Charter operators OK’d for Achievement School District program

Three new charters are vying to join the Achievement School District this year, including one all-boys school, a move that would bring new players to the controversial state plan to lift up underperforming schools.

The state Department of Education announced the new charter operators Wednesday, one each for elementary, middle and high schools. Two of the charters are brand new ventures, and the third is an extension of an all-boys charter created in Chicago in 2006.

Nevada Rise Academy, Nevada Prep Charter School and Urban Prep Academy were all vetted by an independent review committee and are aiming to open as neighborhood-option schools, meaning they would operate alongside a struggling school rather than taking it over.

“These nonprofits have shown a strong commitment to be part of a collective solution to improving opportunities for students in some of our highest-need communities,” Steve Canavero, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement.

The Achievement School District, an initiative created during the 2015 legislative session, partners chronically underperforming schools with charter operators with the aim of improving student achievement.

The law allows for up to six underperforming schools a year to be paired with a charter through one of two models: a transformation model, in which the charter takes over operations of the school; or a neighborhood model, in which the charter opens a campus near the struggling school and students from that school get first preference.

Last year, Democracy Prep chose the transformation model, taking over operations at Agassi Prep in Las Vegas. Futuro Academy opened as a neighborhood option for Cambeiro Elementary School in Las Vegas.

New schools

Both Nevada Rise Academy and Nevada Prep are new charter schools.

Rise Academy plans to open as an elementary school and is led by Justin Brecht, a recent Building Excellent Schools fellow. Brecht won the 2014 Las Vegas Review-Journal educator of the year award.

“With high expectations, academic rigor and data-driven instruction delivered within a culture of achievement, we will offer our community a quality option that will redefine what is possible for our students in Nevada,” Brecht said in a statement on the school’s website.

Nevada Prep would open as a middle school and plans to succeed by focusing on academic achievement and leadership development.

“We know middle school is a crucial formative time for young people, and we are excited to work hard, along with families, school staff and our community partners, to create an expanded middle school that prepares all our students to thrive in high school and the rest of their lives,” said Nevada Prep board Chairwoman Paola Gonzalez.

Urban Prep Academy is the only existing charter network hoping to join the program. Urban Prep operates three schools, where approximately 85 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and all are boys and young men of color, according to the state.

The intention would be to continue that model in Nevada in a high school.

“We are excited about the opportunity to bring our model to Nevada and humbled by the level of community interest in and support of our work,” Urban Prep founder Tim King said in a statement.

Next steps

Right now, 24 struggling schools in the state are eligible for the program, including 15 schools in Clark County. High schools with graduation rates less than 60 percent are eligible.

For middle and elementary schools, eligibility is determined by examination of the bottom 5 percent of schools based on student data and test scores. Then officials consider other factors and historical data to whittle down the list.

Officials with the Achievement School District must recommend at least 20 percent of the 24 schools on the state’s Rising Star List to the state board later this month. Within 30 days of that, the state board must approve a minimum of half of the recommended schools for the program.

Once the state approves the schools, the process goes back to Achievement School District officials, who match the schools with approved charters. There’s no guarantee at this point that the three charters will actually be paired with a school, director Rebecca Fieden said.

“Matching is a two-sided option,” she said.

Contact Meghin Delaney at 702-383-0281 or mdelaney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @MeghinDelaney on Twitter.

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