Julia Reed just took over as principal of Imagine Prep Superstition this year, but she’s no stranger to the system – or the kids. She has worked at IP Superstition for eight years and still looks forward to coming in everyday. “When you get up, and you’re tired, and you drag out of bed; but, even if you left really drained the day before, you have nothing but excitement to come to work. And you think, ‘Yep, this is where I’m supposed to be.’”
She is passionate as she speaks about the school, the kids, the culture and the future. “We’re a college prep school,” she says. “Athletics provide a lot of really invaluable opportunities for the kids...but, first and foremost, we definitely focus on academics. And I think the parents would say the same – what attracts them to us is the academics.”
It’s this focus that has resulted in a “B” rating for Imagine Prep’s high school in the state’s school grade system for the last three years – ever since the state overhauled the rating system. IP Superstition’s middle school, which shares the campus with the high school, moved from a “C” to a “B” this past year.
The charter school, located at 1843 W. 16th Ave., Apache Junction, draws students from all over the East Valley. Approximately half of the 396 high school students come from AJ. Others bus in from as far away as Scottsdale. Many of the students who travel to Imagine Prep for high school have come up through the Imagine K-8 schools. Parents who have been satisfied with Imagine see no reason to change at the high school level, even if it means a longer bus ride.
“We have worked really hard to establish a culture of high expectations,” asserts Assistant Principal Laila Valencia. “When they come… they pretty seamlessly transition into our culture, because it’s so well established.” Valencia has been with IP for seven years; the last two at IP Superstition.
So what are some of the things that support the school’s solid performance in the state’s rating system? Reed explains, “One of the things I thought was great that the ADE added to the high school grading model was the College and Career Readiness indicator points, because so much of what you try to accomplish in a high school is not encompassed in the student’s performance on a state test: How did they do on the SAT and the ACT [standardized college aptitude tests]? How did they do on the ASVAB [Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery]? Are they in dual enrollment classes? Things like that, so it really captures a more accurate snapshot for holding the kids – and the schools – accountable to their data. It takes into account what students plan to do once they leave school, and what are you preparing them for?”
Courting these additional points makes sense for a school that defines itself as college prep. Students are encouraged to participate in concurrent enrollment with Central Arizona College (CAC), a program that allows them to begin earning college credits as early as the summer after their sophomore year. Students can take classes in person at CAC, or in a hybrid online/classroom experience. For those who enroll in online classes, Imagine Prep allows them to work in the computer lab during study hall periods to complete their assignments. Students who take full advantage of the program can earn their college associates degree by the time they graduate high school. 11 students at Imagine Prep are currently enrolled in concurrent college programs.
Another factor in the Imagine Prep formula is recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers and empowering them to be leaders – to start and build programs like Choir, Junior Achievement and Forensics, that, through their interaction with students, they believe will pique student interest and improve opportunity.
“One of the other models in the state letter grade is growth,” continues Reed. “So, we do a lot of data deep-dives with the staff to really pinpoint where students need additional help to maintain and grow their proficiency. That’s something that’s pretty evident in our classrooms – the growth mindset that teachers focus on. They really look at growing kids, rather than looking for mastery all at once.”
Reed is also passionate about Advanced Placement (AP) classes, having been the beneficiary of the AP program herself in high school.”I think it’s just really important for the kids who are ready for it, to get them as close to college ready as possible…but it can be really challenging, because [the class enrollment] can be so few in numbers when you get kids to a certain level; like our AP calculus class has 8 students in it. When the class is so small, you have to justify having a full time teacher, the training and things like that.”
That said, Reed believes in making things happen when it’s right for the kids. That can mean adding AP classes when student interest and readiness call for it (currently they offer five AP classes, including US History, World History, Language, Calculus and Biology), and it can mean juggling schedules to push 8th grade students up to Algebra I, if they are prepared.
“We have a full classroom of 8th grade students doing our Algebra I class this year,” beams Reed.
“...and earning their first high school credit before their freshman year,” Valencia points out.
“We’ve always had the ability for the 8th graders to do Algebra I, if they’re ready for it,” continues Reed. “We either include them in the high school classroom, or we’ve done the separate classroom, depending on how many students are prepared… We just make it work in the schedule. It’s really great, because the teachers are able to identify the ability level and skills of the kids. Being able to group those kids for Algebra I keeps them a lot more focused and challenged.”
“I think that’s what makes Imagine Prep different,” says Valencia. “We get that ‘why’ piece, and the growth of mindset and all those kinds of things that we try to implement as a culture. We see these kids as young adults, and we definitely want to get them set up for success.”
Learn more at www.imagineprep.com, or call 480-355-0530.