Suns Adopt Central High, Form Partnership

Chris Jones, the principal of Central High School in downtown Phoenix, is a lifelong Suns fan. He even remembers staying up late to listen to the radio broadcast of the “Sunderella Suns” in the 1976 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.

During a career in education Jones never anticipated a close relationship between his favorite team and the high school he helps direct. But that is exactly what the brand new SunsCentral partnership is hoping to build.

Under the leadership of managing partner Robert Sarver, the Suns have adopted Central High School with the goal in mind of positively impacting an inner-city school that’s close in proximity to US Airways Center.

Sarver was inspired at NBA league meetings earlier this year, when the discussion turned to high dropout rates for some schools that also happened to be located nearby NBA arenas. Determined to do something, the Suns’ owner has helped put together an ambitious plan with Robin Milne, Executive Director of Phoenix Suns Charities, Mark West, the team’s Vice President of Player Programs, Alvan Adams, Vice President of Facility Management, and several executives from Central High.

The pairing is something that the principal is unabashedly optimistic about.

“It’s just a God-send, a prayer answered,” Jones said. “When Mr. Sarver and I began talking about how to utilize a gift, the first thing we discussed was the over-crowded classrooms and teacher assistance. The idea came about to fund the school with additional teachers and to provide the proper support and staff training.

“Overall, he just said that he didn’t want to turn a blind eye to these students.”

The beginning of the SunsCentral project was celebrated with a pep assembly at Central High Friday morning. Speakers discussed what the partnership symbolizes and the possibilities ahead, and now the work will begin.

Milne said that through a two-year, $500,000 grant that the team’s Charities board overwhelmingly approved, the Suns will provide Central High School with four “Suns teachers.” Those teachers will go to freshmen and sophomore classes to help cut a 30/1 student/teacher ratio in half. Additionally, they will provide tutoring and guidance to help students who may be behind pace for graduation.

The Gorilla donned a Central High School football jersey on stage Friday to officially start the SunsCentral partnership.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)

In particular, the program will focus on four factors to improve a student’s likelihood of staying in school: success in the classroom, attendance at school, mentoring and work-study. The goal is to help turn around a dropout rate that is indicative of a few different trends that impact inner-city youth as they grow up.

First, as Milne said, the students are often expected to be wage earners at a fairly young age, causing some to have to choose between school and work.

Between the extra teachers and the possibility of having some of the school’s students work just down the light rail at US Airways Center, the SunsCentral partnership will encourage students to learn how to balance work and school in an effort to graduate more frequently.

Second, there are times when the materials and resources just aren’t at a school’s disposal to provide the students with the necessary education for today’s student.

“One of the things that Robert emphasized was that this partnership should utilize the different aspects of the business operations within the Suns’ organization,” Milne said. “He wanted to look at all the different aspects of the business to see how each could positively affect the kids at a school to help them graduate.”

So people like West will set up a speaker series filled with success stories from former downtown Phoenix students. Team trainers and coaches will work with Central High athletes to form nutrition plans and to educate them about the proper way to play the games they love. Adams and others from the Suns will work on the Central campus to make it more clean, more attractive and an overall better place to go to school every day.

“The real crux of this is to help kids succeed, help them graduate and help to move them on to higher education,” Adams said. “So the bulk of the project, on our end, is going to help in the classroom, but one of the aspects of it is based around is the idea that people feel better about what they do when they feel good about their surroundings."

The final goal, as Jones stated, is that bonds might form over professional goals, which he hopes will result in members of the Suns taking an active role in a student’s interest.

Perhaps there are students at Central interested in fields such as public relations, community relations or facility management.

As part of the speaker series, Suns employees will be encouraged to tell their stories about how and why they chose the career path that has led them to success in their field. Maybe even a mentorship can be developed.

Jones said the end result, thanks to the partnership and the proximity between the team and school, could include a community-wide improvement based on the way people relate to and rely on one another.

“Now that we are a technological society, we don’t have those community connections like generations past,” Jones said. “This is the type of program that makes those connections. I believe it takes a village to help raise kids in certain circumstances, and this kind of togetherness helps tremendously toward that.”