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Somerset Academy of Las Vegas to open two new campuses in valley

Parents will have a few more choices when they decide where to enroll their kids in school next month. Two new charter schools are scheduled to open in North Las Vegas and Whitney with a capacity of more than 1,000 students.

Somerset Academy of Las Vegas plans to open a campus at 385 W. Centennial Parkway in North Las Vegas and at 2525 Emerson Ave. in Whitney.

Somerset Academy of Las Vegas is affiliated with more than 20 Somerset Academy charter schools in Florida. The schools are operated by the Miami-based company Academica, founded in 1999.

The schools are tuition-free, and any Clark County student is eligible to attend.

The Emerson campus will serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with a capacity of about 350. The school will be housed in the former Paradise Church, which has been used in the past by private schools.

Reggie Farmer will be the principal. He is the former assistant principal at Vegas Verdes and Hancock elementary schools and spent 17 years as a teacher and administrator for the Clark County School District before moving to charter schools .

"The thing that really, really drew me to this," said Farmer, "was that we were able to interview our own staff, hire our own staff and bring in the kind of people we want to work with, who want to work with us and have the same vision. That was the biggest thing."

Teachers will have annual contracts with each school, so he won’t be stuck with ineffective teachers, Farmer said.

Gayle Jefferson, former assistant principal at Carl Elementary School, will serve as principal at the North Las Vegas campus, which is being built in a commercial business center. The North Las Vegas City Council approved a special use permit in May for the school to be the first to be built in a commercial zone.

The school will serve students in kindergarten through seventh grade , with a capacity of more than 700 .

Jefferson spent 21 years as a teacher and administrator for the district .

"I like the autonomy," Jefferson said. "We get to build something from the ground up."

The schools are accountable to the state instead of the district . Students still will have to pass state proficiency exams.

The principals met with staff members and advisers to pick a curriculum they liked for students, which will include Spanish courses. They also decided on the school colors, mascot and hours.

Both schools will have a slightly longer school day, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 3:15 p.m.

Parents who enroll their kids at the Somerset schools also must sign a contract that they will volunteer 30 hours per school year, per family. Parents can earn those hours by helping in the classroom or attending school functions and other activities determined by the principals.

Both campuses expect to expand to kindergarten through eighth grade in the coming years.

They also said the student-teacher ratio will be capped at 25 to one at the elementary level and between 28 and 30 to one at the middle school level.

Farmer and Jefferson had only good things to say about the district , which they said put them in the position to have these opportunities. But both said they are ready to do things a little differently as first-time principals.

"It’s just an opportunity for us, as leaders, to grow," Farmer said. "Now we get a chance to put in to play all the things we’ve wanted to do as principals, from the ground up. These buildings are our babies from bottom to top."

For more information or to enroll, visit somersetnlv.org for the North Las Vegas campus or somersetemerson.org for the Whitney campus.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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