It may be a case of haves and have nots.
It may also be a political power struggle.
For whatever reason, only 13 of 47 underperforming Nevada schools — which were under consideration to be converted to charter schools for 2017-18 — took advantage of a state-created compromise, called a “performance compact.”
Schools and districts that agreed to the compact would have three years to improve to become at least a three-star school on the state’s five-star rating system. In those three years, they would be spared the possibility of being converted into a charter through the Achievement School District.
Clark and Washoe counties, which have the majority of the underperforming schools, declined to enter into the performance compact, saying they could improve the schools themselves.
“You have my promise as a trustee that I will never support this,” Clark County School Board member Chris Garvey told administrators at a recent meeting. “Because I think you guys are working so hard and your hearts are in the right places, and we need to continue to support you.”
But some rural school districts have embraced the idea. For Nye County School Superintendent Dale Norton, it was a no-brainer.
“We don’t run on as big budgets as other people, particularly the county next door,” he said, referring to Clark. “I look at any type of commitment or partnership that I can make with the Department of Education or any other agency that can help us as a win for us.”
State Board of Education President Elaine Wynn said it was unfortunate some of the local districts declined to sign performance compacts and said the strained relationships between the state board and the Clark County School Board over various issues may have been a factor.
“CCSD and the state board are at odds over certain things that are now in a dynamic state of flux,” she said Thursday during a state board meeting. “Until the adults resolve their issues and we clear that all up, we can’t go back to being kid-centric.”
A MATTER OF RESOURCES
Pathways, an alternative middle and high school, and Round Mountain Elementary School are the two Nye County schools finalizing compacts, which create a tighter bond between state and local leaders to implement interventions.
The intense opposition to the Achievement School District never really took off in Nye County, even though two of its schools were among the first 47 under consideration. Norton said he was initially “skeptically optimistic” about the program, but he is confident the partnership will pay off for his students.
“I think we’re going to be golden,” he said. “The other districts are so big they may have their own internal changes they may be implementing. We’re so limited on resources.”
Mineral, Lincoln, Elko and Carson City schools also entered into performance compacts for their underperforming schools and are working with Jana Wilcox-Lavin, superintendent in residence of the Achievement School District.
“There are four of our more rural districts that have really embraced our performance compacts,” she said.
Officials in Washoe County, which had two listed underperforming schools, said the district would improve the schools on its own.
“The two WCSD schools that would have qualified have become part of WCSD’s Acceleration Zone, a component of our own accountability model that provides high leverage intervention for schools that need additional support. WCSD also had concerns that the 3-year performance targets had not yet been adequately defined and that our schools could face unintended consequences,” Deputy Superintendent Kristen McNeill said in a statement.
Clark officials cited similar reasons. The charter program and the state-mandated district reorganization have caused tension between local and state leaders, including a lawsuit filed by the Clark County board over the reorganization.
In an effort to entice Clark and Washoe, state Superintendent Steve Canavero extended the original deadline to sign a performance compact, leaving it open-ended for districts to get involved.
“I ask that we use this opportunity to start anew, setting aside differences we may have in favor of the one area of absolute agreement,” Canavero said in a letter to Clark County board. “Let’s put our commitment to students in writing. The entire team at the department stands ready to support.”
The Achievement School District is off to a slow start after being written into law in the 2015 legislative session.
A federal raid on one of the charter operators poised to take part in the achievement district last month put a temporary halt on the 2017-18 rollout of the program. As a result, no traditional public schools in the state will become charters under the program until at least the 2018-19 school year.
Futuro Academy will open as a charter near Cambiero Elementary, and Agassi Prep will convert into a Democracy Prep school as part of the program.
Although Democrats in both the Assembly and the state Senate are working on legislation to eliminate the program, the state is moving forward, including proposed changes in how schools get involved.
“There are families that do want significant change,” Wilcox-Lavin said. “We’ve proposed regulations that formalize the processes and really put parents in the driver’s seat.”
That includes allowing parents and communities to petition the state for a school to be converted into a charter.
The proposed regulations have not been approved yet.