School Spotlight: BASIS Tucson

Basis Tucson
- Basis Tucson

Hidden behind McDonald's, near the busy cross-section of Speedway and Alvernon, you'll find a modern building with capital letters at the top. BASIS Tucson.

Originally founded in 1998, BASIS Tucson was the first of the BASIS schools, a chain of 12 charter schools in the USA. For many years, the school only served grades 5-12, working out of two buildings, one at the current site on 2nd street and one that was across from El Con Mall. Due to increased demand from Tucson parents, the 2nd street building was demolished and a pristine new building was constructed in 2013 - for K-6 students.

The 5th-12th graders now have a new campus as well - BASIS Tucson North at 5740 E. River Road. For those who live in the far northwest side of Tucson, BASIS Oro Valley provides instruction for grades 5-12...and information is forthcoming about a primary school in Oro Valley as well.

The curriculum and methodology are the same at all 12 BASIS schools - 10 of which are in Arizona (the other two are in San Antonio and Washington DC).

All twelve schools are "uniformly held to a high standard of student achievement and accountability"...and it shows! In 2012, NEWSWEEK ranked BASIS as the 5th best high school in the nation, while The Washington Post had it coming in as #1.

As TUSD schools close, BASIS excels. The "secret" appears to be simpler than expected - high standards and a smaller teacher/student ratio. The academic model emphasizes organizational and study skills, encouraging students to work independently from a young age. Students also have multiple instructors - Subject Expert Teachers - who have a passion for a particular area, whether that be Physics or Literature. All students are using a math curriculum at least one year ahead of their grade level (i.e. 1st graders are using Saxon 2).

At the heart of the BASIS culture are the following three "core principles": professionalism, intellectual tolerance, and pushing-the-boundaries.

Jason Shorbe, Head of School at BASIS Tucson, had this to say, "Discussions in the hallways and at lunch are centered on intellectual topics, not because of any policy or requirement, but because the students are truly interested and have a passion for learning, dialogue, and the sharing of knowledge."

Lest you think that the stellar results are due to privilege and a hefty price tag, remember that BASIS is an open-enrollment public charter school. That means that there is no tuition and the school does not administer entrance examinations. Any student can attend if there is space available; a registration lottery determines admissions if there are more students interested than the school can accommodate.

Interested in enrolling your child(ren) for the 2014-15 school year? Join the Interest List on the BASIS website. Open enrollment is tentatively scheduled to begin around the last week of January.


Type of School: public charter

Location: 3825 E. 2nd Street, Tucson [Speedway & Alvernon]

Number of students: 841

Student/Teacher ratio: K-4th: 15:1; 5th and 6th 26:1


  • Students have multiple teachers instead of just one to prepare them for middle school, high school, and college.
  • Two teachers are with the students in each subject. One teacher is a Subject Expert Teacher (SET) - an instructor who is a master in a particular subject area. The second teacher is a Learning Expert Teacher (LET) - he/she stays with the students as they move between classrooms and subject areas throughout the school day.
  • K-4 students participate in a signature "Connections" course that aims to connect what the students are learning across all content areas.
  • There is an emphasis on building organizational and study skills.
  • For P.E., students alternate between traditional Physical Education and Kenpo.

Tuition: None

Uniforms: No

Bus service: No

Cafeteria: No - students bring their lunch.

Full Day or 1/2 Day Kindergarten: Both options are available.

Foreign language: 1st-4th grade students take Mandarin. 5th-6th grade students take Latin.

Sports: Yes. Current options include: swimming, dance, Kenpo, baseball, and volleyball. Soccer, basketball, tennis, and bowling will be added later this year.

Social Media: BASIS Tucson on Facebook

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