Charter school backers hope to open Somerton campus in 2014
SOMERTON — A charter high school could open its doors as soon as August 2014 — that is, if a Phoenix-area nonprofit organization can secure an $8 million federal loan this year to build it.
The Foundation Preparatory Academy would offer a curriculum to prepare students for careers in medicine, law and other professional fields, but to get the loan, the Arizona Foundation for Social Justice, Children & Youth Services will need the formal backing of the Somerton City Council.
The foundation, based in Maricopa, applied for the loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year.
“We are in the final stages of financing,” said Sylvester Ajagbe, founder and president of the foundation. “The USDA is asking us for a letter of support, and we will be seeking that, and if all goes well, we think that in May we will have a response on the loan application.”
The foundation plans to build the school on a 10-acre site it has an option to buy on Somerton Avenue, next to Tierra Del Sol Elementary School.
Somerton Mayor Martin Porchas said Friday the foundation so far had not requested for support for the project from the city council. Depending on when it does get the request, the council could consider whether to approve the letter as early as February.
The charter school proposal comes at a time when city officials and some residents have appealed to the Yuma Union High School District and the Arizona School Facilities Board to locate a campus in Somerton to serve their youth, who now travel to Yuma to attend Kofa or Cibola high schools. Somerton already has one charter school, the PPEP Tec-Jose Yepez Learning Center, operated by Tucson-based Portable Practical Educational Preparation.
In recent months, the Maricopa-based foundation has been meeting with residents and groups around Somerton to explain their charter school proposal.
“We have found a lot of support in the community,” said Ajagbe. “We have a local committee and a volunteer group working to provide information in the community. What we are asking for now is that the people speak with their council members and tell them they are in favor of this project, so that (the council) will give us the letter of support.
“If all continues well with the project, in September we will begin building the school, and it will be ready for classes in August of 2014.”
Mark Bastin, a retired assistant superintendent of YUHSD and now the chief education officer for the Foundation Preparatory Academy, said the foundation is in the process of petitioning the state for charter school status.
The Arizona Board of Charter Schools “asked us to make some revisions to the application, and we will resubmit it in March, but we're sure we're going to get designation as a charter school,” Bastin said.
The academy would serve an enrollment of 400 students, who would attend 200 school days instead of the 185 at other schools, said Bastin.
“We have spoken with many people and we have heard lots of good opinions regarding the project,” Bastin said. “We want to satisfy the needs of students in Somerton.”
Bastin said the foundation has presented the board with a proposed curriculum that will put area youth on the path toward careers in fields that are in demand.
“We are going to guide them to areas of medicine, law and business,” he said. “Those are areas where there is a demand for professionals. We are going to offer a program that is going to put them on a path to not only those specialties, but also allow them to continue their educations so they can have professional careers. Young people will graduate with skills even if they don't continue with their studies after high school.”
The Somerton school, he added, will place emphasis on language skills, not only in English, but Spanish, so that students are fluent in both languages.