Originally Published: January 24, 2018 6:01 a.m.
For 12 years, Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy has offered an alternative, experiential brand of high school education to about 160 high school-aged students each year.
At the heart of Northpoint’s program is a collaborative, small-group-style learning experience that enables students to discover why math, science, history and English matter to them. Lessons take students to places as remote as Costa Rica or Germany or as close as Granite Creek. Students are encouraged to become explorers, seeking answers to their questions through experiments, research and conversation.
Leaders at Northpoint have long wanted to add a seventh and eighth-grade middle school, but the space for expansion was limited by its lease holder, Prescott Unified School District. Last year, however, the district sold the former Dexter Elementary School — where Northpoint is located — to Ironline Partners of Phoenix. Northpoint’s new lease with Ironline Partners has no restriction on expansion.
The new lease meant that leaders of the school could initiate a process through the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools to obtain the permission needed to add the two lower grades. Approval was granted, and the school expects to open its middle school at the start of the 2018/2019 school year with about 25 students in each grade.
Northpoint has ready space and furnishings on the second floor, above the cafeteria, to accommodate the new classes. Six full-time staff, including a director, will head up the program.
The charter school is hosting monthly information sessions for families of potential students. So far, about a dozen students have enrolled for the eighth-grade class with a half dozen for the seventh grade class.
The middle school students at Northpoint are likely to attend the high school program, which, each year, has wrestled with enrollment as some of its juniors and seniors choose to work full-time and complete their high school diploma requirements through an online program.
Arizona allows for such school choice, and PUSD Superintendent Joe Howard said the district is unafraid of competition.
“We wish them luck,” he said.
Although Howard noted that the district loses some students whenever a new charter school opens, he said that he does not think the impact will be significant, and he expects that some students may leave PUSD only to return.
“I’m quite confident that it’s pretty hard to match the package that PUSD offers,” Howard said.
Northpoint’s new middle school will be an option for any student from across the region who prefer a non-traditional approach, said Northpoint director Charles Mentken. He touts the new middle school as a strong option for students who may require one-on-one tutorial interventions to meet AZMerit standards.
In Northpoint’s history, Mentken said, a number of students entering as high school freshman have required academic intervention, particularly in math. The ability to boost those skills prior to high school, for students enrolled in Northpoint’s middle school, will help students to achieve more career and college options as they approach high school graduation, Mentken said.
Entering Northpoint in middle school can also help students adjust at an earlier age to the school’s less formal, more interactive approach, Mentken said. By entering Northpoint in middle school, students will better know what to expect in high school at Northpoint and how to become an active participant in their high school education, Mentken said.
“Expeditionary learning challenges students to think critically and take active roles in their classrooms and communities,” said Eileen Sigmund, chief executive officer and president of the Arizona Charter Schools Association. “With the expansion of a middle school, Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy will be able to introduce Prescott student to their innovative school models earlier. Families in Prescott are fortunate to have an abundance of quality choices for their children.”
And the sooner local students discover the Northpoint approach to education, the more likely the school will remain full in all grades, Mentken said, noting that he anticipates a waiting list.
“It’s quite exciting,” he said.