Two struggling Clark County public schools have been “partnered” with state-authorized charters in a bid to improve their academic performance, state officials confirmed Monday.
That means students at Hal Smith Elementary School and Jerome Mack Middle School, both in Las Vegas, will have first preference if they wish to attend the new charter schools in the fall.
The partnerships are part of the state’s Achievement School District initiative, which authorizes new charters in an attempt to improve education for students at chronically underperforming schools.
Two Clark County schools currently operate under the program, which is in its second year. Three new schools were set to join the program in the fall, but officials said Monday that one of them will be delayed a year.
The Achievement School District can work in two ways: An authorized charter school can either take over the operation of an existing school or “partner” with a school by opening nearby and offering families a convenient educational option.
The first two schools in the program used different models: Agassi Prep, which was already a charter school, was taken over by Democracy Prep, a charter network based in New York City, while Futuro Academy opened as a “neighborhood option” for Cambeiro Elementary School students.
The schools set to open in fall 2018 were approved for the neighborhood option.
The Achievement School District is one of four overlapping efforts to improve struggling Clark County schools.
The program, especially the takeover option, has been controversial. In late 2016, concerned parents and Clark County School District trustees packed state Board of Education meetings to protest, fearing they’d lose control of their schools. Lawmakers attempted to repeal the program during the 2017 session before the new schools even opened, although the attempts failed.
There’s been less public outcry this year, likely because all the charters are opening under the neighborhood model.
Students at or slated to attend Smith will have first dibs to attend the new Nevada Rise Academy. The school will open to students in kindergarten and first grade in the fall, but will eventually expand to a K-5 school.
Older students at Smith as well as students at Mack Middle also will get first preference at Nevada Prep Charter School. The school will open to students in the fifth and sixth grades, but will eventually be grades five through eight.
Twenty-four schools were initially selected for potential inclusion in the Achievement School District, a list that was winnowed to 10 schools before Smith and Mack were named.
Officials with the new charters began outreach early in the process.
“We started our community engagement way before we got paired,” said Nevada Prep Executive Director David Blodgett. “We talked initially with families all over the valley.”
As a result, Nevada Prep has almost reached its its sixth-grade limit, but is still filling fifth-grade seats. The school was authorized to open with three sixth-grade classes and two fifth-grade classes.
Nevada Rise underwent a similar recruitment process and is seeing similar interest, said Executive Director Justin Brecht.
“We cast a pretty wide net around the east side and the center of Las Vegas,” he said.
The school is set up to have three kindergarten classrooms and two first-grade rooms.
Once students from Smith and Mack claim their spots in the new school, students district-wide can apply to attend through a lottery system. After the lottery system, any other open seats are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Both schools will temporary share space at Paradise Church on Emerson Avenue in Las Vegas as school officials look for space closer to the partnered schools, said Rebecca Feiden.
The church is about three miles from both schools, on the opposite side of Boulder Highway.
Other schools, including charters, have previously used the building as a temporary location.
None of the other schools that were still on the eligibility list will formally be affected by the initiative, although they could see students leave and attend one of the new charters through a lottery process.
State officials had planned to partner another Clark County school with a charter, Urban Prep Las Vegas, but that will be delayed a year they said Monday.
Based in Chicago, Urban Prep had planned to open as an all-boys high school. In Chicago, the system operates three schools and primarily serves students of color.
The intention would be to continue that model in Nevada.
No high schools were on the state’s latest eligibility list, although Urban Prep potentially could have parterned with a struggling middle school to take students as they entered high school.