Seven schools 'low-achieving'

Seven Clark County schools classified under state guidelines as "persistently low-achieving," could each be eligible next year for up to $500,000 to fund innovation and reform efforts.

The U.S. Department of Education is making $3.5 billion available to states to improve their worst schools. Nevada's share may be about $22.3 million. Under the federal grant guidelines, however, the principals and up to 50 percent of the staff at the schools might have to be replaced.

In the Clark County School District, the low-achieving schools eligible for the money are: Carson, Fitzgerald and Hancock elementary schools; and Desert Pines, Mojave, Rancho and Western high schools.

The Nevada Department of Education has identified 142 public schools statewide that qualify under one of three federal definitions as low-performing, said Kathleen St. Clair, assistant director of elementary and secondary education programs for the Nevada Department of Education.

The definitions are broad enough that all schools in some Nevada districts could be nominated, St. Clair said. "We will probably have more applications than money to go around."

The state Department of Education will submit its grant proposal to the federal government this spring. Officials hope the money will be available for the 2010-11 school year.

Districts could get between $50,000 and $500,000 for each school they want to improve. The grants are good for three years, so a school potentially could receive up to $1.5 million, St. Clair said.

The school's performance will be monitored by the state.

The Clark County School District chose its lowest-performing Title I schools, or schools that serve large populations of low-income students who are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. The schools also have test scores that don't meet the standards of No Child Left Behind, the federal school accountability law.

The U.S. Department of Education has four reform models for schools that receive the grant money. Two of the models involve closure or starting over as a charter school. Clark County School District Superintendent Walt Rulffes did not think those options had much potential.

The other two options involve replacing up to 50 percent of a school's staff and offering incentives for employee performance and educational strategies.

Rulffes said the schools might be restructured as empowerment schools, which are intended to increase student achievement by giving schools greater independence and accountability.

He wasn't sure if the schools would necessarily be classified as empowerment schools.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug or 702-374-7917.