YOU KNOW THAT FUNNY, birdlike walk Agassi would do on the baseline before serving? Remember those little steps, that forward lean? It’s not just a tennis thing — he actually walks that walk. He walks that walk as he strolls between buildings at Agassi Prep in the 108-degree, dry Vegas heat. He walks that walk as he passes a class of kids going in the other direction. He punches fists with them. They smile — giggle, even. But none of them seem all that excited to see the tennis legend, whose name is on the front of their school in big silver letters. Maybe they’re used to him by now. School officials say Agassi visits about three dozen times a year, mostly to show potential donors around the campus.

Agassi is the head fund-raiser for the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation. Among other things, that means he presides over the blowout Grand Slam for Children gala; the public is invited, A-list stars perform, and millions of dollars are raised (see “Andre Agassi’s New Game,” page 43). To date, the foundation has raised $60 million for various causes, including the Boys & Girls Clubs in Las Vegas. The vast majority of the money goes to help underprivileged kids. Agassi ensures that by paying the administrative costs from his own pocket.

Though others benefit from the foundation, the school is the main recipient of its largesse. Agassi believes that is the most focused way to spend the donations, the most direct way to help kids. Agassi Prep itself is helped by local and state governments. Since it is a charter school, the governments fund it at the same rate they fund other schools in Nevada. The Agassi foundation covers the gap between that amount and the national per-pupil average.

It’s complicated. And, actually, Agassi explains it better. He is encyclopedic when it comes to the details of the school and his foundation. “Nevada is 49th in the U.S. for per-pupil allocation,” Agassi says. “The state is funded at about $5,400 per student. The national average is about $8,500. So the foundation gets the funding here up to the national average.” That’s important because if the school is successful, it will prove that you don’t have to spend that much more to give public school kids an exemplary education. “Keeping our funding at the national average removes all the excuses for anyone to not do something like this,” Agassi says.

Still, Agassi Prep has had its share of administrative problems — keeping enough teachers on staff among them — since opening in 2001 with a limited enrollment and just a few grades up and running. But momentum now seems on the school’s side. Campus construction will be completed this fall and ready for grades K–11, and in August 2008, Agassi Prep will welcome a full K–12 enrollment of 650 students. The first graduating class will continue on to college in 2009, thanks to the focus on funding college scholarships. Even if just a handful of 2009 grads were to proceed to college on scholarships — that’s the objective of exemplary education — it would be an astonishing achievement, given that Agassi Prep’s gleaming, modern warren of multicolored buildings is located in a neighborhood that, while not physically far from the glitz of the Strip, is a world removed from the casinos’ riches. Most of the students come from within a two-mile radius of the school; 70 percent come from one-parent homes. Were it not for Agassi Prep, most of these kids would have no shot at higher education.

That’s something Agassi can relate to. He left regular school at age 13 to go to a famed tennis academy, and at age 16, he left the academy to turn pro. Maybe that’s why he’s so motivated by the potential the school has. Certainly that’s why he doesn’t mess around with lesson planning. “I dropped out of school in the eighth grade and got my degree through correspondence,” Agassi says, smiling. “So you don’t want me anywhere near the curriculum. I’d have no idea what I was doing.”

He knows exactly what he’s doing with Agassi Prep, though. He wants to build a model that can work all over Nevada and all over the country. That’s why the school’s funding is capped at the national average — to prove that every state can do something like this. This is what Agassi’s talking about when he says his tennis career isn’t in the same stratosphere as Agassi Prep; he’s talking about the potential. You think describing him as “Andre Agassi, eight-time Grand Slam winner” is impressive? Try “Andre Agassi, man who helped reinvent the American educational system.” Now that’s a legacy.

“But,” Agassi cautions, “we have to be successful here first. We’ve got to go through the trial and errors of K–12 and of graduating kids and sending them to great scholarships. If we can do that, then we’ll discuss with our state how we can get our statewide funding up to the national average and how can we duplicate this. I’ve met a lot of people who would personally fund something like this on a national level if they knew it was going to work. So that’s our goal — to make it work.”