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D-M may get charter school at old TUSD site on base

Citizen Staff Writer



Sonoran Science Academy is waiting to hear if it will be one of the first charter schools located on a U.S. Air Force base.

The school, which already has two Tucson sites, was chosen from three applicants by a Davis-Monthan Air Force Base leadership selection team to be housed in the former Tucson Unified School District’s Lowell H. Smith Elementary School, 5741 E. Ironwood St.

Applicants were judged on instructional effectiveness, personnel, special needs programs, noninstructional effectiveness and its general management plan, said base spokeswoman 1st Lt. Mary Pekas. A financial assessment of the schools also was done. “Sonoran Science Academy best fulfilled the criteria,” she said.

TUSD, which closed Smith in May 2006, had planned on reopening it as a middle school for the 2007-08 school year, but was unable to do so.

TUSD operates another school, Frank Borman Elementary, on the base. The Smith and Borman school buildings are owned by the Air Force.

Pekas said the decision whether to allow Sonoran Science Academy to open in the fall must be made by the Air Force Installations Office, which she hopes will happen by spring or early summer.

Sonoran Science Academy already has a main campus for kindergarten through 12th grade at 2325 W. Sunset Road and a K-8 school it opened this school year at 6880 E. Broadway. In addition to the base site, it is looking for another East Side building for its Broadway school middle school students and to house new high school students, Pekas said.

A few of the Broadway school students whose parents work at the base may transfer to the base school, said Sonoran Science Academy principal and new school projects coordinator Ercan Aydogdu.

He said about 100 to 150 middle school students are expected at the base site this fall. His school plans to have enrollment match the building capacity of 400.

About 60 children living on the base are fifth-graders at Borman and Aydogdu said many may be interested in continuing to attend an on-site school. Base students are not required to go to schools on the base. They attend TUSD, Vail Unified School District schools, charter schools or private schools, Pekas said.

Aydogdu said Sonoran Science Academy recognizes the unique situation of base children, who may have parents serving in war-torn areas. “We will have on-site counselors and special education teachers and librarians, and teachers in art, music and other fine arts.”

However, the charter school would not be exclusive to students living on the base or even students whose parents are in the military.

“As a public charter school, we cannot say only military kids can attend. We have to be open to all the public,” Aydogdu said.

Students living outside the base would be put on a list to gain entrance each day.

Pekas has said the charter school is “essentially an option for our parents. The goal is to have as many opportunities as possible to get the best education for their kids.” But, she said, a middle school on base allows parents more opportunities to be involved.

The Air Force will not charge the charter school to lease the property, Pekas said, but Sonoran Science Academy will be responsible for the maintenance and improvements on the site. The lease is for 10 years, with a year-to-year option after that, not to exceed 15 years.

D-M panel picks finalist for possible new charter middle school on base

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