In a few short weeks, around 200 children will commit to an education that tends to stand out in this day and age: a “Christian, constitutional, classical” one.
These students of the new private school, Tipping Point Academy (TPA), are just a fraction of the thousands upended or seeking alternatives following public schools’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a demographic projected to increase due to the state’s recent and historic universalization of its school choice program, Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs).
TPA was launched last March by Great State Alliance (GSA), a nonprofit advocating for constitutional liberty since the summer of 2020 when that organization launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
AZ Free News interviewed TPA Founder Jeremy Wood. He was unabashed about God being the core of TPA’s foundations and vision.
“We are working from the presupposition that the word of God is the roadmap for life and living,” he explained. “The Bible is God’s word and truth. It offers knowledge and wisdom and everything you need to be successful in life. Our classes are all taught from a Biblical worldview. Everything we teach is taught from that perspective. We believe that God created the world. He created science, math, astronomy, and the stars, and He made the world to work as a perfect mechanism.”
Wood clarified that core academics and God aren’t mutually exclusive. He explained that TPA operates from Christian premises rather than a secular one. Meaning: TPA offers a classical education that encompasses the likes of Socratic dialogue and natural law and excludes modern, controversial approaches like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Culturally Responsive Education (CRE), Social-Emotional Learning (SEL), and Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). Their version of education includes approaches like “The Noah Plan,” which incorporates the Bible in every subject.
“That’s the difference: the word of God is the foundation of our instruction. That’s not separate from our academics. We’re teaching the kids all the same academics they’re learning in public schools,” said Wood. “Our curriculum isn’t vastly different. It’s more of a philosophical approach for how we apply the methodology of teaching. We apply the principled approach which is based on teaching kids on how to become learners and critical thinkers.”
Wood said that TPA initially started as a desire to provide a better education for his own children. Then, he said that he recognized that education was a frontline in defending liberty, and his desire expanded to offering a better education to his community.
“The government was forcing these shutdowns and mandates, so we decided to stand up and create a solution that was faith-based and protective of our rights to assemble, to meet without fear of needing to shut down, or implement mask policies, or some other weird draconian measures to create barriers between us,” said Wood.
According to Wood, TPA uses a mastery learning model for teaching. Students must master content in each subject, which are “set up like mini dissertations” that require students to compile their research and writing to complete a notebook, or “mini thesis.” Additionally, TPA prioritizes hands-on, project-based learning. Wood cited an example of TPA students learning to apply for a job, use functional math, develop business plans, manage a business, run sales, and market products and services through the campus cafe.
“TPA is about creating critical thinkers,” stated Wood.
Another unique aspect about TPA: they expect parental involvement, almost to the point of a requirement. Wood emphasized that fathers were the key figures that TPA prioritizes for incorporation, but noted that anyone is open to serve through work like administrative support or classroom management. Parents are required to undergo a background check, just like all TPA staff.
“We’re not going to allow you to be a non-present parent. We expect volunteering,” said Wood. “We believe it’s our duty to partner with the parents. If you’re not going to be involved in volunteering, we’ll just tell you right now we don’t think you’re a fit for our school. If we were in it for the money, we’d be telling people everything they wanted to hear to get them in the door. We’re pretty clear on our methodology to keep like-minded people in our community.”
In just over a year of its existence, TPA has already experienced pushback from the establishment educational community.
Save Our Schools Arizona (SOSAZ) has been one of the first to target TPA. The anti-school choice organization’s director, Beth Lewis, characterized the private school as a money-grabbing scheme developed in response to the universalization of ESAs.
At $8,500 annually, TPA’s tuition falls below the average private school cost. Average tuition for private schooling in Arizona is nearly $10,300.
TPA’s enrollment ranges between 180 to 200 students, totaling between $1.5 and $1.7 million accrued from tuition. If every parent utilized the $7,000 maximum from the state’s ESA Program, that reduces tuition to $1,500 — which may be paid down for just over $100 on a monthly basis. Interested parents may also qualify for a TPA scholarship.
