“What is the aim of our education system?”
This is the question that launched Paradigm High School’s original founding families into action. After spending several years studying and exploring the available range of school models such as private school, home school, traditional and charter school, they were determined to find or create an educational option that supported the kind of education they had been seeking. In studying the various school mission statements, they found that many schools seemed not to know their end goal; for example, what function did those coveted high test scores serve? Did they translate into reasoning ability or strong character? What was the educational purpose of such frequented terms as “diversity”, “tolerance”, and “global awareness,” and how were these to be defined or evaluated? Was the goal a particular kind of socialization? Career preparation? Conformity to a civil system? In short, what should education be about?
The next two years were spent in visiting schools, research and discussion, trying to determine what the objective of the school system is currently, what it should be, and how to form a school that would meet that objective. It was concluded that education should not only serve to obtain great test scores, or even great careers, but that it should facilitate the development of great people. As one man put it:
“It seems to me that education should be aiming at ‘Greatness’, or as Aristotle termed “great souls”. I can’t pretend that I know exactly how it will come about, because there are few school models to look at, but I am willing to bring to life those great souls of the past and place them before the eyes of our children so that they can at least see where they are going, and encourage their creativity and dedication to internalize those same qualities and become great leaders and statesmen in every field of endeavor, in the home, the community, the nation and the world.”
Recognizing the parent as the primary educator of their children, the Paradigm objective developed into a mission to assist families in facilitating the growth of “great people;” helping students to develop the wisdom, virtue and relevance needed to create free individuals, and a free nation. This would be accomplished through forming a nurturing space, and providing mentors who would teach the students “how” to think, rather than “what” to think, and provide occasions for the students to have experiences with truth, and opportunities to practice leadership. A classical, liberal arts structure was chosen, to be used in concert with a curriculum founded in the Great Books of the Western World collection.
In Nov. 2004, a group was formed of 20-30 like-minded families from a variety of areas and vocations in the Salt Lake area, which began working on the charter application. This remarkable founding group worked together, volunteering many hundreds of hours in researching and planning for the legal, budgetary and logistical needs of the school; the policies and procedures; the curriculum and methodologies.
The charter was then presented in Jan. 2005, to the newly formed Utah Charter Board, who acknowledged that they wanted to pass the application but feared that it was too late in the year. Disappointed but persistent, the founding group presented again in May of 2005. This time the application was passed and sent to the Utah State Office of Education who also passed it in July of 2005.
As one of the first stand-alone Charter High Schools in Utah, Paradigm was met with skepticism from landowners, investors, parents, educators and students. Public meetings were held in many public libraries and city buildings to increase public awareness and gather students. It became very difficult to obtain a facility. Several contract offers and building opportunities fell through, and the situation become rather desperate when in May of 2006 there still was no concrete facility option. At last in June a Providential opportunity came to lease two office/warehouses spaces in Sandy. They were remodeled with enthusiasm by the future school families into small, open classrooms and a tiny multi-purpose room, and the school opened its doors for the first time in September 2006 with 201 students, grades 9-12. The founding group was disbanded and from it was formed the school’s first governing board. The first year was filled with good will, excitement, some chaos and a lot of experiential learning as the policies and procedures were painstakingly put into place.
The 07-08 year started with the school filled to capacity with 219 students. Partnering with a local real estate developer, a facility was designed and built to accommodate 500 students and small class sizes. A great effort was made to double the student body over the summer of 2008. Advertising of every kind, including radio, movie theater ads, newspaper, and other avenues, but in the end the most effective advertising was the students themselves. The families brought in their friends and relatives as a result of their own families experiences here. Over the summer of 2008, they worked together to move the school to the newly constructed school building located in South Jordan.
Deciding that preparing students for a leadership program at an earlier age would facilitate a stronger overall education, Paradigm applied for and was approved to include the 7th and 8th grades to the program. In the 13-14 school year, middle school students (7th and 8th grades) were added, filling their own exclusive wing of the school building.
One of Paradigm’s founding principles is the idea of constant growth. Paradigm is constantly moving toward finding the ideal way to facilitate learning for human greatness. As John Adams said, “No amount of human having or human doing can make up for a deficit in human being.”