How BASIS Chandler stays on top of Arizona high schools - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

How BASIS Chandler stays on top of Arizona high schools

September 27th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
How BASIS Chandler stays on top of Arizona high schools

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

BASIS Chandler Head of School Matthew FritzMiller often gives the tour when parents are considering sending their children to the charter school.

When he mentions that every student at BASIS must take Advanced Placement classes, they sometimes pause and look at him wide-eyed.

“Parents eyes get really big when I say ‘APs in the fifth grade, right?” FritzMiller said.

The eyes are just as wide for their children, he said, before they take their first AP test.

“A lot of our students, when they go and take their APs, they’ll be really worried at first,” said FritzMiller. “And you know, and I’m always there at the beginning, talking them down, calming them down. And 90% of the time, they leave saying, ‘Wow, that was a lot easier than I thought it would be.’”

BASIS Chandler has been ranked the top high school in Arizona since 2019. If you look at U.S. News’ ranking of the best high schools in Arizona, 10 of the top 12 are BASIS schools. The same publication ranks BASIS Chandler as the 11th best high school in the nation.

So what has BASIS figured out that the other schools in the state haven’t?

“I honestly believe it’s that preparation, starting them in fifth grade, getting them acclimated to what a high stakes test is,” FritzMiller said.

BASIS Chandler teaches students from the fifth grade through senior year of high school. FritzMiller said they start introducing them to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) right away.

The advance placement classes and tests actually start in high school, but BASIS begins preparing their students for them in the fifth grade.

“Starting in sixth grade, students take biology and chemistry and physics,” FritzMiller said. “And they do that for sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. So whereas most schools, you’ve got like a general science class, and it kind of picks on bits of that, our students are getting biology from a biology teacher, physics from a physics teacher, and chemistry from a chemistry teacher.”

BASIS Chandler graduates 100% of its students and all of them are ready for college, which is why it places so high on state and national lists.

There are other factors that help beside that early preparation.

For one, there are about 334 students in grades 9-12. That makes it one of the smaller schools in the area when you compare it to the thousands attending Hamilton or Perry high schools.

And success breeds success.

FritzMiller said when students get a taste of doing well on one AP test, it makes them eager to try more. And to study more.

He said his school may have smaller enrollment, but the typical class has about 25 students – same as most public high schools.

Getting into BASIS is not easy. The state uses a lottery system to assign students to their preferred charter school. Because of its reputation, BASIS Chandler gets a lot of requests.

FritzMiller said most of the new enrollees come from their two primary K-4 schools.

Students who have previous ties to BASIS – such as those with siblings attending the school – also get priority.

Last year about 1,000 students tried to get into BASIS Chandler. Last year’s graduating senior class was under 100.

FritzMiller said not all of the students who attend his schools come with helicopter parents who are heavily involved in their education.

“Three years ago, I gave a diploma to a student who spent quite a bit of her high school career homeless,” FritzMiller said. “There were certainly times when she could have said, ‘This is too hard.’ But she didn’t. And man, that was one of the most meaningful diplomas for me to hand out. Every year we’ve got stories of kids that could have given up.”

To graduate from a BASIS school, students must pass at least six AP tests. FritzMiller said that his students average 13, and that some students take up to 20. Many of those are not enrolled in a class, but the subject interests them so they study it independently before taking the test, he said.

“I think a lot of our students, once they take that first AP test, they realize, ‘Oh, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.’ And then they take two or three the next year, and then they take, you know, three, four or five that following year. They start to enjoy it, maybe enjoy is the wrong word to use. But it’s not as daunting as they originally would have thought.”

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