New Public School Model: The public school in Phoenix is large, inefficient, and does not enforce clear goals for student formation and achievement. While some traditional districts have honors programs and micro-academies within their schools, these opportunities are limited and often require that students “test in.” By contrast, Great Hearts offers the same academically rigorous program to all students and has no admissions criteria. Great Hearts professes a broad public commitment to provide a superior classical liberal arts education to all students who are curious and diligent.
The primary goal of Great Hearts Academies is to graduate thoughtful leaders of character who will contribute to a more philosophical, humane, and just society. To reach this goal, each student must freely discern his or her unique character and destiny during the program. Liberal education should bring each student to ask: what amongst the array of offerings and invitations spread before me in the future do I find meaningful? Graduates will then apply that confident self-understanding for a greater good beyond themselves.
This is not to say that Great Hearts believes that self-purpose can be simply taught as part of the curriculum, or that the schools will supplant the role of the parents in moral formation. Rather, each academy strives to create an environment in which durable character, and the open search for it, is modeled and highly regarded. Great Hearts believes that academic accomplishment is a natural byproduct of a preparatory school culture that first values integrity, personal responsibility, and thoughtful self-reflection.
Our Model: What follows is a short outline of the substantial features that define a Great Hearts Network academy. These features are essential to establishing start-up schools according to a proven model.
A Core Liberal Arts Curriculum
A Great Hearts Academy requires a common and rigorous sequence of courses for all students; there are no electives. The sequence in math, science, foreign language, fine arts, and the perennial and timeless humanities exceeds the state standards in duration and content. All students graduate as critical thinkers, coherent writers, and confident speakers. At the high school level, 24.5 high school credits are required for graduation (above the state required 20) so that all students who graduate are eligible for admissions to the finest colleges and universities in the nation.
An Academy Ethos
A community of students working together in pursuit of the school's lofty vision is an essential feature of a Great Hearts Academy. Students are invited and exhorted to create a community of scholarship, leadership, and service in their classrooms, in extracurricular activities, and in their relationships with peers and teachers. These academies strive to foster friendship of the noblest sort: friendships marked by a common love of the true, the good, and the beautiful, in which students enrich and dignify each other through their work together. The schools value character and leadership highly, recognizing at the same time that these good habits of virtue cannot simply be taught, but must be modeled, reflected upon, and experienced through immersion. Students also profess an honor code that upholds academic integrity, and wear uniforms.
A Great Hearts Academy is small, and individual classes are small as well. This limited size guarantees the availability of the individual attention, both academic and personal, that students need to do their best. The overall student-to-teacher ratio on campus is around 15:1, further safeguarding against the anonymity too common to "big box" schools.
A Professionally Diverse and Uniquely Qualified Faculty
The teachers come from a variety of backgrounds: traditionally-trained and experienced public school teachers are a minority of the faculty. Faculty members are drawn from technical and professional fields, from private or non-traditional school teaching, and from academia (college teaching, graduate schools). Of central importance are the teacher's own love of learning and knowledge of academic subject matter. The teacher must be fundamentally Socratic in his/her approach to students. His/her teaching activity is aimed at eliciting new thoughts and ideas in the learners, and not simply at filling them with information. He/she must fully embrace the school's vision of community, of learning, and of leadership.
The head of a Great Hearts Academy must possess the virtues of the best teachers and administrators by overseeing all the functions of the school- academic, social, fiscal, and physical. He/she mentors and collaborates with the teachers, and is open to learning alongside the school's students. The head of school is a model of collegiality, fairness, clarity, responsibility, and a love of learning.
Like students and teachers, the parents are invited to embrace and participate in the school's academic and ethical vision. Parents love and pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful, and they support and inspire their children to do the same. As the central adult role models and teachers in their own children's lives, parents can apprehend the greater significance of the school's vision, and the long-lasting value of such an education, and they can support their daughters and sons in their journey towards it. Volunteerism is vital to the school's prosperity.