A School with Promise

This is the story of how a visionary high school principal and his motivated and capable staff turned around one of the lowest performing and troubled schools in the Phoenix Union High School District.

This positive outcome was aided by the support provided by a District Superintendent who gave his full support to his principal as he implemented some very unusual and innovative changes.

This remarkable turnaround is also being assisted in major ways by a group of community-minded local business and professional people who are giving their time, ideas and a small amount of funding to the project and the students at the school.

Micro public private partnership – the key to success?

The growing gap between the economic and career opportunities available to children of college educated people vs. kids of less educated parents is threatening to destroy the ladder of opportunity for the kids of the less educated parents.

The Social Venture Partners Education Affinity Group here in Phoenix has been trying to do something about this. SVPAZ (during 2009-13) and now the Camelback High School Community Network have been working to reestablish the “ladder of opportunity” for the students of Camelback High School by teaming with its visionary principal, Chad Gestson (who is now Superintendent of the district), and his successor principals to transform that school. Education is the first rung in the ladder of opportunity of its students.

How has the Community Network helped?

Led by its original champion, Rick West, SVPAZ members and friends and now the Camelback High School Community Network participants have helped achieve this successful outcome at Camelback High School by providing their time and talent over several years as well as by funding a variety of relatively low cost programs which were previously unaffordable to the school.

In hindsight, what the Community Network has created at Camelback High School is a “virtual non profit” entity. All the donor funds go to the various “programs.” There is no need for capacity building. There is no office overhead to cover to organize or implement such a set of programs.

Any local group of business people can form one of these virtual non profits by simply showing up at the school they want to help. Each group can build a program tailored to the needs of that school and principal. They can set up their own website and create their own on line funding flow for scholarships, as the Community Network did with the Camelback High School Scholarship Fund at the Arizona Community Foundation. The school’s alumni association may be a good conduit for other sorts of donations other than scholarships if the association is already a 501(c)3 charitable entity.

One key point of emphasis here is that our experience seems to indicate that it is important to show up to the school with an open mind and no particular agenda except to help the school and principal. Let the principal take the lead; don’t come in with just another program the principal has to try to fit into the school’s already overcrowded agenda.

Principles and Principals

Evaluating the Role of SVP Arizona at Camelback High School

Submitted by Peter Flanagan-Hyde, MA, Senior Partner, Flanagan-Hyde Associates, LLC.

Download the Report>>


Funds and Ideas

The CBHS principal often stated that because of this outside funding, he never had to say no to any good idea since 2009.  For example,

        • SVPAZ funded the start up of a Montessori high school at CBHS which in its first year included 25 freshmen and has since grown to over 100 students.
        • The SVPAZ members have also provided some of the key ideas for improvement such as the peer tutoring program which was initially suggested and fully funded by one friend of SVP who happened to know of a similar program in Memphis, Tennessee at its East High School.
        • SVPAZ members brought in the customer training team from a local top hotel to coach the CBHS administrative staff.
        • An SVPAZ member funded a makeover of the administrative offices.
        • SVPAZ found a law firm to fund a college admissions counseling lounge at CBHS called the Spartan Scholarship and Stewardship Center.
        • SVPAZ members have contributed small amounts at key times to fund the particular needs of individual students facing difficult, unexpected life problems.


The SVPAZ members, and now the Community Network participants, have interacted with the students and staff in many individual ways – in class and in other settings. One could imagine that just this contact and support has so impacted the self esteem of the students and staff that any programs the school created would have worked. Just knowing that someone in the community cares about them and believes in them may have raised the self image of the school’s students and staff so that they have begun to again believe in themselves and their possibility of success.

The SVPAZ and Community Network interaction with the students has been in addition to the interactions of the other non-profit groups that are providing mentoring and other necessary services at Camelback HS.

One goal of this website is to provide information about all those programs in order that the whole picture at Camelback HS is presented. As information on them is collected, it will be added to the website.


Other non-profit entities active at Camelback High School

While SVPAZ has been a significant player at Camelback since 2009, it is by no means the only entity assisting the school, its teachers and students. Others providing services there include: