BASIS Mesa, the acclaimed charter school's newest campus, is taking shape as construction crews move dirt and the school's new leader takes her first steps to recruit students and hire teachers.
Jill McConnell spent years teaching in a private school as an English department chair, before later became a college counselor. But last summer, she accepted a teaching job at the newly opened BASIS campus in Washington, D.C. Shortly after, she was tapped to lead the school.
Just a few months later, BASIS leaders asked her to lead again – this time at the just-announced BASIS Mesa campus.
BASIS Schools continue to make headlines in national publications, including in U.S. News and World Report, Newsweek and the Washington Post. The Arizona-based charter school made its start in Tucson and now has Arizona campuses in Scottsdale, Flagstaff, Oro Valley, Peoria, Phoenix and Chandler. In the fall, new campuses will open in Ahwatukee Foothills and Mesa -- the latter in the Eastmark development.
McConnell spoke with the Tribune this week about the school’s opening at Eastmark, what parents are looking for in schools, and why BASIS Schools continue to draw waiting lists on their current campuses.
“Where to start? I think it’s a really complicated decision. Every parent wants the absolute best for their child. And what that means is predicated partially on what they know about that child and partially on what they dream for that child in the future," she said. "As they think about, ‘What is this being in my life going to need, going to grow into, going to do in the future?' they try to find that match."
Students at BASIS Schools take an average of 10 Advanced Placement courses throughout their career. Students start learning Latin as young as fifth grade. But the school is open to all students. There are no entrance requirements, interviews or testing. For its first year, BASIS Mesa will offer a "modified" curriculum -- one that's still college-prep but with the understood caveat that not all incoming students would have had experience with Latin or higher level courses, yet, McConnell said.
Not only are BASIS schools drawing students, they’re drawing teacher applicants. McConnell is in the process of hiring the staff for BASIS Mesa, which will open with grades five through 10. She said nationwide there’s already a database of 6,000 applicants who want to work for the charter school system.
“We’re sort of the place to be for teachers these days. We want great people. We want experts in their fields. We want content experts. We’ll teach them how to teach. They need to love children, love students, be passionate about what they’re teaching, be passionate about their discipline,” she said.
Eastmark is a 3,200-acre master-planned community under development by DMB Associates in east Mesa. It includes the former General Motors Proving Grounds.
The BASIS Schools purchased four acres at Eastmark for the campus, which will eventually house students in grades five through 12, said Dea McDonald, DMB Associates’ senior vice president and Eastmark’s general manager.
The campus will be located adjacent to the Eastmark Great Park, near Ray and Ellsworth roads. The school also has the option to purchase another 4 acres for a kindergarten through fourth grade campus, he said.
BASIS will launch its first “lower” school, for the younger grades, in August at its Tucson campus. And if successful, Mesa could eventually offer that option.
“It’s a huge home run,” McDonald said. “Education fundamentally is a partnership we like to include in all our communities because the residents want it.”
The first phase of residential development in Eastmark will open in June. It is located within the Queen Creek Unified School District. But the district is not planning to open a new school there at this time.
Gilbert Unified School District’s boundaries also fall within the area of Eastmark in an area that will likely be more commercial and retail, McDonald said. There are the possibility multifamily housing units, as well.
When it is complete years from now, Eastmark may be home to three to eight schools, he said.
“We’re focused on BASIS at this point. And I think there is a big story there and a lot more to support how it helps us raise the bar at Eastmark. Eastmark was intended to be an innovative community and raise the bar at all levels. Having BASIS there sets tone for other entities to come and make Eastmark a more elevated place to live,” said Garilyn Bourgeois, director of marketing for Eastmark.
For information about the schools, see basismesa.org.
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