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17 Nevada charter schools on notice over performance

Updated October 5, 2019 - 1:10 pm

The State Public Charter School Authority put 12 charter schools on a notice of concern Friday after the latest star rating results from 2018-19 showed low performance and gave five more schools a notice of breach of contract because of routine underperformance.

Notices of concern are given to schools with star ratings that slip below three stars in the state’s five-star accountability system, and a notice of breach is typically given to schools that have continued to operate below three stars.

School leaders acknowledged the need for improvement and spelled out the efforts to address their problem areas to authority members, who decide whether to renew the charter schools’ contracts.

Those include leaders of schools previously in the Achievement School District charter initiative, which was eliminated this past legislative session. Existing achievement schools moved under the authority’s purview.

Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus, a former achievement school that operates a five-star middle school but has a two-star elementary school, has a new elementary principal and hopes to increase proficiency in English and math by 10 percent.

Nevada Prep, another former achievement school with a five-star middle school and two-star elementary school, was also forthcoming about the need for improvement.

“We are our harshest critics, and so we have our own notice of concern before anything comes down from above,” founder David Blodgett said.

Meanwhile, Freedom Classical Academy’s elementary school and Nevada Connections Academy’s middle and high school were among the schools that were issued notices of breach.

While Freedom Classical’s middle school jumped from two to four stars, its elementary school stayed at two stars.

Like many schools, Freedom Classical struggled with chronic absenteeism, Executive Director Jeremy Christensen said.

“That’s a big low-hanging fruit item for us to address to get that score up to the three stars where it needs to be,” he said, noting the school is using a truancy diversion program used in many other traditional public schools.

A crowd of parents and students came to support the virtual Nevada Connections Academy, which has a history of underperformance. It plans to close its elementary school at the end of this school year given its latest one-star rating.

Parents urged the authority to look beyond the school’s star rating, noting that the school provides an option for students who have disabilities, rare conditions and other unique circumstances.

Kim Arkerson explained how her 5-year-old daughter, who has developmental delays, blossomed in the school.

“She would simply be swallowed at a brick-and-mortar (school) here,” she said. “At Nevada Connections Academy, however, she is totally thriving: participating, attending field trips, crushing her speech therapy — frankly blowing my mind with her success.”

The school, whose charter is up for renewal later this year, also explained the challenge it has with students who move throughout the school year. Its transiency rate for 2018-19 stands at nearly 56 percent.

Authority Chairwoman Melissa Mackedon called the claim a “tired argument.”

“I think when you put in a charter to open an online school, you know mobility is an issue. … It’s like opening a school in east Las Vegas and being surprised that students living in poverty need additional services,” she said.

The notices of concern and breach are part of the authority’s own accountability process and inform the board on whether to renew or revoke a school’s charter.

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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