By Eileen Sigmund and Lisa Graham Keegan

Newly released AzMERIT data show a spectacular picture of what excellence — and emerging excellence — looks like.

Take the Phoenix urban core as an example. There are 219 schools serving nearly 130,000 students. When looking at the top 20 public schools that performed the best in math, we see two REALLY important things: half are district schools and half are charter schools. And most importantly – please set down your coffee and focus – HALF of the schools serve a majority of low-income students, and half serve a higher wealth population.

What this says to us is that excellent school performance is first and foremost a function of the people inside a school who make a decision about what they expect from themselves and their students every day.

Both district and charter schools are offering this level of “great”, and schools serving low-income students are often outperforming much higher wealth schools. The job for parents is to know who is offering quality and to access that for their children. The job for the rest of us is to play whatever role we have in order to get the schools under our influence or in our communities up to these same higher quality levels.

Nothing about this chart of achievement says that we are done – there is plenty of room to grow, and the schools on this list will be the first to say so. But let’s at least focus on some amazing progress and potential. Please let’s not thwart the progress we are making in Arizona schools by pretending that school type or wealth of students alone is what makes a great school.

A great school is a group of people whose commitment is extraordinary and whose skills are enormous.

We send our greatest thanks to all of them.


Eileen is the President and CEO of the Arizona Charter Schools Association and manager of the Center for Student Achievement and New Schools For Phoenix. The Association is a non-profit membership and advocacy organization, providing academic, operations and school development support for Arizona’s charter schools. The Center is focused on high-quality school improvement initiatives, with a particular emphasis on professional development and the publication of rigorous and transparent research and evaluation, while New Schools For Phoenix supports the development and expansion of high quality schools serving low-income students in the Phoenix urban core. Eileen has a strong advocacy background, having served as a journalist, litigator, and lobbyist. Eileen is a 2013 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow, an Arizona Chamber Commerce & Industry Board of Directors member, and she sits on the Charter Schools Development Corporation Advisory Council.

Lisa is the founder and Executive Director of A for Arizona, and is honored to serve as Senior Advisor to National School Choice Week, an annual public awareness campaign to advance excellent choices in education. She has spent 14 years as Principal Partner at the Keegan Company, which focuses on emerging excellence in American education. Mrs. Keegan spent a decade from 1991 – 2001 serving as Arizona state representative and then elected state school superintendent. Lisa has received the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation Award for Leadership in Educational Choice, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce 2013 Milton Freidman Award for visionary leadership in Arizona, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools in 2013. She served as education advisor to John McCain’s campaigns for president, and was interviewed in 2000 by President-Elect Bush for the job of US Secretary of Education. She also serves on many national and local boards committed to providing an excellent education to more students, including the Arizona Charter Schools Association, Teach For America – Phoenix, Corps Knowledge, and America Succeeds.

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