Operations have stabilized at TEACH Las Vegas following turmoil in October that included a temporary closure and the abrupt departure of many employees and students, state charter school officials said Friday.
The Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board heard an update Friday from school leaders, but didn’t take action.
There were unanticipated leadership changes at TEACH Las Vegas, charter authority Executive Director Melissa Mackedon said.
“This sudden departure of leadership had a domino effect on the operations of the school, which led to an unplanned school closure earlier this school year,” she said.
Since that time, the situation has stabilized, Mackedon said.
Charter authority staff asked school leaders to appear before the board to give an update on the stabilization and outline their plans moving forward.
The charter authority plans to bring a formalized list of circumstances that need to be remedied at TEACH Las Vegas to the board’s next meeting.
TEACH Las Vegas — part of a Los Angeles-based charter school network — canceled classes for a couple of days in early October after its executive director resigned. Police were also called to respond to disturbances on campus.
“The abrupt mass staff abandonment left the school without on-site leadership, exposed the community to chaos and created an unsafe, fractured environment,” the school wrote in online meeting materials.
The school owed more than $320,000 in public employee retirement contributions, prompting the state to issue a formal tax delinquency complaint in October. The school has since paid a portion of the balance.
The school — which opened in 2021 on North Rancho Drive — had more than 400 elementary and middle school students at its peak. It currently has about 240.
The school has three licensed teachers and the rest — about 11 — are substitutes, Interim Executive Director Frank Williams said.
Williams was appointed to the job last month and came from the TEACH charter management organization in Los Angeles.
It has been difficult to overcome the narrative that “we are imminently going to close” — noting that’s not going to happen — and that’s a real struggle with recruiting teachers, Williams said.
He also pointed to the “negative publicity” the school sustained.
Williams said an issue that he’s encountering, which seems to be universal in Nevada, is finding qualified staff.
He said he has been able to hire two licensed teachers and he’s interviewing two next week.
“In the meantime, I’m not giving up on the staff I have,” he said.
Charter authority staff visited the school Thursday. Mackedon said she was “pleasantly surprised” during the visit and it’s clear that Williams has started establishing a positive school culture.
Board Chair Trishawn Allison said she’s working on rebuilding the school board. She didn’t provide information on the current number of board members.
She said two board members were voted in within the last week, noting she’s “very hopeful” about the future.
TEACH Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Matthew Brown said a payment was made in November toward public employee retirement contributions.
The current balance is roughly $115,000, he said.
Brown said he anticipates that half of that will be able to be paid in December and probably the rest in January.
Williams said the situation with PERS not being paid should have been caught before it “became a triage.”
Williams said there was previously a lack of accountability at the school, noting they’re committed to putting in place a competent board to ensure things are being done instead of accepting the word of those in power.
Also, the school’s one-star school rating didn’t happen overnight, he said, and his goal is to start building an academic program to address academic deficits.
He also cited the school’s chronic absenteeism rate, which is defined as a student missing 10 percent or more of their enrolled school days.
The Nevada Report Card website lists the rate as 51.3 percent for last school year.
Williams also said there were issues with a lack of consistent staffing in classrooms and substitute teachers were changing day to day.
He said the school now has the same person in each classroom.
New charter school
Also Friday, the charter authority’s board conditionally approved a resubmitted new school application for Thrive Point Academy of Nevada, which will serve at-risk high school students in Las Vegas.
The school’s application was originally denied earlier this year.
Thrive Point aims to open in August 2024 with 300 students.
Notices of concern
The board also voted to issue notices of academic concern to Nevada Rise Academy’s elementary school and TEACH Las Vegas’ elementary and middle schools.
Both schools received a one-star rating — the lowest possible — under the state’s school accountability system for last school year. They also had a “below standard” or “does not meet standard” rating by the charter authority.
The Nevada Department of Education released the star ratings in September.
The board also decided Friday to rescind notices of concern issued last month for two-star schools and took no action on others.
Mackedon said that a growth algorithm was using falsely inflated data and she doesn’t believe it’s appropriate to put two-star schools on an “intervention ladder.”
But Mackedon also said she believes scores are indicative of overall proficiency and that’s concerning. She said it’s important for the charter authority to take extra care in monitoring those schools.