Wood responded that taxpayer dollars for education should be accessible to all taxpayers — regardless of their beliefs.
“Those are our taxpayer dollars as well. People are welcome to have their opinion. They don’t have to send their kids to our school,” said Wood. “We shouldn’t be discriminated against just because we want our kids to learn about our heritage, our values, our God, as well as the academics.”
Wood added that he hasn’t drawn “one penny” from his nonprofit for compensation. Rather, he said that he sacrificed his own business to launch TPA. The Wood family now lives well within their means, he says, to allow TPA to flourish.
“I think there’s the perception that we don’t want taxpayer dollars going to religion. Well, we’re taxpayers as well, so if this is what we believe we should have a right to allocate our dollars to the education of our choice,” said Wood. “I’m not doing this for a platform. I’m not doing this for fame or money. We’re just trying to create a solution for our families and families that think like us.”
From the very beginning, Wood said that the TPA team relied on God to provide. He shared that they prayed without ceasing for their ideal location where the school sits currently: the site of a former church. By the time Wood discovered the site, it was already under contract to become a multifamily residence. Yet he said they prayed, and three weeks later the property fell out of escrow. Wood then sent a letter to the property owners, explaining his reason for buying. The owners agreed, selling the property at a generous price that Wood described as “essentially the cost of the dirt.” They closed within 30 days on the deal, enabling the TPA team to prepare the location for this past school year.
“We came across a campus in the Northeast Valley, and we believed God was going to deliver this property for us. We didn’t know how,” said Wood. “It was a small, humble beginning.”
TPA’s enrollment is filling up this year but, according to Wood, the main reason that some parents say they can’t enroll their student is due to finances. He expressed hope that increasing awareness of the ESA Program expansion will remedy that issue.
Wood shared that some parents also prefer the frugality of charter schools. He touched on an issue reported by AZ Free News: since charter schools exist within the realm of public schools, they’re under stricter government regulation and susceptible to incidents that occur in public education.
“There’s a perception that they could jump to the charter school path, that there’s a little more autonomy there. People don’t understand a charter school is still a public school,” said Wood. “They’re still under the regulatory thumb of the state government in terms of health requirements. If the government starts pushing for mask or vaccine mandates, or hindering any medical freedoms, the charter schools are still going to have to comply with that.”
TPA will teach all grades, K-12, but enrollment is only open up to the 9th grade at present. The school plans to integrate its current students into high school before opening up its high school classrooms for enrollment.
TPA also launched a feeder school, or “K-prep,” enrolling under 20 children. Wood said their goal is to launch 100 schools over the next decade.
Nearly five months ago, a group of mothers publicized a Google Drive dossier on them and other parents perceived as political enemies, compiled by the father of their Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) board president, Jann-Michael Greenburg. The trove of political opposition research leaked by SUSD mother Amanda Wray quickly made international news, and became known as the “Greenburg Files,” or “Greenburg Dossier.” Jann-Michael’s father, Mark Greenburg, didn’t shy away from the uproar that ensued.
In January, Greenburg filed an initial complaint in the Maricopa County Superior Court against the Wrays for defamation, as well as violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Several weeks later, Greenburg amended his complaint to only sue for CFAA violations, striking all claims of defamation. Reporting on his lawsuit was featured in one place: the Arizona Republic, behind a subscriber-only paywall. In response, the Wrays issued a motion to dismiss, claiming that Greenburg had ulterior motives aligned with SLAPP behavior: “strategic lawsuits against public participation” to silence free speech.
A status conference is scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 am. A scheduling conference is also scheduled for May 19 at 3 pm. The requested relief totals nearly $10,000.
Greenburg is represented by attorney Christopher Rapp of Ryan Rapp Underwood & Pacheco. Amanda and Daniel Wray are represented by John Wilenchik of Wilenchik & Bartness and acclaimed GOP chairwoman and attorney Harmeet Dhillon with her law group. Judge Joan Sinclair is listed as hearing the case.
