the project

What went into the project at Camelback High School?

  1. Love and connection
    Principal Dr. Gestson and his team immediately made it clear to the students and staff that they cared about the students and wanted them to both spend time on campus and connect with the school via sports, clubs, tutoring, community outreach (food bank, etc.).
  2. Strands and advisory
    Dr. Gestson and his team divided the school into six strands with a “principal” for each strand and then assigned each student to an advisor who would be with that student for all four years at the school, with a daily advisory period to ensure that someone on the staff had a continued and clear picture of the progress and/or problems faced by each student.
  3. Alternative futures
    Dr. Gestson and his team presented to the students a vision of their alternative futures assuming they dropped out of school (BAD) or assuming they did well and got a full education (GOOD); he managed to create a culture where learning and being smart is cool at CBHS.
  4. Tough love
    With the freedom to act decisively that was provided by his District Superintendent, Dr. Gestson and his team long-term suspended and found alternative placements for those students who failed to get in line with the new culture. They then made significant changes to the make-up of his teacher and administrative leadership teams to ensure better alignment with his vision and values.
  5. Local business community involvement
    Social Venture Partners AZ provided funding, and a number of its members spent time with many of the students, indicating that the local business community believes in CBHS and its students. This gave the students and the staff an emotional lift and invaluable assistance in specific programs. For example, one member assisted the DECA students, and others launched and assisted the Junior Achievement, engineering club and the fashion and culinary programs. SVPAZ and its members also provided ad hoc help to individual students, redecorated the administrative office, organized teacher lunches, did valuable student attitude surveys and provided customer oriented training to the administrative staff.
  6. Exposure to successful people in the community
    SVPAZ members hosted a number of student leaders for dinners at a local upscale restaurant and exposed them to local business people who. At these dinners the adults shared their life stories, letting the students know about their own challenges in life and how they overcame them. The intent of this was to provide encouragement for the students to believe they also could overcome difficulties in their situation.
  7. Mandatory Engagement
    Dr. Gestson and his team required that all students become engaged on campus and in the community through the Spartan SHIELD :
    • Stewardship – Mandatory community service,
    • Honor – Mandatory event attendance (honoring the work of others),
    • Intelligence – Pass all classes or attend mandatory tutoring,
    • Ethics – Spartan-like behavior daily,
    • Leadership – Mandatory club or sport participation,
    • Discipline – Attendance, binder, agenda, participation daily
  8. Peer tutoring
    Dr. Gestson and his team adopted the Memphis peer tutoring program and conformed it to the needs of the students and resources available to CBHS from SVPAZ donations, making tutoring of failing students mandatory, less expensive and available to more students.
  9. Feeder school connection
    CBHS students began mentoring and tutoring Balsz District middle school students, beginning the effort to indoctrinate CBHS’s feeder school students into the positive culture Dr. Gestson and his team has created at CBHS. Three SVPAZ members provided their time and funds to set up and carry out numerous programs at the Balsz District school which gave those students the opportunity to learn about CBHS in a positive way and see that the local business community cares about them also.
  10. Career day
    An SVPAZ member conceived and organized a massive career day with numerous local business people giving the students a vision of why education is important to succeed in their various businesses.
  11. College applications and scholarships
    A local law firm provided a college counseling room where students were provided the tools needed to find a suitable college and apply for admittance and scholarships; CBHS college counselors provided the needed information and one on one assistance to graduating seniors to improve their chances of gaining college acceptance and funding; a number of SVPAZ members funded gap scholarships to CBHS students who gained college acceptance but were short of funds to attend.
  12. Montessori program launched
    SVPAZ provided resources and assistance in setting up a Montessori high school within CBHS, providing CBHS with a high status program and an opportunity to attract top performing students that might otherwise have not even considered CBHS.

    Success at Camelback High School

    We believe the program is working at CBHS in large part because Principal, Dr.Chad Gestson, believes in his students.

    • He got the students’ attention (culture shift, suspended troublemakers)
    • He made them feel safe and valued (demonstrated that the teachers and he care about their success, all of them)
    • He gave them a vision of what they might achieve (assembly with power point slides & interactions with local SVPAZ business people)
    • He showed the linkage between the materials being studied at school and the vision (career fair, DECA, etc.)
    • He provided the extra assistance the failing students needed (peer tutoring)
    • He provided counseling for the successful students as they prepared to apply to colleges and for scholarships
    • He lined up funding for gap scholarships for students accepted to colleges they could not quite afford to attend

    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: