A well-known Valley charter school chain could open a new location in the Ahwatukee Foothills next year if the community shows enough interest.
Great Hearts Academies, which runs Chandler Preparatory Academy and six other Valley schools, is considering Ahwatukee as one of five locations for a new school in fall 2011, said Peter Bezanson, chief academic officer for the schools.
Depending on interest and the availability of space, Great Hearts expects to choose two locations from Ahwatukee, Maryvale, Avondale, Johnson Ranch and Flagstaff to open academies next year, Bezanson said. The other three communities would likely get Great Hearts schools in 2012.
Great Hearts is looking for interest comparable to the buzz created around their Scottsdale and Anthem schools before they opened, both of which had about 1,000 kids signed up on a list showing interest, Bezanson said.
Even though Great Hearts hasn’t advertised the potential new schools much yet, Bezanson said they were already getting a “solid” response.
Bezanson said that’s not to detract from the schools already in Ahwatukee, because there are great programs that already exist. He sees interest in the Great Hearts programs more as a positive response to the curriculum they would bring in.
“We’re a classical, Great Books, liberal arts curriculum, and that’s what they want for their kids,” Bezanson said. “They see our current graduates, and parents say, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what I want for my kids, I wish that was around when I was a kid.’”
That was Ahwatukee parent Julie Light’s reaction when she sat in on a class that uses the Great Hearts curriculum. She believes the style of teaching would broaden her two children’s horizons.
“They teach in almost a debate-type classroom,” she said. “(The teacher) teaches something, then the students talk about it. They learn from each other.”
That curriculum has several components, Bezanson said.
For instance, high school students read 70 western classics. Students in grades 6 through 8 study Latin, then continue those studies or switch to another language. All students have at least two years of calculus, Bezanson said.
Also, all students wear uniforms, take two fine arts classes a year and are required to participate in competitive sports in at least sixth through eighth grade.
“It gives a competitive outlet. We don’t want our classes to be competitive; it’s a shared pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness,” Bezanson said. “But kids are competitive by nature.”
Great Hearts schools are also smaller than many district schools, with around 250 students. Some Ahwatukee families take their children to Chandler Preparatory, so they, other Ahwatukee families and commuters travelling on Interstate 10 could be served by an Ahwatukee location, Bezanson said.
Great Hearts hasn’t scheduled an informational meeting in Ahwatukee yet, they are inviting interested parents to sign up on an e-mail list at www.greatheartsaz.org.