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FALA celebrates 20 years

Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, one of Flagstaff’s first public charter schools, is celebrating 20 years of opening their doors and expanding the minds of local students. The school is holding a fundraiser extravaganza to celebrate the occasion, from 6 to 9 p.m. tonight at the Coconino Center for the Arts. Tickets for the event are $25.

The school has come a long way from the four trailers and a handful of staff/teachers. The school was founded by  Karen Butterfield in 1996, said Janeece Henes, the art educator and service coordinator at FALA.

Butterfield was a teacher at Flagstaff Unified School District and was named teacher of the year in 1993, she said. When FUSD’s governing board announced cuts to the district’s arts programs in the mid-1990s, Butterfield protested. When the cuts came down, Butterfield created FALA with the help of others to make sure that high school students who were interested in the arts had a school that featured them.

According to its website, FALA’s courses are designed to prepare students for college. Besides the regular core middle school and high school courses that are required at all Arizona schools, FALA students also have to take at least one course each in theater, dance, art and music.

High school students also have to participate in the school’s service learning program. The service learning program requires students to have at least 30 hours of volunteer work in the community, at the school and participate in projects that improve the community. And students have to take part in the school’s weekly advisory program, which helps students mentor other students, set goals, create portfolios and track their growth.

At first, the school was renting four trailers on property owned by the Museum of Northern Arizona, Henes said. The museum graciously allowed the school to use the museum an extension of the school to teach the students, Henes said.

“Things happened so fast that when we opened the doors that first day we didn’t even have desks,” said teacher Mike Levin.

Teachers doubled as administrators and administrators doubled as teachers, said Henes, who started at the school in 1998. The school was so small that everyone hung out with each other, she said. Geeks hung out with goths, teachers hung out with students and administrators hung out with teachers. It created a cohesive atmosphere where despite differences in opinion, dress and art preferences, everyone felt as if they were accepted here.

In 2010, the school moved to its present location on North Fort Valley Road and expanded to include middle school students.

Levin and Henes said the school has been a joy to work for as well. Even though the students are required to take and pass the AzMerit test, teachers have great latitude on how and what to teach the students.

“This has always been a place of love,” Henes said. “Even as the school has changed and evolved, the founding principles have stayed the same.”

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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