El Dorado High School staff members say its new campus looks and feels much different than their former facility.
It has wide corridors of freshly-painted walls, classrooms with rows of desks, and enough space to offer a break room for teachers.
Art Madden, one of the school’s instructors, said the old campus only gave teachers a closet with a copy machine.
There wasn’t even enough room at the old location for an indoor cafeteria, he added, so the students often had to eat their breakfast in the classroom.
“We just didn’t have any choice,” Madden said.
The new school, at 3000 North Alma School Road, Chandler, is considered a major upgrade from its predecessor and school officials hope it will enhance the school’s mission of serving at-risk students who may not thrive in traditional schools.
The Leona Group, which operates several charter schools across the country, opened El Dorado in the 1990s as an alternative school for students needing special attention.
Bill Coates, Leona’s founder, said he noticed a need in Maricopa County to help students on the verge of dropping out.
His solution was a smaller school with smaller classrooms, where students could connect with teachers.
Relationships are the key to education, Coates said, because students become more engaged in the material if they’ve bonded with their instructor.
“We think it’s important for our school leader and staff to know every single student by name,” he said.
Serving a couple hundred students, El Dorado has many of the same amenities as a traditional high school.
It has sports and clubs, like a group of young entrepreneurs who come up with products they try to sell to their classmates.
Students only take three classes each day for two hours at a time, instead of six one-hour classes like most high schools.
Madden said this type of schedule doesn’t overwhelm students with too much work and keeps them focused.
He oversees El Dorado’s computer-based curriculum, which allows students to either catch up on their credits or accelerate faster through their graduation requirements.
Compared to a purely online school, Madden said he can physically supervise students while they work on computers, monitoring their progress and productivity.
There are subtle signs located throughout the new campus that are meant to encourage students to plan for their futures.
Teachers post the insignias of their alma maters outside classrooms and brochures advertising state universities are posted on bulletin boards.
School officials say preparing students for post-secondary education is one of El Dorado’s core values. A partnership with the East Valley Institute of Technology helps to achieve this mission by allowing the school’s pupils to explore various career pathways.
The total cost of buying and renovating El Doarado’s school added up to about $3 million.
Located at an intersection of mostly retail shops, the new campus may stand out from its surrounding landscape.
It doesn’t have a drive-through window like the Burger King across the street, nor can it offer a pedicure like the salon next door.
The services El Dorado provides may not be as tangible as its neighbors, but the school’s educators say they’re making a valuable contribution to the community.
“We know we’re making a greater difference,” Madden said.
At a recent ceremony honoring the school’s opening, Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke remarked on El Dorado’s location and how it aligns with the city’s goal of re-imagining conventional retail spaces.
“I believe that this is a perfect use for this building and this facility to inspire and to offer (a) new opportunity to many young men and women,” the mayor said.