20 Oct My Phoenix Story: Julia Meyerson
I was born and raised in Central Phoenix, and at that time, downtown closed at 5 pm. There were few restaurants and limited weekend activities. When I left for college, I doubted that I would ever move back to Arizona, let alone live and work (close to!) downtown.
Before moving back to Phoenix in 2011, I had lived back east for six years. After graduating college, I joined Teach For America and was placed in the South Bronx teaching first grade. While I was living in New York, the Mayor started getting more and more involved in the city’s schools, and I became fascinated with the impact politics can have on education.
So, I moved to Washington, DC, and started working for the Democratic Governors Association. It was an incredible opportunity to interact with Governors and business leaders on important policy issues. While I absolutely loved my job, I was not doing enough work with education policy or education reform. I knew I wanted to go back into education and I wanted to do so in a meaningful way.
Understanding that our public school system in Arizona is at the bottom of most national rankings, especially for students in low-income communities, I decided that I wanted to leverage my experience in Teach For America and in policy at the Governors Association and start an elementary school in my home state.
I heard about a national Fellowship through a program called Building Excellent Schools, and quickly applied. The Fellowship was a year-long opportunity to travel across the country and study the highest performing charter schools. These are schools where over 90% of the students are living in poverty and over 90% of the students are achieving at the highest levels academically.
So, from 2011 – 2013 I studied over 50 high performing schools that are proof points for what is possible in urban education. Vista College Prep, our elementary school that I help found, located just south of downtown Phoenix, is built on the best practices of high performing, no excuses charter schools nationwide. Our model is rooted in four central tenets:
- Exceptional Teachers: We had 100% teacher retention during our first three years of operation.
- Literacy is Everything: 40% of our school day is focused on literacy instruction.
- More Time = More Learning: Our school day goes from 7:40 – 4:00 pm.
- Family Engagement: We do a home visit with every new family and have averaged nearly 100% parent participation at every parent-teacher conference.
We opened in August 2013 to our inaugural class of kindergarten and first grade students, the college graduating classes of 2030 and 2029, respectively. Our whole focus is on the idea that college preparation starts in kindergarten and we are determined to prove that demographics do not determine destiny and that all students can succeed if they are able to receive a quality education.
Just two years later, our third grade scholars took the AZ Merit for the first time, and we could not be more proud of the results:
- VCP scholars outperformed their peers across Arizona by 56% in literacy and 29% in math.
- Among schools serving populations with over 90% of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Priced Lunch, VCP scholars scored the highest in the state on the literacy portion of the AZ Merit. 97% of students qualify for free and reduced price lunch.
- Among schools with at least 60% of students qualifying for Free and Reduced Priced Lunch, VCP scholars are in the top 5% of scores across the state.
While we are so proud of the academic achievements of our students, we are also committed to establishing strong partnerships with the downtown community. In fact, we have an incredible event coming up on November 17, 2016 from 5:30 – 8:30 pm where our after-school bucket band will be performing! Led by The Leading Tone, this group of young students spends two days a week learning to play buckets (drums!), recorder and dance. Thanks to an amazing partnership with Opportunity 4 Kids, an organization committed to quality after school programming, our goal is to increase awareness about these organizations and showcase VCP’s young musicians. We hope you will join us! If you can’t make it, feel free to contribute on our GoFundMe page.
Our team is working to close the achievement gap every day. And it is this energy and drive to truly impact change that makes Phoenix such an exciting place to live and work.