Understandably proud of the physical plant, Agassi is quick to note that "it's not just about throwing money at the school. We really wanted to make a difference in students' lives outside the walls." Accomplishing that goal, he says, is a three-way effort. Students, teachers, and parents have defined roles and responsibilities set forth in a written Commitment to Excellence, which they must sign.
Students, known as the "Agassi Stars," wear neat crimson and navy blue uniforms with a star logo over the pocket. They arrive at 7:25 a.m. and gather for an assembly. They recite the Pledge of Allegiance and the school's motto, called the Code of Respect. Says Agassi: "We've created such a sense of pride in these kids. Along with that pride comes motivation." Fifth-grader Cody Woods, who says he wants to attend at least six years of college and become an engineer, says, "I'd like to meet Mr. Agassi the next time he visits the school. I want to thank him for giving me good teachers, good math books, and the opportunity for a better life."
Improved test scores are key to that "better life," and the school is already showing impressive results on that front. According to Principal Kimberly Allen, "We're the only school in the neighborhood not on a watch list. That's really something, considering that when we opened, many of the elementary school students were two years behind academically." Adds Dr. Craig Kadlub, the Clark County official in charge of overseeing charter school compliance: "They're doing a great job serving the community where the school is located."
Teacher salaries at Agassi Prep are higher than in public schools, to reflect the increased hours. But, there is no so-called salary step. "We run the school like a business. There's a bonus system, based on performance," explains Agassi, "Basically, we get whatever resources we need to make our classes successful," says fourth-grade teacher Tashina Kendall. She adds, "There is also a lot of pressure here, because everyone is watching us. We have reporters coming in all the time. We get educators from around the country, celebrities, famous athletes, and even politicians."
One of them was former President Bill Clinton. He taught a class and took questions from students. Recalls Agassi: "As the President was walking out the gates of the school, he stopped, turned around and said, 'You know what is not right? It's that these doors aren't being knocked down by others coming here to see what you're doing.'" Agassi couldn't agree more. "We believe it's a model school. It's a blueprint for how the educational system can work all over the country," he says.
Though an endowment from the Agassi Foundation will fund the school in perpetuity, that doesn't mean the school can rest on its laurels, says Agassi. "Even if you're number one in the world, if you're not thinking about getting better, you're getting worse," he says. "Look at the Lakers when they won the NBA championship. They immediately got rid of three players. They may have been at the top, but they were committed to getting better. That's how I look at it with teachers, and with everything about the school."
One wouldn't expect anything less from someone who likes to win.