Getting the News
Both Mark Allen, BASIS Peoria’s Head of School since 2015, and Sean Clark, Head of School at BASIS Flagstaff since 2014, found out that The Washington Post had ranked their schools when BASIS.ed CEO Peter Bezanson sent them an email on Sunday evening, April 17, 2016.
Allen’s Peoria campus, which opened in 2011, is on the Post‘s list of “Top Performing Schools with Elite Students.” Clark’s school in Flagstaff, which also opened in 2011, is on the Post‘s numerical rankings list — “America’s Most Challenging High Schools” — and is the #2 high school in the nation.
Allen “quickly” sent an email with the news to his staff Sunday night — but come Monday morning, he said, “it was business as usual — almost.” He heard some chatter about the rankings in the hallways, and talked about it a bit with some teachers. Then at his usual Monday afternoon meeting with the teaching staff, “everyone erupted in applause,” he said.
Further north, after receiving Bezanson’s email, Clark sent a text to staffers early Monday — but noted that “the news was already spreading by about 8:00 a.m., especially when the BASIS.ed press release was disseminated.
“I actually walked into the teachers’ lounge and a teacher asked if I’d seen that we were the #2 school in the country, according to The Washington Post. ‘Uh, why yes, yes I have seen it!’ I said!” Clark laughed.
True Teacher Validation
“We quickly got some nice comments from parents about how our school is challenging but supportive, about how glad they are that their kids get to come here to school,” Clark said of his Flagstaff community. “That’s just the best!”
Allen — who has been in Peoria since its inception in 2011, first as Head of School Assistant, then as Upper School Director, followed by a Head of Operations stint, and finally as Head of School — said that he explained at the staff meeting how meaningful the ranking is in the education world — and in the network-wide BASIS.ed community. After that, he says the excitement was palpable, as everyone around BASIS Peoria was visibly excited, buzzing with the notion of national attention.
“But my reaction is quite different than the one that I am observing,” Allen said. “For me, it’s a validation of the five years of hard work by teachers and staff — as well as students and parents. It has been a true collective effort.”
Not surprisingly, Clark used the exact same word, and echoed the exact same thought.
“It’s a huge validation for the work that the teachers put in, and of course for the students and families who decide to come here,” he said. “This is tremendous for them.”
For you, too?
“Yeah, for me, too, but day-to-day, we have six hundred kids to educate, to shepherd through our school. That’s how we got to that place, how we got to be a top ranked school,” said Clark, who taught middle school Latin and world history at what is now BASIS Tucson North from 2011-2013, before moving to BASIS Flagstaff in 2014 as Director of Student Affairs, and then becoming Head of School.
“So it’s a validation of what we do — to our supportive, caring, nurturing environment — but it’s not why we do it!”
I asked both HOS’s whether they were ‘expecting’ to be ranked.
“There’s always been talk about when we’d ‘get our own credentials’. A lot of people knew that we were ‘waiting’ for our first year of eligibility for national rankings,” Allen said of his Peoria staff. “I suppose on some level, we knew that once we were eligible, we could get ranked.” But, he says, he’d never really discussed it openly.
Clark’s experience in Flagstaff was similar. “I think we expected to be recognized once we were eligible — and, I figured we would be in a good spot. Number two we were not expecting at all; I was hoping for top ten. But the second spot was a surprise. A very, very pleasant surprise!”
Clark talked about the accolade being a morale boost for the teachers and staff who’ve been working so hard for five years. “We’ve been saying, ‘our school is like Scottsdale, our school is like Tucson North!’ And now, we truly are!”
Allen explained that in Peoria, his teachers and staff — and, sometimes, parents — made similar expressions. “And now we’re in the same group as BASIS Scottsdale, and Tucson North, and Chandler. Our people understand what that means.”
Clark noted that his school is “in a small, rural town! Most BASIS.ed schools are in big metropolitan areas. So, for the #2 school in the country to be in a place where there are just twelve thousand school-aged children — amazing.
“And we will use this notoriety to help kids. Bring more kids to BASIS Flagstaff, do our part to help Northern Arizona education, and show that even in rural places, these things can work and work really well.”
Back to the Whiteboard
Allen and Clark were quick to speak of getting back to work in the usual way with the usual mission. But would the feeling, the idea behind the day-to-day toil change now that their school is highly ranked nationally, which is something that the campus will be “known for” going forward?
“We will continue to do what we do, what we’ve come to campus to do every morning all year, all of five years,” Allen said. “It will be the same BASIS Peoria as it always has been from here on out,” Allen said.
“But the ranking certainly won’t get old,” Allen said. “We’ll appreciate where we are.”
One of Clark and Allen’s colleagues, BASIS Scottsdale veteran Head of School Elizabeth McConaghy, agrees that it ‘won’t get old.’
BASIS Scottsdale has been highly ranked every year since it first became eligible, five years ago, in 2012. This year, it is a Post “Public Elite” for the second straight year, and U.S. News‘ #2 school nationally for the second year in a row as well.
“Being ranked definitely isn’t old hat!” McConaghy said. “Being recognized as one of the best never gets old. My reaction, once again, is one of elation and pride!”
Also: every year is different, McConaghy said, noting that rankings actually honor different students each year. “Students, faculty, and administration recognized for their hard work and achievement is truly the culmination of years and years of effort throughout middle and high school,” she said.
Thinking about the ranking — and the coming year of being “a top ranked school” — Clark turned to basketball — and one of the greatest teachers of students — albeit student-athletes — who ever lived. “I always like the words of the legendary basketball coach at UCLA, John Wooden, who taught his players to not pay attention to the scoreboard. Rather, he taught them to keep their attention on the fundamentals of the game!
“So to translate that to BASIS Flagstaff — again, I don’t think anyone is at our school because they want to ‘be highly ranked.’ They’re here because they love what they do. They love teaching. And they will pay attention to that, not to the rankings, or Coach Wooden’s ‘score’. It’s still the fundamentals — that’s what we need to focus on every day.”