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The Little School That Could... And Did

Building opportunity on a reputation for excellence

Phoenix College Preparatory Academy (PCPA) is impressive – even without the data. The previous D-rated school has been A-rated for the last four years. Ad with that, comes some jaw-dropping stats. Get a load of these numbers:

Just under 50 percent of PCPA students earn an AA degree before they even graduate high school. The graduation rate is more than 98 percent. And the success rate of students that choose to take college classes is an astounding 86 percent. 

Last year PCPA students spent 3,700 hours giving back, doing community service in downtown metro Phoenix and surrounding cities by working at food banks, churches, cleaning city streets and more.

More than 90 percent are first-generation college students; 92 percent are minorities; 80 percent are economically challenged. Close to 90 percent of the students are on free and reduced lunch. 

Over the last three years, the school has offered 4.5 million in scholarships. They only have 250 students. There is a waiting list to get in each year, families waiting to get in based on reputation and word-of-mouth. 

Running those numbers in any setting is impressive, which might explain why PCPA recently landed on the U.S. News & World Report's Best High Schools list. That kind of scorecard is bound to get some attention. But that’s not what makes Principal Keith Brown most proud. 

“We were floundering, seen more as a remedial school, but we worked hard and turned that around. Now, it’s about college credits while in high school. The confidence level of our students when they know they can accomplish anything they want to and conquer the world is the most satisfying. That kind of transformation only happens when teachers, office staff, administration and counselors are all working together. We know the end result puts students in a position to be successful in life.” 

That kind of turnaround doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of staff had to embrace a whole new thought process as for what PCPA was trying to accomplish: Getting students college-ready. With a low-income demographic, scholarships and grants are important. Last year, PCPA had 11 students win funding to ASU through the President Barack Obama Scholars Program. 

“With scholarships and grants, we are able to support the students’ college education here for two years, then outside help sets them up for success at a university for the next 2 or 3 years,” Brown said. “It’s the head start we give our students.” 

In 2003, Phoenix College (PC) started what was called the Teachers Prep Academy to help provide the state with more qualified, trained teachers. But as the college developed the program more, the Teachers Prep Academy morphed into a full high school on the PC campus.

PCPA students attend college classes on the actual campus of Phoenix College. That means students have access to the college's computer labs, libraries and other services too (it even has its own athletic teams and is a member of the Canyon Athletic Association!).

Because PCPS’s pathways program is so successful and popular, many students come back and serve the community after graduating from college – serving as doctors, lawyers, teachers and military personnel. 

Like a true educator, Principal Brown could go on for hours bragging about his students and their success. Indeed, it’s hard to narrow down the rock stars that Phoenix College Preparatory Academy produces. What isn’t hard is to be impressed with the success, values, passion and talent at PCPA – as the community and now the nation knows.  

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