How BASIS Chandler stays on top of Arizona high schools

By Ken Sain

BASE Chandler Principal Matthew FritzMiller often gives the tour when parents are considering sending their children to charter school.

When he mentions that every BASIS student has to take Advanced Placement courses, they sometimes stop and stare at him with wide eyes.

“Parents’ eyes go wide when I say ‘APs in fifth grade, right?’ said Fritz Mueller.

The eyes are just as big for their children, he said, before they take their first AP test.

“Many of our students get very concerned when they take their APs with them at first,” says Fritz Miller. “And you know, and I’m always there at the beginning, talk her down, calm her down. And 90% of the time, they leave with, ‘Wow, that was a lot easier than I thought.’”

BASIS Chandler is the best high school in Arizona as of 2019. If you look at US News’ ranking of Arizona’s top high schools, 10 of the top 12 are BASE schools. The same publication ranks BASIS Chandler as the 11th best high school in the country.

So what did BASIS find out that the other schools in the state don’t?

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“I really think that preparation is starting them in fifth grade and getting them used to a tough test,” Fritz Miller said.

BASIS Chandler teaches students from fifth grade through senior year of high school. FritzMiller said they immediately start introducing them to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math).

The placement classes and tests actually start in high school, but BASIS prepares their students for them in fifth grade.

“From the sixth grade, students take biology, chemistry and physics,” said Fritz Miller. “And they do that for sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. So while most schools have a general science class that sort of picks up some of that, our students learn biology from a biology teacher, physics from a physics teacher, and chemistry from a chemistry teacher.”

BASIS Chandler graduates 100% of its students and all are college ready, which is why it ranks so high on state and national lists.

In addition to this early preparation, other factors also help.

For one thing, there are about 334 students in grades 9-12. That makes it one of the smaller schools in the area compared to the thousands who attend Hamilton or Perry high schools.

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And success breeds success.

FritzMiller said that when students get a sense of how they’re doing well on an AP test, it makes them excited to try more. And to learn more.

He said his school may have fewer students, but the typical class has about 25 students — just like most public high schools.

Getting started with BASIS is not easy. The state uses a lottery system to match students to their preferred charter school. Because of its good reputation, BASIS Chandler receives many inquiries.

FritzMiller said most of the new enrollments came from her two K-4 elementary schools.

Pupils who have previously been connected to BASIS – for example with siblings who attend the school – are also given preference.

Last year about 1,000 students tried to get into BASIS Chandler. Last year’s senior class was under 100.

FritzMiller said not all students who attend his schools have helicopter parents who are heavily involved in their education.

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“Three years ago, I gave a diploma to a student who had been homeless for much of her high school career,” Fritz Miller said. “There were certainly times when she could have said, ‘This is too hard.’ But she didn’t. And man, that was one of the most meaningful diplomas I could give. Every year we hear stories from children who could have given up.”

To graduate from a BASIS school, students must pass at least six AP tests. FritzMiller said his students average 13 years old and that some students take as many as 20. Many of them aren’t enrolled in a class, but the subject interests them, so they study it independently before taking the test, he said.

“I think a lot of our students say after their first AP test, ‘Oh, it’s not as bad as I thought.’ And then the next year they take two or three and the following year three, four or five. You start to enjoy it, maybe enjoy is the wrong word. But it’s not as intimidating as they initially thought.”

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