In efforts to begin drafting a plan that it hopes will transform the region, Southern Nevada Strong recently began discussing the role of education in community development.
The group launched in February as a collaborative effort to look at issues in Southern Nevada that need to be strengthened.
Education and the achievement gap among students was the focus of a July 30 presentation.
Speaker John Tapogna, president of the economic consulting firm ECONorthwest, asked why is there an urgency to improve the achievement gap in education, what drives that gap and how does the community work together to close it.
“We need to look at who is being served and who is being missed,” he said.
He said having a stronger education system could help not only with an emerging workforce but also would make the surrounding community more appealing.
Those who attended included a mixture of people in the education field, those involved with nonprofits and community organizers.
Tapogna said it was a mixture such as the one at the event that would help them make a difference.
The conversation on achievement gap looked primarily at two things — what is going on inside the schoolhouse and what is going on outside in the community.
Tapogna cited studies that looked at issues such as classroom size, head start programs, teacher credentials and programs such as Teach For America.
However, Tapogna said there is growing evidence that the most impact is made outside schools in communities and that the achievement gap starts to manifest the greatest around third grade.
Anything from one-on-one tutoring after school to parents who received earned income tax credits can contribute to better equipping students.
Family involvement with a child’s education, he said, is also a factor.
“There was a study out of the University of Kansas that looks at the number of words spoken per hour to children under 3,” he said, “not just how many words but the kinds of words.”
According to this study, there was better achievement for families that had more engaging dialogue with children.
But Tapogna said fostering family involvement might not be as easy as it seems, especially if families have to deal with difficult circumstances.
That’s where the collaborative effort of the organization comes in.
Southern Nevada Strong is looking at contributing factors that could help with family involvement such as helping parents gain access to better transportation or higher-quality jobs, which would allow them to have more time with their children.
But it’s not just the family unit. He said communities with the greatest needs should look at access to enrichment programs such as museums and libraries.
People asked questions on anything from the studies Tapogna was citing to having qualified teachers in the classroom.
Lisa Corrado, the project director, said after surveying the community, the organization found two of the top themes the community was concerned with were finding good jobs and quality education.
Southern Nevada Strong is funded by a $3.5 million grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“We are addressing the challenges the community faces and leveraging what we do well to fix it,” Corrado said.
The project is managed by the city of Henderson. However, it is an integrated effort that involves a cross section of partners within the community such as the city of North Las Vegas, United Way of Southern Nevada and the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada.
Southern Nevada Strong is designed to look at issues such as transportation, quality of life and jobs.
The organization has a three-year plan that includes developing community partners and conducting research in the first year, outreach and community involvement in the second year and unveiling a regional plan with demonstrations in the third year.
“I think the process we take to carry this out is just as important as the plan (we draft),” she said.
Corrado added the organization has started a series of community outreach meetings.
Along with public opinion, the organization has six task groups dedicated to look at transportation, health, housing, environment, economic development and education and public engagement and equity.
Southern Nevada Strong hopes to develop a regional plan that will help improve Clark County and make it more appealing to people considering moving here and businesses contemplating setting up shop.
For more information, visit southern nevadastrong.org.
Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5201.