Charter schools work to boost literacy rates

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by Erika Flores

Bio | Email | Follow: @ErikaFloresTV

azfamily.com

Posted on January 25, 2014 at 4:56 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jan 28 at 2:26 PM

PHOENIX -- Twenty years ago this month, Arizona passed the first laws allowing charter schools in the state.

Now there is a renewed push for more charter campuses in an effort to boost literacy rates.

Vista College Preparatory, a charter school that opened in August, dedicates 40 percent of the school day to literacy instruction, according to Founder and Executive Director Julia Meyerson.

"Our students, for the most part, came in at about two grade levels behind," she said.

Vista College Preparatory is part of a movement to open 25 "A" rated schools by 2020, primarily serving low-income students. The movement is led by New Schools for Phoenix.

"The first six months, people go around the country and find out what's working for students," said Eileen Sigmund, President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association.

Meyerson said they found that 3 in 4 Arizona fourth graders are not proficient in reading.

"What we are trying to do is make sure that that just does not happen and that the problem ends starting in kindergarten and first grade," Meyerson said.

Arizona's charter schools have faced a lot of criticism, but Meyerson is hoping to turn that around.

"I think, historically, it's been more of a focus on the number of schools; getting more and more charter schools out there," she said. "What's exciting now is that our state has really taken a focus to make sure that parents don't just have choices but that they have quality choices."

The Arizona Charter Schools Association said a lot of planning has gone into this movement.
  
"It is two years of deliberate, thoughtful, strategic planning to open right on day one and then to stay excellent," Sigmund said.

The charter schools will ultimately serve up to 12,500 kids once all schools are established, and Meyerson said she has high hopes for the schools that will be modeled after Vista College Preparatory.

"After just a quarter of this school year, our scholars grew nearly half a year's worth of growth," Meyerson said.

Graciela Miranda said her daughter, Jaqueline, attends the charter school and is already speaking better English.

Miranda chose Vista College Preparatory because she wanted her daughter to go to a school where she wouldn't get lost in the crowd. The charter school has 60 students, with about 18 in each class.

The smaller class size has helped Jaqueline improve her reading skills, and she is now speaking more English than Spanish, Miranda said. Jaqueline already talks about wanting to go to college.

Miranda said she has seen how her daughter is motivated by the teacher's encouragement. Because of that, Miranda is inspired to learn English herself so that she can make sure Jaqueline continues to improve.

Miranda said she is happy with the amount of support the children receive from the teachers to the executive director, who sends parents updates on students' progress.

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