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With more than 500 students enrolled and room for a few more, Basis Flagstaff is ready to open its doors this month as the biggest, new school-choice option in years.

The view of the Peaks from the lunchroom’s floor-to-ceiling windows is a commanding one. And optimism is just as big — along with some high expectations.

“They forget that kids enjoy a sense of pride when they accomplish something,” said Kara Kelty, the head of school, responding to concerns that the pressure at Basis might be too much.

 Basis is opening with grades 5-10 and will expand to a 5-12 campus in the next two years. The approximately $7 million campus occupies a spot on McMillan Mesa easily seen from Cedar Avenue. It was funded by public and private money.

School starts on Aug. 17.

The college preparatory curriculum exposes children to rigorous expectations early on and requires successful participation in the Advanced Placement program. Students are aware of the exams, which grant college credit, before their high school years and are taking and passing them by ninth grade.

There is also a special education coordinator on staff here for the identified special education students, who make up less than 10 percent of enrollment.

School director David Hubalik comes to Flagstaff from the sister campus in Scottsdale. He explains that children will respond positively to high expectations — if you set the bar high, they’ll try to reach it.

At the school’s Scottsdale and Tucson campuses, 10th-graders had a 100-percent pass rate on their state AIMS tests in reading and math.

Basis Flagstaff will join two other Flagstaff charter high schools: Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy and Northland Preparatory Academy, both established in 1996.

Basis originated in Tucson. It is organized into lower (grades 5-7) and upper (grades 8-12) schools and has six campuses across the state — three of them are opening this fall, including Flagstaff, Chandler and Peoria.

SENIOR INTERNSHIPS AND TEACHER BONUSES

As of this week, the school had 520 students enrolled with a few spots in most grades, although rolls are still in flux and the school will still field inquiries from interested families. Fully enrolled, the Flagstaff campus can hold up to 680 students.

Fifth and sixth grades, commonly elementary school grades in traditional district schools, aren’t self-contained here — everybody changes classes like they would in junior high or high school.

The school offers traditional core academics along with art, music, theater and physical education (the youngest students don’t have recess but they do have gym class). Students can graduate at the end of 11th grade with all their state requirements met. But they are encouraged to stay for a senior year that resembles a senior year of college, with internship and independent research opportunities.

Twenty-eight teachers are on staff, many of them new to Flagstaff. Basis is a state-funded school, but unlike mainstream school teachers, charter teachers are not required to be state certified. Also unlike their counterparts at a typical district, Basis teachers have a 401k instead of a pension. The school also offers teacher bonuses based on student performance on the AP exams, similar to the bonuses a college basketball coach would get for making the playoffs.

Math teacher Peter Smith was already at work this week, helping seventh-graders brush up on fraction division during a short summer orientation and warm-up session.

Smith has taught in local district and charter schools, and he said this is a school for every student.

“It’s not just the academically advantaged kids,” he said.

Students and staff weren’t the only ones ready to go. On Thursday, a formal opening celebration brought Gov. Jan Brewer to the school to offer remarks. And families are already involved.

“Our parents are so excited,” Hubalik said. “The booster club was formed before the school.”

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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