Greenburg’s lawsuit characterized Amanda Wray as a “political operative,” pointing to the private Facebook group she organized, “SUSD-CAN,” short for “Scottsdale Unified School District Community Action Network,” a parent and community advocacy group concerning SUSD issues like masking, vaccinations, LGBTQ+, and critical race theory (CRT). He alleged that Wray stole his private information and documents by accessing the dossier, and that she doxxed him by publishing and discussing his home address, license plate, and Paycheck Protection Program loan information on the Facebook group page.
The lawsuit explained that Greenburg shared access to his server, or Google account on which the dossier was located, with three other individuals, one of whom he identified as his son, Jann-Michael. Greenburg insisted that the Google Drive dossier was otherwise password protected. He claimed that inadvertent public access to the dossier was granted through a setting unknown to him at the time enabling third parties to access the server without a password: the use of the Google Drive’s URL. Jann-Michael inadvertently shared that URL with SUSD parents in an emailed response to defamation accusations by including 13 screenshots of public Facebook comments stored within the dossier, one of which included the URL.
“The situation was the equivalent of Plaintiff’s son accidentally disclosing his username and password,” read the complaint.
Wray was accused of intentionally breaching the Google Drive dossier by using a third party to create a hyperlink with the inadvertently-shared URL. Greenburg also accused Wray of copying, deleting, adding, reorganizing, and renaming files on his server. He estimated that she caused him a loss amounting to at least $5,000.
The Wrays’ motion to dismiss insisted that Greenburg failed to state a claim in which relief can be granted. They rejected claims that the Google Drive in question was made private, noting that Jann-Michael shared a publicly accessible URL that only needed to be typed into a web address bar to be accessed. They added that Daniel couldn’t be roped into the lawsuit because claims of “ratify[ing]” Amanda’s access to the dossier weren’t proof of liability.
“Amanda cannot be liable for criminal ‘computer hacking’ just for clicking a hyperlink created by a third party (who is not a party to this action) to the URL for Greenburg’s Google Drive that Greenburg’s son published for anyone to see and use,” read the motion to dismiss.
In a follow-up reply to Greenburg’s response to their motion to dismiss, the Wrays’ attorneys again questioned his motives for suing after challenging the truthfulness of his claims. They characterized his lawsuit as a continuation of the dossier.
“This lawsuit is the latest, and hopefully last, chapter in Greenburg’s unlawful harassment and intimidation campaign against Ms. Wray and SUSD parents in retaliation for their advocacy regarding the SUSD school board,” wrote the Wrays’ attorneys. “[T]his lawsuit was brought to deter or prevent Ms. Wray from exercising her constitutional rights and right to petition [and] intended to harass and/or cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation[.]”
In mid-February, a third-party forensic investigation carried out by Loehrs Forensics determined that neither the SUSD email server or four personal computers issued by SUSD were used to create, access, modify, or share the Google Drive folder containing the dossier.
Law enforcement cleared the Greenburgs of any wrongdoing. Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) determined in December the dossier didn’t violate any laws because it contained open source and public documents only. Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate nonetheless, positing that Jann-Michael may have conspired to wield his power over parents. AZ Free News inquired with Brnovich’s office if any DOJ investigation ever took place. They didn’t respond by press time.
As AZ Free News reported, Jann-Michael admitted to having a history of sharing computers with his family members. He was also listed as one of the individuals who had editing access to the dossier.
The SUSD board voted to demote Jann-Michael from president to regular board member last November.
The Arizona House Government and Elections Committee approved State Representative Jake Hoffman’s (R-Queen Creek) bill to split Maricopa County into four separate counties. The four new counties would be Maricopa, encompassing central Phoenix, Tempe, and Tolleson; Mogollon, encompassing north Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Cave Creek; O’odham, encompassing Buckeye, Peoria, and Surprise; and Hohokam, encompassing Gilbert, Mesa, and Chandler. If signed into law, the current Maricopa County officials would continue jurisdictional operations until boards of supervisors could be established in those three counties. The committee approved the bill along party lines, meaning it barely passed with a 7-6 majority.
