Although miles apart in distance, BASIS’ two newest Arizona campuses in Mesa and Ahwatukee have similar visions about what they want to accomplish in their first year as they try to live up to the organization’s sterling reputation.
Opening this week, the two new campuses differ in the number of students they’ll start with — 400 for the Mesa campus located by the incoming Eastmark community, and 600 for the Ahwatukee campus — but each offers grades five through 10 in year one. From there, the schools will add a grade each year into the 2015-16 school year — the year their first senior classes will graduate — until they offer classes for grades five through 12.
It’s a model the eight other Arizona BASIS campuses follow, although Mesa’s head of school, Jill McConnell, said the organization might experiment with a K-4 program at its Tucson campus. She’s not sure if BASIS will expand the pilot program beyond BASIS’ first campus, but she said there’s a market for a broader program in Mesa.
“It’s my personal hope that the K-4 program will be a neighbor for us for our 5-12 education,” she said.
McConnell and BASIS Ahwatukee head of school, John Hollis, each said the goal is to meet standards set by the other BASIS schools across the state both in terms of studies — McConnell said BASIS offers a heavy dose of classical education and an Advanced Placement curriculum — and reputation. The latter is a high bar to reach after U.S. News and World Report named the original campus in Tucson the No. 2-ranked high school in the nation, while the Scottsdale campus took fifth overall.
In Ahwatukee, Hollis said the school has a three-year development plan that, when completed, would put the campus on par with BASIS Scottsdale, where he worked for the last three years before moving to the new campus. Much like the other campuses when they opened, Hollis said the first year is set to include a heavy emphasis on review while ensuring the students can keep up with the school’s practices.
“It’s going to be a huge jump for the students, for the teachers, but I think the students are going to have a lot of fun because of the way we teach and the curriculum we have,” he said.
It’ll be a particularly noticeable jump for the older students — Hollis said pre-calculus is the minimum math requirement for eighth graders at BASIS schools — but he said students who have succeeded elsewhere but desire a mental decathlon will get it in an environment conducive to high academic aspirations.
“No longer is it cool to be stupid; it’s cool to be smart at a BASIS school,” he said.
Another part of the first-year experience is developing the relationship between the teachers, parents and teachers, as McConnell said that aspect of the experience is vital for the students’ growth and for her campus’ mission to “have an academic program that continues the BASIS legacy of excellence.”
Academics are a heavy focus for BASIS, but McConnell and Hollis emphasized the experience isn’t just about the classroom; instead, the purpose is to mold students who are capable of excelling in a variety of activities.
“The kids are well-rounded; we’re not turning these kids into robots,” he said.
To make sure the students don’t evolve into automatons, McConnell said BASIS offers performing arts programs like drama and athletic opportunities ranging from volleyball and basketball to fencing, with students competing in area charter leagues.
Because BASIS is a charter organization, Hollis said the school can’t engage in “cherry picking” and just accept the highest-achieving students. Rather, McConnell said the purpose of the chain of charters is to provide access, fairness and choice for students to receive a quality (albeit difficult) education to prepare them for the next step.
“If they come in with the right attitude, this curriculum will see them through and the teachers will see them through,” Hollis said.
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