One of the most noted charter schools in the country hopes to open its first Mesa campus later this year.
The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools approved last week the application for BASIS Schools Inc. to operate BASIS Mesa beginning in August.
With plans already set for BASIS Ahwatukee to open in the fall, BASIS will have three East Valley locations. BASIS Chandler opened in 2011.
Charter schools in Arizona are publically funded, but operate independently. Most charter schools are approved by the state board. When successful, they can apply for “replication” to open similar campuses around the state.
In fact, five of the 11 replication applications Monday were for campuses that will serve the East Valley. A sixth – BASIS Scottsdale East, which would be the school’s second Scottsdale-area campus – could also draw students from surrounding communities.
There are currently 312 charter schools in Maricopa County, according to the Arizona Charter Schools Association website. There are 42 charter schools in zip codes that serve Mesa, 16 in zip codes that serve Gilbert, 19 in Chandler, 24 in Tempe and six in Queen Creek.
BASIS is notable because of its history and national recognition. The school’s first campus in Tucson was ranked the nation’s No. 1 high school in 2012 by The Washington Post. The newspaper put BASIS Scottsdale as fifth in the nation. Newsweek put both campuses in its top five. U.S. News & World Report listed BASIS Tucson at No. 6 nationally.
All BASIS schools offer the same curriculum and philosophy, charter representative Kristen Jordison told the State Board for Charter Schools during Monday’s meeting.
“We have the same model, the same curriculum, the same format,” she said.
The East Valley may be attractive to charter operators because they’re finding success there, said Eileen Sigmund, president and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.
“I think what you’re going to find out is my schools in the East Valley have waiting lists. To meet parent demand, they are growing,” she said. “They are growing and replicating and what the authorizer is doing - the State Board for Charter Schools - is replicating quality choices for parents and students. We want to make sure students have access to a quality school.”
Cory Cyr, director of new charter school development for BASIS, said BASIS Chandler proved to be one of its most popular campuses.
“There were probably 500 people on the waiting list throughout the first year. We even opened more sections. We had a larger campus than other campuses opened that year,” he said. “We tried to let in more people, as many as we could. But we still had a large waiting list.”
That’s what started the process to open BASIS Ahwatukee, which was approved by the state board in 2012. Parents could sign up last year to show their interest in the new campus.
“And even once we started evaluating the interest list for Chandler and the interest list for Ahwatukee, there still seemed to be quite a few extra families from the Mesa/Gilbert area who could be travelling to our campuses. That’s when we started to look in the Mesa area,” he said.
Information about the specific locations for both new BASIS campuses should be known in a few weeks.
And while the just-approved new charter schools hope to operate beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, they do have the option to open in fall 2014 if facilities are not ready or there is not enough interest right away from students.
When classes do begin, BASIS Mesa will open within a new housing community near Ellsworth and Ray roads with students in grades five through 10, Cyr said. The campus will add a grade the following two years until it serves grades five through 12, like all current BASIS campuses.
The BASIS Ahwatukee campus will also open with the same grade configuration.
“The biggest way of BASIS being known is word of mouth. The media helps, the rankings help, but from what we’ve seen it really comes down to parents talking to other parents, student talking to other students and really explaining what their experience has been with BASIS. That’s been the biggest and best way to spread the word,” he said.
Besides BASIS, replication charter applications were approved Monday for EAGLE College Prep to operate in north Mesa, Legacy Traditional Charter School to operate in Gilbert at a site in the Cooley Station community, The Farm at Mission Montessori Academy to operate in Chandler near the 101 and Noah Webster Schools – Pima to operate on the Salt River Indian Community.
Six new charter schools were also approved by the board Monday with one - Hirsch Academy: A Challenge Foundation Academy – to be located near the East Valley on the border of south Scottsdale and north Tempe border.
According to a report published last fall, Arizona’s charter schools added 10,000 students during the 2011-12 school year. There were about 145,000 students attending public charter schools in Arizona that year.