Hoffman stated during committee that this would be a fairer representation of current Maricopa County residents, and that any attempts to characterize this bill as a response to a dispute over the 2020 election results was a conspiracy theory. Arizona House Democrats insisted otherwise.
Gubernatorial candidate Steve Gaynor testified during committee that Maricopa County threatened to overtake Arizona the way that similarly-dominant counties in other states have, such as Los Angeles County, California.
“The two largest counties by population in the country, Los Angeles and Cook, are examples of what Maricopa will likely become if action is not taken,” Gaynor testified. “Their governments are wasteful and unresponsive to citizen needs, and they are unpleasant places to live.”
Los Angeles County has a population of over 10 million, while the second-largest county, San Diego County, has over 3.3 million. Similarly, Maricopa County is by far the largest county in Arizona at around 4.5 million residents. The next-largest county, Pima County, doesn’t come close in terms of population count: a little over 1 million. The federal government estimated Arizona’s total population last summer to be around 7.3 million citizens, meaning Maricopa County contains around 62 percent of the state’s population.
Considering the size of its constituency, Maricopa County has only five supervisors, and one of other county officials like sheriff, secretary, and recorder. By comparison, Greenlee County, the least-populous county at under 10,000 residents, has just two less supervisors and the same number of other county-wide officials.
President Joe Biden eked out a victory in Arizona thanks to Maricopa County, earning over 10,400 more votes in the state than former President Donald Trump. Biden won just over 50 percent of the vote in Maricopa County, or over 1.04 million votes, while Trump won over 48 percent of the vote, or 995,000.
Nearly 300 Afghan refugees are being relocated to a former hotel in Scottsdale after being housed at various military installations, resulting in the mobilization of a Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) team “to plan for providing educational services and support” to any school-aged refugees, according to Superintendent Scott Menzel.
SUSD “has an obligation to provide educational services to homeless students who reside within the district,” Menzel noted in a district newsletter. That obligation is based on compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.
“While we did not anticipate this influx of new students, we are committed to marshalling the resources and supports necessary to ensure that these children are welcomed into our schools as they transition to their news lives in this country,” he wrote.
The newsletter comments also referenced questions raised by some in the community about whether the district should be serving the refuge children. Instead of addressing public health, staffing, and security concerns, Menzel simply cited federal law as leaving the district no option.
Although Menzel’s comments were included in the recent newsletter, there has been nothing posted to SUSD’s Facebook page. In addition, district officials have not disclosed what conversations they have had with state and federal officials about compensation for the sudden influx of non-English speaking students.
More information is expected to be made public on Jan. 25 when the SUSD governing board meets.
Last August, Gov. Doug Ducey stated that Afghan refugees will be welcomed in Arizona. He noted that the Arizona Department of Economic Security, through its Arizona Office of Refugee Resettlement, would help secure housing, employment, and education for the refugees.
The refugees are being housed at the former Homewood Suites on North Scottsdale Road. The property is currently in bankruptcy but was approved by federal officials in early 2021 as a contracted temporary migrant transition facility.
There was no advance notice to Scottsdale city officials about the migrant arrangement last year. That contract expired at the year of 2021, but now the non-profit International Rescue Committee (IRC) is utilizing the massive hotel property for the next few months as temporary housing while efforts are undertaken to place each refuge or refugee family unit in homes with sponsors in the greater Phoenix area.
Some refugees began arriving at the Homewood Suites before Jan. 14. According to Scottsdale Police Chief Jeff Walther, “next to no one was aware” that the property was being repurposed.
Walther issued an advisory to Mayor David Ortega and council members before Menzel’s comments, noting there was no heads up to local authorities about the IRC’s plans to house unsupervised Afghan refugees within the city.
The IRC has now told city officials that the site is expected to use only through April. As far as security, IRC plans to hire security guards but made it clear that the refugees are free to come and go as they wish.
