ASU Prep expands into South Phoenix in merger with Phoenix Collegiate Academy


Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

The ASU Preparatory Academy network has expanded into South Phoenix by merging with an existing charter school that was known already for its success.

ASU Prep South Phoenix PCA opened last week with nearly 700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade on three campusesASU Prep South Phoenix PCA primary school includes kindergarten through second grade near Central and Hildago avenues, the intermediate school includes grades three to seven near Central and Southern avenues, and the high school has grades eight through 12 near Broadway Road and Seventh Street. south of Broadway Road.

The school was formerly Phoenix Collegiate Academy, which was launched with 57 sixth-graders in 2009 and sent 100 percent of its first graduating class, in 2016, to postsecondary education.

Phoenix Collegiate Academy (PCA) merged with the ASU Prep network this summer as a way to expand its mission in South Phoenix, according to Akshai Patel, an ASU graduate who was one of the academy's founders.

Patel started PCA in 2009 with two friends who, like him, were teachers. All three had served in Teach For AmericaTeach For America is a program that recruits college graduates to become teachers in low-income schools across the country. and continued to teach in South Phoenix after their commitments ended. They became dissatisfied with what they saw.

“I would see very capable fifth-graders in my classroom have a great academic year, and I’d think ‘All students have the potential to get to college,’ and by the time they got to eighth grade, that was less likely,” said Patel, who saw his students lose academic momentum as they went on to high school.

“We thought we could build a better system,” he said.

PCA eventually expanded to K–12, plus a preschool, and began forming partnerships with ASU.

“We thought about how we could benefit the students and community the most, and if that was through a merger, that would make sense,” he said.

The merger became official this summer, and Patel, who was CEO of Phoenix Collegiate Academy, is now chief strategy and outreach officer for the ASU Prep network. He said that 90 percent of the PCA staff stayed through the transition.

Patel said that nearly all of PCA’s students are from low-income families.

“For ASU to choose this part of the Valley as the next place it needs to be sends a clear and direct message about who it is that ASU Prep and the university prioritizes,” he said.

Like all charter schools, ASU Prep South Phoenix PCA does not charge tuition. The other ASU Prep locations are in Casa Grande, Tempe, downtown Phoenix and on the Polytechnic campus in Mesa. There are more than 3,000 students total in the ASU Prep system, not including the ASU Prep Digital online school.

Valerie McGirr, who has three children at ASU Prep South Phoenix PCA, said she had some mixed feelings when PCA announced the merger last school year.

“We had come to a place where we knew what we were doing as a school and a community and now we would have to change again,” said McGirr, who lives across the street from the primary school campus.

“But as we talked more about it with the teachers and the administrators, I was put more at ease.”

She said her children, in kindergarten, first and fourth grades, are excited about the change.

“They knew they would get STEMScience, Technology, Engineering and Math programs and the art and physical education programs that PCA could only provide part time,” she said.

McGirr transferred her oldest daughter, who graduated from PCA in May and is headed to Northern Arizona University this month, from a district school to PCA in seventh grade.

“I thought I would take a chance even though I heard it was strict,” she said. “They had a standard of how you should act that the other schools didn’t have.”

She appreciated the emphasis on preparation for college.

“We didn’t know what it would take to get her there because it’s not like we had been there ourselves,” she said.

“As she was going through her four years of high school, there was always somebody there ready to help us as parents, and not just their grades and homework, but signing up for scholarships and helping us to fill out paperwork that we didn’t understand.

“If the kids fell behind, they didn’t wait until the end of the semester, they would contact us and talk before it was too late. And it paid off because she’s on her way to NAU."

All of the ASU Prep schools use the internationally benchmarked Cambridge International Curriculum, a rigorous college-prep program that students use in a blended format — combining personalized online work in the classroom with teacher interaction. ASU Prep South Phoenix PCA teachers will begin training in the Cambridge curriculum this year and the administration will set up a timeline to start using it in the classroom, according to Anna Battle, the new chief leadership development officer for the network.

“With all of our campuses, we want to make sure our offerings are equitable, but we will be implementing it slowly,” she said. “If we start them with something they’re not familiar with, success will be limited.”

Patel said that the facilities on the three campuses were tweaked to accommodate the influx of students, including adding indoor lunchroom space at the intermediate campus. One of the most visible changes was adding the maroon and gold ASU logos and images on the exterior and interiors at the schools.

“That excites kids and families because they’re part of ASU from the day they enroll,” Patel said. “There’s no better way to say ‘college prep’ than to say the name of the university that everyone knows.”

Top photo: ASU Prep South Phoenix PCA high school campus, near Broadway Road and 12th Street in South Phoenix, has about 250 students in grades eight through 12. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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