Over the last several years, the awards and accolades have been rolling in at C.E. Rose, a TUSD school nestled in a south-side neighborhood.
The honors — which include recognition of Principal Stephen Trejo, being named an A+ school, and, on a wider scale, the designation of being one of the top urban schools in the country — attract students from across the city to the school near South 12th Avenue and West Irvington Road. It also brings visits from educators around country.
Looking to build on that success, the Tucson Unified School District is considering converting the school into a charter school and replicating the model at two closed campuses. The trio would be Leap Academy at C.E. Rose, Leap Academy at Wakefield and Leap Academy at Richey.
Both Wakefield and Richey were closed in budget cuts. Converting Rose and reopening the other two campuses to district-run charters would bring in additional state funding — about more than $1,000 per child from the state, TUSD has said.
But the change, which first has to be approved by the TUSD Governing Board, wouldn’t be based solely on funding, said TUSD Superintendent H.T. Sanchez.
“The Legislature doesn’t want charters to be thrown around loosely just for the sake of grabbing dollars,” Sanchez said. “Charters should be thrown around in districts for the sake of understanding good processes in schools that have good processes for the replication purpose. That’s really the intent.
“There is something very special that Mr. Trejo and his team do that has established Rose as a great place, so it’s a matter of how do we replicate those things on other sites so that you get the same quality.”
The plan, according to Sanchez, is to convert Rose to a charter school for the upcoming school year. The district would spend the time capturing what Trejo and his team do in order to replicate it. The expansion would then go into full effect the following school year, 2015-2016.
This year, C.E. Rose is at capacity with 770 students — the highest number of students the school has served in nearly two decades. Despite the fact that all but 7 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch, an indication of the poverty level, the school has consistently earned top marks from the Arizona Department of Education — a far cry from a decade ago when it was labeled failing.
Isaiah Washington has been teaching at C.E. Rose for almost two years and feels strongly about the work being done.
“I really feel that what we do here really helps the kids academically and socially,” the second-grade teacher said. “One thing that stands out is the student empowerment, it’s a lot more student-led. If my students want to know how they’re doing, they can tell exactly how they’re doing based on their own data notebooks and their own graphs.”
The success is due in part to a strong vision dubbed LEAP 90. The acronym stands for “lead, empower, apply, prepare.” The 90 refers to the percentage of students expected to meet or exceed the state standards — a goal that has been achieved in numerous areas, Trejo said.
While Trejo is the leader of the school on paper, he has worked to ensure that staff buys in to his vision, and that students are the leaders of their future by taking ownership for their learning.
The age-old parent-teacher conferences have been tweaked at Rose to be student-parent-teacher conferences. Students armed with their data notebooks share the progress they’ve made and what they still need to achieve using test scores and other information.
In terms of learning, the school has a strong focus on literacy and math and emphasizes intensive interventions. Teachers are expected to work together to craft lesson plans.
Going beyond subject-matter, the relationships formed at C.E. Rose have also gone a long way — something Trejo says he could not have forced on anyone.
“The majority of our teachers eat lunch with their students, they play P.E. with their students,” Trejo said, adding that many teachers have elected to continue on with their students at the different grade levels for as many as four years. “Basically there is no time wasted from one year to the next — (the teacher) knows the students, (the teacher) knows the parents.”
Trejo himself gets in on the act, having hosted a monthly “Ping Pong and Pizza with the Principal for Perfect Attendance” every year for the last 10 years in which one student from each grade level has pizza with Trejo and plays pingpong.
The efforts have paid off.
Last year 93 percent of seventh-graders met or exceeded state standards on the reading portion of AIMS, compared to 78 percent in TUSD and 85 percent at the state level. The same is true for math, with 89 percent of seventh-graders meeting or exceeding the standards. It was 50 percent in TUSD, and 65 percent in the state.
“We’re really beating the odds with the demographics and it’s really exciting,” Trejo said. “Not only are these students so capable and eager to learn, but they have a great vision of their future.”
Up until a few years ago, C.E. Rose served only as an elementary school. That changed when parents persuaded the Governing Board to add grades six, seven and eight, saying they wanted to keep their kids at the school because they liked the instruction. Today, C.E. Rose students are preparing to attend nationally recognized University High School.
Now, once again, Trejo is spearheading the latest movement to expand. It’s an effort that TUSD Governing Board member Cam Juarez supports.
“I’m excited we’re going to be able to replicate this particular model,” Juarez said. “Being able to franchise what you’ve done at C.E. Rose — awards and accolades all around — I think is great.”
Demographic data also shows growth on the southwest side where the Wakefield campus is located. Many of the students who were displaced when the school closed have since found themselves at Rose, Sanchez said. The central Richey site would likely be a draw for students across the city.
Trejo is confident that making the educational approach at Rose the model for a trio of charter schools is the right direction to go.
“Our funding has gone down and our achievement has gone up but we’re getting to the point with all the open enrollment students and all of the students that want to attend, we can’t support what we’re doing,” Trejo said. “We believe we can give charter schools a great name.”