magnet academies the Scottsdale Unified School District hopes will reel in students.
The first such district school, the Copper Ridge Math and Science Academy, 10101 N. Thompson Peak Parkway, will open in fall offering four years of high-level courses such as statistics, physics, trigonometry and calculus.
But Scoggin said that’s not what parents want.
“People are just thirsting for classical liberal arts for their kids,” he said. “There’s so much of a push for education to become more specialized at an earlier and earlier age. Well-educated families know the best thing to do is to teach your students to think clearly, to read well, to speak well and then to specialize in college.”
Scottsdale Prep, he said, will focus on liberal arts. Students will study classical literature, math, science, Latin, and take two compulsory fine arts classes each day.
The school will use a Socratic method in its classes, meaning students would lead classroom discussion by asking questions.
“They study the great authors, the great thinkers,” said Gisèle Losier, a language teacher at Tempe Prep who is organizing the Scottsdale parents. “They have the chance to think about what the great ideas are: What is truth, what is goodness, what is beauty?”
But Katy Cavanaugh, an administrator in the Scottsdale school district, defended the district’s move to offer specialized programs in areas like technology, graphic arts and math, saying parents want choices.
“All five of our high schools have broad, strong liberal arts programs,” she said. “We offer specialized programs as an additional and important option for parents.”
District governing board member Christine Schild said academies are just one way to provide smaller learning environments for students in large high schools.
“They’re still getting a standard high school curriculum,” she said. “The focus is in the electives, those specialized career pathways that, presumably, are something that is of interest to the student.”
Scottsdale resident Sandra Chin-Tung said she will probably consider all local high schools for her granddaughter, Julianna, 8, who attends Mission Montessori Academy.
But she’s hesitant to enroll her in a math and science academy when she reaches high school.
“If you’re going to do that, you better make sure they’re very good in those subjects,” she said. “I don’t know that I’m that much into specialization.”
She’s interested in Scottsdale Prep, she said, because it will offer a smaller environment for Julianna.
A location for the proposed school has not been chosen, but Losier said she hopes it will be convenient for families in McDowell Mountain Ranch, who have no high school in their neighborhood.
It’s the same area the Scottsdale school district hopes to attract students from, with the new math and science academy they say will eventually become a comprehensive high school.
The school has attracted fewer than 30 students so far, but district officials say interest will grow.
Scoggin said he’s not concerned about finding enough students, but he is concerned about finding an affordable location.
He’s asking parents to keep their eyes peeled for commercial spaces, even churches, that could provide a convenient space for the school.