After wrapping up a $17 million project to transform an old strip mall with a 24 Hour Fitness into a school campus, Signature Preparatory’s first school year is underway in Henderson.
The tuition-free public charter school, with about 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, opened in August on South Boulder Highway. The 60,000-square-foot building is on a 10-acre campus.
The school held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 23 — two months into the school year — in its gymnasium. Construction on the gym was delayed, and the school just received an occupancy permit for the space last week.
During the ribbon cutting, Henderson Mayor Debra March told hundreds of students she’s thrilled to have Signature Preparatory move into Victory Village, one of the oldest areas in Henderson. And she said she loved the students’ school uniforms, saying they reminded her of when she was a student at a Catholic school.
Signature Preparatory emphasizes RAISE — an acronym for respect, accountability, integrity, service and excellence — ith its students. It also offers financial literacy and entrepreneurship programs for middle-schoolers.
Brian Scroggins, deputy director of the State Public Charter School Authority, told the crowd during the ribbon cutting, “I see education as the great equalizer in our society.”
He encouraged Signature Preparatory students to dream big and realize there’s no limit to what they can do.
The ceremony wrapped up with students cheering as principal Carey Roybal-Benson, a former college basketball player, dunked a ball into a hoop in the gym.
Signature Preparatory is among about eight public charter schools in Henderson, each of which has one or more campuses.
About the student body
About half of Signature Preparatory’s student body hails from neighborhoods surrounding the school, while others are from elsewhere across the Las Vegas Valley. School busing isn’t provided. About 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.
The school can accommodate 1,080 students. Some grade levels, such as kindergarten, are full this school year and have a waiting list. Others — particularly sixth through eighth grades — have space available.
Fifth-grader Camryn Cross, 11, said she already knows Roybal-Benson and a fourth-grade teacher from her previous school, Hal Smith Elementary School in Las Vegas.
“At this school, I learned so much better things,” Camryn said about Signature Preparatory. And she said she likes the comfort of school uniforms.
Fifth-grader Trevor Phipps-Arzola, 10, said at his last school, lessons went “super slow,” students messed around and teachers got mad.
At Signature Preparatory, students behave, he said, and he likes the teachers better. “They give you chances and they help you out.”
Signature Preparatory’s beginnings
Gabe Shirey, Signature Preparatory’s founder and executive director, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he came up with the idea for the charter school when he was researching Las Vegas school options shortly after the birth of his oldest child in Summerlin. He has three children, now ages 5, 3 and 2.
The plan was to open a charter school in Summerlin, but land in the master-planned community was costly, Shirey said.
Charter school officials looked for land elsewhere and found a 10-acre site on South Boulder Highway, in an underserved area, he said.
Charter One, an Arizona-based education management organization, provided assistance to help Signature Preparatory operate in Nevada.
Once Signature Preparatory had a school site, construction took about 5 1/2 months, Shirey said. Construction crews kept the original four exterior walls of former strip mall but did an extensive overhaul from there.
The school opened just in time for Shirey’s 5-year-old daughter to enroll in kindergarten. She’s in Michele Tuoto’s class.
On Oct. 23 in Tuoto’s classroom, students sat on a rug and recited lines from a Halloween-themed story — which incorporated counting — about spooky pumpkins.
In each classroom at Signature Preparatory, students fill different roles, which change on a rotating basis.
One of the roles: greeter. If a visitor comes into a classroom, the student greeter introduces himself or herself, shakes the visitor’s hand, welcomes them and tells them what the class is working on.
Signature Preparatory emphasizes “soft skills” future employers look for, such as communication and social skills. Students are also encouraged to shake hands with school administrators they see in the hallway.
Signature Preparatory is at 498 S. Boulder Highway in Henderson. Call 702-224-2809 or visit signatureprep.org.
The enrollment process for next school year begins Nov. 25, and families can apply on the school’s website.