Raylene Lerma and Elaysia Colts

ASU Prep Casa Grande debuts


Mary Beth Faller

Arizona State University has expanded its innovations in education to its K-12 charter schools, and the newest one opened this week.

ASU Preparatory Academy Casa Grande started classes Monday with 50 students in grades 9-12.

Every student gets a laptop and learns at an individualized pace, said Art Lebowitz, the head of schools.

“Interestingly enough, in Casa Grande, which seems far away from the big city, this is an incubator of what the future of learning will look like: the personalization, the blended learning, the students working at their own pace, the technology-driven education with faculty involved,” Lebowitz said.

In the old days, students would walk into a classroom and the daily goals would be on the blackboard, the same for everybody, said Deborah Gonzalez, chief academic officer for the ASU Prep network.

“Now, when you come into the classroom, you open your laptop and your learning objectives are personalized to you as an individual as opposed to everyone has to be on the same page on the same day at the same time.”

Students spent the first day of class learning to sign into their accounts, getting to know each other and learning about the four pillars of ASU Prep: academics, partnership, leadership and innovation.

Sylvia Mejia, director of blended learning, helps ninth-graders on the first day of school Aug. 1 at ASU Prep Casa Grande. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Casa Grande is the third ASU Prep campus, and like all charter schools, there is no tuition to attend. The ASU Prep campus at Seventh and Fillmore streets in downtown Phoenix houses a preschool, elementary and middle schools, and ASU Prep High School. The university’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa is home to a preschool, a K-8 STEM academy and ASU Prep High School Poly. The Phoenix and Poly schools, with about 2,000 total students, graduated 100 percent of the class of 2016, and about two-thirds of the graduates went on to attend ASU.

All the ASU Prep high schools use the internationally benchmarked Cambridge International Curriculum, which focuses on getting students ready for college. In some cases, end-of-course exams can be converted to university credit.

“It’s a high-level preparatory program designed to help every student graduate from a university,” Gonzalez said. “Because the learning is personalized, the students are able to find areas of interest and go in depth into those areas.”

Juniors and seniors will get to partner with faculty at the ASU Polytechnic campus for advanced study, take ASU Online courses and have hands-on internships in the community.

ASU Prep Casa Grande is housed on the grounds of the Francisco Grande Hotel and Golf Resort, about 50 miles southeast of Phoenix. The school took over the resort’s conference center, and the students will walk next door to the hotel restaurant for lunch every day.

ASU Prep Casa Grande also is unique because of its partnership with Grande Sports Academy, an elite soccer-training center for boys ages 14 to 18. The soccer academy shares a campus with the school and the resort, and about 60 student-athletes will have the opportunity to attend ASU Prep next year.

Like the other ASU Prep sites, the Casa Grande school is decorated with Sun Devil banners, pennants and posters, and the students wear maroon polo shirts. Everyone wears gold on Fridays.

That college-prep focus was what drew 10th-grader Alejandro De La Cerda to the new school.

“It was a great opportunity, and I couldn’t pass up on it,” De La Cerda said. “I knew it would be different, but at orientation I realized it was a whole different experience from other schools.

“To have something like this come to Casa Grande is pretty big.”

Top photo: Raylene Lerma (center) shows her schedule to fellow ninth-grader Elaysia Colts on the first day of classes at the new ASU Preparatory Academy in Casa Grande. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now