Fri, Jan. 24

A real choice in education - have you noticed?

American Heritage Academy is nestled in north central Arizona's Verde Valley. Within a half-mile of it there exists perhaps the greatest concentration of parent-choice schools in the United States.

American Heritage Academy is one of the oldest charter schools in Cottonwood. Established in 1995, it is the largest, with 230 grade K-12 students.

It will limit its growth to approximately 250 students.

It is a classical, liberal arts school, college preparatory school requiring uniforms. It is nearing completion of its new multi-million dollar Montecello style, five-acre campus, after having been housed in an old 1928 high school building about two miles away.

Three blocks west of A.H.A. is the Accelerated Learning Center, a pre-school, K-8, partial Montessori-based school now completing its renovation of an old telephone office building. In their second year, they now have 135 students. Across the street, not 200 yards away, is another K-3 Montessori Charter School, for about 40 students. Around the comer, on Main Street, and in direct sight of American Heritage is the Edwards Hall Charter School for grade 6-12, for about 70 students, in a large renovated real estate office.

Approximately 200 yards west is Excel Learning Center for grades 9-12, enrolling about 60 students. Some three blocks to the west, and over an old "slag dump," but next to Cottonwoods' very modern public library, is the New Visions Academy, housing about 45, grades 6-12 students.

Within viewing distance of New Visions door is the local Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District's T.L.C. (The Learning! Center) charter school for middle school and home school parents.

The Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is the largest district with about 2,500 students. South of American Heritage, and about a half mile away, is Mingus Union High School, with nearly 1,300 grade 9-12 students.

Not to be forgotten are the private schools in the area. The Verde Baptist pre-K to sixth grade with 160 students and Seventh-day Adventist, K-8 with about 30 students, are literally next door to each other, and only "catty comer" from the main campus of the C.O.C. School District. Close to Mingus Union, is Cornerstone Christian Academy a 7-12 grade school with 40 students. The Phillips Academy private school, for a about 20 grade 6-8 students is within whistling distance of the two Montessori schools ... and don't forget the Verde Valley Home School Association with many home educators and students. It is my understanding that the new parochial, Catholic Church school will initiate construction near the Comville turnoff this coming Spring.

Yes, isn't it marvelous that in Arizona, the Verde Valley has such a wonderful choice in the education of their students. Each school can specialize, or focus its curriculum to meet the needs, or "market" demanded by the public. With parent choice, ultimate parent accountability, and competition in education, the old-line "monopolistic" public school systems, private and home schools, as well as "market based" charter school systems will sharpen our pencils to improve student preparation for life.

Let's all do our best for educating our children, the leaders and heroes of tomorrow, today.

Steve Anderson is the director of the American Heritage Academy.

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