Security was not in place prior to the arrival of the first group of refugees, Walther noted. The refugees are expected to be gone from the hotel property by April, according to Walther.
“This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight,” a city spokesperson recently told AZ Free News.
While Menzel was reticent about the situation, one of his school principal’s issued a detailed email to Cherokee Elementary staff. He reported that more than 80 school-aged refugees are expected to be enrolled across three, possibly four, SUSD schools.
Those students, according to Principal Walter Chantler, could speak one of four languages. And many of the youth, particularly the girls, have never been in school.
The Scottsdale hotel that made headlines last year for sheltering hundreds of illegal immigrants has been repurposed this year for sheltering Afghan refugees. In an email obtained by State Representative Joseph Chaplik (R-Scottsdale), Scottsdale Police Department (SPD) Chief of Police Jeff Walther briefed the mayor and council on a situation that it appears not even local law enforcement was aware of until after the fact.
According to Walther’s relayed intelligence from the organization contracted by the State Department and the Department of Defense (DOD) to run the shelter, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), refugees were relocated from military bases beginning January 12. The refugees won’t be confined to the hotel and may roam the community at their leisure because the law prohibits their detainment. They will reside at the hotel until they are matched with sponsor families throughout the Valley. At most, Walther said there would be 300 refugees housed at the hotel.
Walther reassured the council and mayor that the refugees were vaccinated, vetted by the State Department, and educated on American culture. The chief of police then admitted that there’s no security on site at the moment, but said IRC promised there would be at some point in the future.
If anyone attempts to contact the hotel, they will be met by individuals purporting to operate a regular hotel. Walther explained that the IRC hired a hotel management company to disguise the site was a functioning hotel serving “a closed clientele” — i.e., the refugees. At no point will the State Department or DOD manage the hotel or install any personnel there.
Just like last year, this reporter called the hotel. A woman answered, identifying the establishment as Homewood Suites; there was a substantial amount of background chatter. The woman informed this reporter that they were accepting reservations, but that there weren’t any available rooms until June, but didn’t disclose why.
AZ Free News inquired with Scottsdale’s mayor and city council about the hotel, and its reported lack of security for the refugees. A spokesperson for the mayor and council submitted this response, essentially repeating portions of information relayed by Walther and stating that city officials couldn’t do anything about something happening within their jurisdiction because the federal government was involved:
“The city was recently informed that a nonprofit organization working on behalf of the federal government has rented part of a vacant hotel in Scottsdale to house Afghan refugees evacuated by the U.S. in August 2021. This site is being used as a temporary housing facility while each resident/resident family is assigned a sponsor family to live with throughout the greater Phoenix Area. The individuals at this location were previously housed at U.S. military bases. While there, they were vetted by the U.S. State Department and vaccinated against COVID-19. Scottsdale is in contact with the organization operating this site, but has no current authority to prevent the hotel from being rented for this purpose. This is a federal government activity over which the city of Scottsdale has no oversight.”
Chaplik warned his constituents that their city council had, once again, allowed unsupervised foreigners to occupy a building at the heart of their community.
“Residents of Scottsdale, is this what you voted for? City Council refused to put up a fight when ICE took over this hotel and now the Feds are bringing in Afghan refugees with NO public notice whatsoever. And NO security hired yet,” wrote Chaplik. “This is our community and council doesn’t care.”
As AZ Free News reported last June, the hotel was converted into a migrant shelter by ICE almost overnight to offset the unprecedented surge of illegal immigrants caused by President Joe Biden. The shelter operated as a temporary migrant transition facility from May until the end of last month. Unlike the operations that concluded recently at the hotel, this shelter won’t be overseen by ICE.
On Friday, our other reporters drove by the hotel. They reported seeing garbage piled around the building, with employees hauling more garbage out of the building. There were no barricades around the hotel.
Walther claimed in closing that there have been few issues in the past with the refugees in the Phoenix area and across the nation. He informed the mayor and council that SPD met with IRC officials on Friday afternoon.