Brighton Charter School focuses on family atmosphere for education success

By: 
DARRELL JACKSON, Staff Writer

Photo by Darrell Jackson
Brighton Charter School, 8632 W. Northern Ave., took over the old Omega Charter School.

Nearly six years ago, Omega Academy charter school was forced closed, but in its place, Brighton Charter School has excelled as the fifth school year begins in August.
The owners of Westland Charter School on 67th Avenue in Phoenix, were looking for a second location when Omega was closed and they decided to open Brighton Charter School.
“We heard Omega was struggling and the Charter Board was talking about closing it, and we had been successful and thought we could bring our success to this location,” Westland Principal and Administration Kathy Couch said. “What makes us different is that we are doing our second generation of kids and we were a private school for 10 years before becoming a charter school since 1996.”
Couch said the main reason for changing from private to charter was twofold.
“Our teachers had been teaching for free for 10 years and their kids were still coming to our school,” Couch said. “Economically, they couldn’t do that forever, and becoming a charter school became available and after waiting for the dust to settle, we realized that switching to charter was the way to get funding in the West Valley.”
When the Westland Charter School took over the Omega property, it faced numerous obstacles, including the reputation of the previous school, which accounted for nearly half the students leaving when Brighton School was born in 2013.
“We had about half the families stay in the first year and only had about 180 total students,” Couch said. “There were a number of struggles that people had heard the negativity from Omega and the No. 1 things we heard that first year was they were afraid it was going to be run the same way as Omega.”
In four years, Brighton has grown to nearly 260 students beginning in August, with a waiting list for kindergarten through eighth grade, but still plenty of availability for high school students.
“We are full kindergarten through eight and we have a waiting list for those grades,” Exceptional Student Services Director and After School Program Director Rachel Ruiz said. “We want to keep a max of 25 kids per class at each campus in kindergarten through eighth grade and will not overfill them just because high school is not near capacity.”
Ruiz said the school is focused on providing students with a “nurturing, well-rounded, and academically challenging learning environment, and that students will be respected and parents valued as an integral part of the educational process.” She also added that Brighton School will instill students the knowledge and skills to make them valued and productive members of society. 
“Just after we took over for Omega, it was hard because we tried to keep most of the staff that was here, but some of the staff did not get paid because of the school’s problems and they couldn’t wait any longer,” Brighton School Principal Katie Goodwin said. “Once Omega was closed by the state, a lot of the former staff was leery and we understood that.”
Goodwin said small class sizes allow the school staff to create an individualized learning environment that focuses not only on learning but also character education and innovative programs. Brighton offers dual enrollment (ability to take community college courses simultaneously) for high schoolers who qualify and free full-day kindergarten, as well as free before- and after-school programs for all enrolled students thanks to funding from the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC).
“Changing the tone of the campus and making it more positive and parent friendly was the first thing we did when we took over,” Goodwin said. “(Omega) had issues with some parents running the place and we came in and had to back that off a bit and the ones that stayed with us accepted that and were actually very understanding and thankful of our early changes.”
“One of the things we pride ourselves on is that all of our kids graduated from Westland and our kids, children go here (Brighton) and Westland,” Couch said. “We are all invested here and it has been successful for our kids, so we know it can be successful for your kids. A safe, good school is what we take pride in. We do not allow fighting and we try to talk to the students like their parents do.”
Goodwin added, “If our own children are going here, it shows we care. We are not an alternative school, we are a charter school that really cares about your kids.”
But while their success has been incredible, according to staff, they do have many things they would like to add to help the students.
“We have a lot of acreage, but we would love to add a field for the kids to play on and have more physical education,” Couch said. “We work with what we have and we have a gym, which allows us to have indoor physical education, which helps in the heat of Arizona.”
Couch and Goodwin said they worry about the eventual completion of Northern Parkway when it comes to possible expansion, but if they have to find a new location, it would be nearby in the West Valley.
“We have room here (Brighton) for about 100 more students before we have to think about either expansion or relocation,” Ruiz said. “If or when Northern Parkway comes through here, then we will look at either expansion or relocation, but will stay nearby.”
While they continue to build upon its success, Goodwin said the school will always be free for students to attend.
“Look, we all believe that school is supposed to be free, and short of a few field trips, it will not cost to attend here,” Goodwin said. “I think people think we charge for our education and that couldn’t be further from the truth because our goal is to give the best education for each student.”
Ruiz added that while they believe their staff is comprised of some of the best in the area, it takes more than just a great staff to be successful.
“The parents have helped make us successful because without the parents bringing the kids to our school every day, it would not work no matter what our staff does,” Ruiz said. “Our goal is, and always will be about the kids and we will continue to do that for all our families.”

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