When the Kingman Unified School District decided in early 2012 to open the Cambridge Preparatory Academy at the start of the 2012-2013 school year at three of its campuses, it had to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.
The Cambridge program, a rigorous curriculum designed to prepare students for the Grand Canyon Diploma and open academic pathways designed to get students ready for careers and college, opened at Kingman Middle School, White Cliffs Middle School and Lee Williams High at the start of the current school year.
"Cambridge is a whole new experience. I have gained so much more knowledge already," wrote a WCMS student in an essay about the Cambridge experience. "This program is doing exactly what it said, and more. I'm so glad I took advantage of this opportunity."
But it didn't happen overnight.
District officials were able to clear numerous hurdles - including the application process and teacher training - in order to open the program on time, and even though teachers, students and administrators have seen Cambridge as a success, there are still plenty of lessons the district learned in the last few months. The plan is to take what has been gleaned and apply it to the next school year.
"It's here forever," said KUSD Curriculum Director Jeri Wolsey of the program. So it was important to collaborate with Cambridge teachers to come up with adjustments for the future, she added.
Cambridge applications, which were released on the KUSD website Wednesday, have been changed since last year.
Prospective students are no longer required to get teacher recommendations.
Teachers had the ability to recommend students not be admitted into the program, so some students who thought they had positive recommendations from teachers actually had the opposite.
"Teachers and parents did not like that," Wolsey said.
Unlike last year, Assessment Technology Incorporated test scores are now included in the application process.
The last change has to do with the three-to-five paragraph essays students were required to write last year. The essay requirement remains, but students are now required to hand write them as opposed to typing them, Wolsey said.
Teachers said they want to see how the students write and be sure that what they're reading comes from the students, Wolsey explained.
Parents of students already enrolled in the program at Lee Williams High have been concerned with what happens after 10th grade, the last year of the program for most students.
There are a few educational pathways available to Cambridge students. There's the Grand Canyon Diploma, which allows students who meet all of the requirements to graduate from high school early and enter a community college, said KUSD Superintendent Roger Jacks. Requirements include passing numerous exit exams.
Students can also earn the diploma but choose to stay in high school, or forgo the diploma and just stick to the education offered by the program through 10th grade. Once this decision is made, one of two options would be open to them after 10th grade: They can enroll in certificate classes that focus on vocational education or they can enroll in advanced placement courses that focus on preparing students for a four-year university, Jacks said.
Either way, the Cambridge program is preparing them for whatever they choose to do after high school, Jacks said.
There are two types of Cambridge education models. There's the extended model, which is extremely rigorous, and there's the less difficult but still intense core model, Wolsey said.
For the program's first year, the extended model was the only option.
"We learned that having all the students doing the extended model put a wide variety of ability levels in classes," Jacks said. "It made it difficult for teachers to meet students' needs."
The district expects to add the core model to Cambridge classes except for English, which will continue to operate under the more rigorous model for the 2013-2014 school year.
Opting for the core model will make it tougher to pass the exams that lead to a Grand Canyon Diploma, but it's clear that not all students are in the program for that reason in the first place, Jacks said.
Students accepted into next year's program will be required to go through a declaration process under the supervision of their parents that decides which model best suits them, Jacks said.
The program currently has around 320 students, Wolsey said. The district hopes to expand enrollment by adding at least one class at each grade level. Theoretically, the district could add another 300 students to the program next year, Wolsey said.
With a full year under their belts, district staff is much more prepared to deal with next school year. From teacher training to the application deadline, the district has a much better grasp of how to move forward with the program than it did last year.
"But we wouldn't change what we did," Wolsey said of getting the program off the ground.