What We’ve Learned

Dr. Gestson, the visionary principal who originally invited us to participate in 2009 was subsequently promoted to be the Superintendent of the entire Phoenix Union High School District. So he was replaced by a new principal who was also promoted and replaced, etc. And just recently (2023), Dr. Gestson has moved on from his successful experience as superintendent. He has been replaced by Ms. Thea Andrade.

With over a decade of our effort spanning four different Camelback HS principals and three district superintendents we have concluded that we should follow these basic rules:

    1. Support those programs for which each current principal asks.
    2. Be flexible and ready to let go of even our previously successful programs if the current principal wants something new or different.
    3. Help build an ongoing “infrastructure” to support the students.

    Infrastructure in this context means other non-profit organizations serving the students. These entities employ professional, well-trained staff people who can do the best job improving student outcomes. It also includes supporting the school’s alumni association.

    Our effort at Camelback High School was in its early years a group effort including dozens of community members. However, after our network’s innovative, dynamic and charismatic founder became less involved, we experienced a decline in engagement from our community participants each of whom he had personally invited to the program. This demonstrates how dependent an effort like ours can be on the continued leadership of its original “champion.”

    In addition the COVID-19 pandemic has also made it challenging for our network participants to interact directly with students for the past couple of years.

    The current programs are carried on by that founder and one other network participant who has made Camelback the focus of his community service.

    Our contribution today is mainly financial via grants

    • to fund our scholarship awards,
    • to the local non-profit organizations serving the students, and
    • to the alumni association to fund a CPA to handle its accounting and to a principal’s discretionary fund through which he reimburses teachers for expenses that benefit their students (which costs they might otherwise have to pay for themselves.)

    Our community network is a “virtual” non-profit in that it has no official existence as an entity and it has no overhead or staff. Our loyal donors direct their tax deductible contributions to either our scholarship fund at the Arizona Community Foundation (“ACF”) or to the Camelback High School Alumni Association, which is a 501 (c) (3) entity. So virtually 100% of all our donors’ financial contributions go directly to benefit the students and the school staff. The only expense is the small ACF annual fee for handling the scholarship fund.

    Our very popular Gap Scholarship program which you can learn about at another tab of this website provided since 2013 over 140 awards averaging $3,000 to assist Camelback graduates in filling their gap between their other scholarships and grants and the total cost of attendance at their college of choice.

    The current principal has ended that gap scholarship program as he is creating a new scholarship program which will fund tuition at colleges for Camelback’s juniors and seniors who are “dual-enrolled.” This means they are taking high school courses at their high school for which they are also receiving college credits. While their college tuition is subsidized for their first several classes, they must come out of pocket for any classes beyond those. That cost is what we plan to cover via our scholarships. As this “accelerator” program is launched, we will update this website to describe it.

    One other program that our network does still provide is a monthly dinner series in which we enlist some company or individual to host about 10 students at that company’s place of business. At these events the host describes the business or activity in which they are engaged. Kind of a mini career day. Our network funds the cost of these dinners (mainly pizza, salad, and soft drinks) unless the host insists on providing the food and drinks.

    To keep this website more current, we include on the opening page the latest weekly video of the Camelback principal speaking to the students. There is also a link to the website of the Montessori program at the school.

    “Focus on what interests the individual student, and the grades will take care of themselves.”

    Dr. Chad Gestson, Former Principal, Camelback High School

    Join the Conversation

    This website is a case study of a school transformation experience. The conclusion so far is that schools can benefit greatly from the time, talent and treasure of those in the local community.

    Can the student outcome improvements generated at Camelback High School can be sustained and replicated? Or were the improvements only due to a unique synergy among this particular group of highly-motivated students, teachers, community leaders and an uninhibited principal?

    Let's discuss.

    Social Venture Partners Arizona


    For inquiries about the Success is Mandatory program case study, Camelback High School or the Phoenix District, please email Kellie Burris: