Vista College Preparatory looks like any other school in Phoenix. There are desks and chairs and teachers and students. But that's where the similarities end.
For starters, students at Vista College Prep are called "scholars." The term is indicative of what's expected of them. The school's mission, according to the website, is: "through academic rigor and leadership development, Vista College Preparatory educates all K-5 students for success in middle school, achievement in high school, and graduation from college."
The homepage boasts, in big, blue letters, "College preparation starts in kindergarten." A bold statement for a charter school that opened its doors on Sixth Avenue near Grant Street for the first time in August.
The staff has resorted to knocking on doors in the low-income neighborhood to recruit children to fill the classrooms. They sold that message and some parents decided to take a chance based on Vista College Prep's promise. A promise the school kept.
At the start of the school year, the kindergarteners ranked in the bottom 1 percent in reading comprehension. These are the kids most would give up on or make excuses for.
Not here. By the time the year was over these scholars excelled, scoring in the 88th percentile when compared to the rest of the nation. One class even reached the 94th percentile.
The kindergarteners weren't alone. The first-graders showed impressive readings gains, too. They started the year in the bottom five percentile. When the year was over the first-grade scholars ranked in the 65th percentile.
Clearly, Vista College Prep's program is working. Founder and executive director Julia Myerson said the results can be traced back to data and hard work. She joined us on Rob & Karie and said, "Our teachers and our staff are truly some of the hardest working people I've ever met."
The scholars and parents work hard, too. Combine this with data on how students are progressing and it creates a winning combination.
"We know exactly where our scholars ended at the end of this year and we know where we want them to be going into next year," Myerson said, just over a month before the school's second year is set to begin.
The Phoenix charter school also approaches schooling a little differently. The school year lasts 185 days compared to 180 days in the average public school. In addition, Vista College Prep's school days are longer. The first class starts at 7:40 a.m, and the last ends at 4 p.m., with 40 percent of class time devoted to reading.
Myerson said the extra time is equivalent to another YEAR of instruction.
Education works when executed correctly.
Myerson said they spent two years studying the most effective charter schools in America before bringing those methods to Phoenix. Daring to think big has paid off for 64 scholars so far in Phoenix. That number will grow this year because as Myerson said, "Demographics don't determine destiny."
It's not rocket science. Longer school days, focused learning, hard work and the use of comprehensive analytics can and will work. Both parents and public schools could learn a few lessons from Vista College Prep. It's time to start listening.