This opportunity demands a creative, flexible, and innovative individual. This is an unusual position, and it will require a candidate who is visionary, open minded, collaborative, adaptive and willing to re-imagine structures and purposes of public education.
Desert Preparatory Academy is a vibrant, “wee” school located in the Palo Verde Valley, on the Colorado River. The school is in its fourth year of operation as a school that focuses on gifted and talented education, hands-on science, and fine and performing arts.
The school operates as a 501 (c)(3) non-profit with the ability to raise funds. Desert Prep was founded to serve the underserved population in the area: above average to gifted students. The local school district, Palo Verde Unified, is the lowest performing school district in the state of California. Its main foci are English language learners, below average students, and special needs students.
Desert Prep’s founders originally (2011-2012) explored the possibility of opening the school as a charter school. Local residents were told the school would be a charter school. The Palo Verde Unified School District board was openly hostile to the idea. Many were disappointed when the school opened as an independent school and did not inquire about admission for their children.
Upon the arrival of well-regarded founding (and current) head of school in 2013, Desert Prep reached out to the community. Desert Prep opened its doors in the Fall of 2013. The school partnered with Palo Verde College to present two musical events per year for the community, one, a winter concert, and the other, a spring musical play. The current head personally reached out to the community, volunteering for local events and participating in local service clubs. On behalf of the school, she applied for SEVIS certification which, if granted, will give the school the opportunity to recruit international students and issue F-1 student visas.
Desert Prep has done quite well educationally. It provides gifted and talented education, hands-on science, and fine and performing arts. Standardized tests indicate students have improved in reading and math performance. The musical performances have expanded to several community appearances, as well as a yearly serenade to community veterans on Veterans’ Day.
In spite of its efforts to reach out to the community and the quality of education it provides to students, Desert Prep has not reached a sustainable level of tuition. It lacks a sufficient number of enrollees.
Some of the original enrollees in 2013 were not mission-appropriate, and applying admission standards for returning/continuing students resulted in lower enrollment. Other families left the area. Although financial aid is quite generous, most families in the area are unfamiliar with the concept of independent education and do not understand its advantages.
The new superintendent of the Palo Verde School District was brought in as a change agent, specifically to improve the quality of public education in the Palo Verde Valley. He approached Desert Prep with the idea of becoming an independent charter school in the district. Mindful of the timeliness of the overture, the founders hired a consultant to write the charter and intend to apply for charter status with the school district once the charter is written, hopefully in the Spring of 2017. The charter will be written to accommodate Desert Prep’s existing focus on college preparatory education, gifted and talented education (GATE), hands-on science, and the Arts: a GATE/STEAM school.
The school is in the process of completing paperwork for an initial WASC visit in February 2017 and has begun the CAIS self-study for a dual accreditation visit in 2017-18. The current head has built academic infrastructure to include teacher leaders at the Pre-K through First Grade, Upper Elementary (Fourth through Transitional Sixth Grade), and Upper School (Sixth through Ninth Grade, expanding to Tenth Grade in 2017-2018). A Director of Advancement, a teacher also serving as Upper School Director, began in July 2016.
Accreditation will be retroactive as of the Fall of 2016. Courses provided to 9th grade students will be eligible for submission on California College and University (A-G) transcripts.