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Mon, Sept. 23

Growing pains: School heads field questions on Northpoint

The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - Now that Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy is in its second year of operation, some taxpayers around Prescott expressed a few concerns about the school's objective and money source.

"I would like to know what exactly the purpose (of Northpoint) is," said Bill Warren, chairman of the Citizens Tax Committee, adding he wants to know if the district began Northpoint to compete with the charter schools.

Along with Kurt Womack, a board member on the tax committee, Warren said he wants more clarity on how Prescott Unified School District intends to pay for Northpoint after its current Gates Grant money runs out, and what the board's intentions are concerning the State School Facilities Board money it received to build a new 400-student high school.

Womack and Warren said that to their understanding, that money was supposed to go to Prescott High School, and now, the board has contemplated the idea of using the 400-student school for Northpoint. Northpoint currently operates at the Dexter Family Resource Center in Prescott, and teaches to freshman and sophomore classes. After it grows to a full four grades, its capacity will be 400 students.

PUSD Superintendent Kevin Kapp and Northpoint Director Geneva Saint-Amour offered some answers to questions from the community.

"Northpoint utilizes a unique approach to learning known as expeditionary learning that the school district wanted to offer as an option to parents," Kapp said, explaining the district's reasoning for beginning the high school. "If Prescott Unified School District chose not to have Northpoint, I really think someone out there would have started a charter school."

Kapp said one of the reasons the district began Northpoint was to keep a charter school from opening elsewhere, which in turn, would take students away from the district.

Instead, he said, "Roughly one half of the students going to Northpoint are new to Prescott Unified School District ... Those kids would not be in Prescott Unified if not for Northpoint."

Altogether, Kapp said Northpoint is bringing in approximately an additional $340,000 to the district because of these new kids. Currently, it takes $600,000 to run Northpoint.

"That new money covers roughly two-thirds of the costs of running that new school," Kapp said.

Northpoint is under the umbrella of PUSD. In response to community inquiries, Saint-Amour said her school is not an experiment, and Kapp agreed, saying the district will not close Northpoint no matter what. He also noted that Prescott Mile High Middle School is beginning to introduce the expeditionary learning approach into its teaching methods, as well.

"Northpoint is not an alternative school. It is a school of choice. It is a college prep school," Saint-Amour said. "Northpoint is not an experiment, but expeditionary learning is proven nationwide as being an effective technique."

She said people can view the studies and research proving expeditionary learning to be an effective model of teaching at www.elschools.org.

In terms of funding, Kapp said the Gates Grant money Northpoint receives does not pay for teacher salaries and supplies, and it never has, regardless of some misconceptions. The four-year grant pays only for professional development - teaching the teachers how to run an expeditionary learning class.

He called the grant "seed money," saying, "The logic being, get all the teachers trained, and then maintain the training; but that's not as much money."

Kapp said the district can use cash from the "Lower 40" of Proposition 300 money, designated for professional development, to continue offering classes for expeditionary learning instructors after the grant money runs out.

Saint-Amour added she will continue to search for other grants to help because many are available for

professional development.

Either way, Kapp said from the moment Northpoint began, the school district has paid for everything besides the professional development.

"It's not like we're going to get hit with a burden (after the grant money runs out)," Kapp said.

Womack brought up the tax committee's most prominent point. "This whole issue with the Students First funding is our biggest concern," he said, referring to the 400-student high school. "I always thought the School Facilities Board people were talking about the Ruth Street high school over there (referring to Prescott High)."

However, now the PUSD board has considered designating that 400-student high school for Northpoint.

"The School Facilities Board building was given to us based on growth at Prescott High School," Kapp said. "(The) curiosity is legitimate ... Northpoint is actually absorbing the growth that would've gone to Prescott High School now."

Kapp said Prescott High's enrollment is down about 4 percent this year, which no one is complaining about. Northpoint is diverting some of the new freshman to its site instead.

"It's only fair to put Northpoint's needs on the table, at least," he said, adding the new school does need its own home.

In response to some concerns that Northpoint may be taking away resources from other schools, such as Prescott High, both Kapp and Saint-Amour said that is absolutely not true.

"I could appreciate where they would feel these concerns, but I hope as they investigate the situation further, they understand (how) school funding(works)," Saint-Amour said.

Womack and Warren suggested the district come up with an easier, user-friendly budget breakdown to post on its website so the average person can read and understand how the district uses its money, and where its money comes from.

Contact the reporter at slopatin@prescottaz.com

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