Final push lands at-risk Las Vegas student on graduation stage

This is the third and final installment in a series, Year in the Life, which followed one at-risk Clark County School District senior as he works toward graduation — highlighting districtwide issues along the way.

The final months of D’Andre Burnett’s high school career were in turns turbulent, tragic and triumphant.

In January, the 18-year-old was sent to an in-school behavioral program. In April, he witnessed the shooting death of a 16-year-old friend on a Las Vegas street. And on the week of graduation, he faced his mother’s wrath when she learned he apparently was not going to earn his diploma.

That’s how, just one day before graduation, he found himself in a classroom at Shadow Ridge High School with a handful of other students, facing the daunting task of completing work in three online courses by day’s end.

The marathon was the culmination of an all-hands-on-deck effort to raise Burnett’s grades above 60 percent in all his classes so that he could graduate on time at the end of May. The maneuvering included waiving a denial of credit for a physical education course, switching him to a different English class to limit distractions and assigning a behavioral strategist to help him stay focused and finish assignments that had piled up.

If there was ever a time in his troubled high school career to buckle down, this was it.

“Read before you go to bed,” his strategist, Danielle Jones, had told him weeks before as they discussed an English project on Shakespeare. “Not go on Twitter, not on Instagram, not on Snapchat — ‘King Lear.’”

The sustained push and final harrowing hours paid off. Burnett walked the stage on May 24 with the rest of the class of 2018. He was all smiles on graduation day.

“It was more, like, weight off my shoulders more than anything,” he said.

While Burnett’s graduation might prove to be a turning point in his young life, it also raises questions about the Clark County School District’s rising graduation rate — and whether propelling marginal students out the door is doing them any favors.

Barely surviving

Graduation unprepared (Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The shooting happened on his 18th birthday.

Burnett said he and a group of friends on April 27 were walking back from a McDonald’s in the northwest corner of the Las Vegas Valley when he heard gunshots.

“I thought it was fireworks because it wasn’t like a loud gun … then I heard the bullets whizzing past my head, and I kept running,” he said.

When he returned, he saw classmate Justise Allen on the ground. The 16-year-old girl died in a shooting that police say was targeted and gang-related, and another 19-year-old was injured.

At school, police called Burnett in for questioning.

But he said he didn’t know why the two gunmen climbed out of a car and opened fire on his group of friends. He said he hadn’t been involved in gangs and was just focused on school and basketball.

Police said the investigation was still open as of last week and did not provide any update.

Burnett said the shooting didn’t interfere with his studies. But he acknowledged that it hurt him mentally and said he felt guilty.

“She was down there for me … and she was so young,” he said.

The emotions only added to what already was a difficult situation at school.

In January, Burnett had been sent to StarOn, the district’s in-house behavioral program, which exists as an alternative to suspensions. He and his mother, Brandi Burnett, say he was disciplined for having drug paraphernalia on campus — specifically a lighter, an empty bottle and empty baggies.

D’Andre continued to do his work but fell behind in English.

He acknowledges that his behavior was to blame.

“If I would’ve never went to StarOn, then I would’ve never been in this (mess),” he said, the week before graduation. “I would’ve been in class the whole time, and I would’ve had my grades up the whole time.”

The final push

That was the same week that Burnett’s mother received a call from the school. He had failed English and government.

His counselor, however, gave him one final shot at redemption: recovery of those credits through Apex Learning, the Clark County School District’s online course program. He also later found out he needed to finish another elective course, adding a music appreciation class to his list.

The Apex program helps those who need to make up previously failed classes, offering another gateway to graduation. Yet it also comes with a temptation.

Teachers must unlock access to quizzes and tests, requiring students to take them from school. But for much of the course, there is little to stop students from searching for answers online.

That’s just what Burnett did as he scrambled through the final hours of his senior year.

“That’s what everybody does,” he said.

Jesse Welsh, assistant superintendent of curriculum and professional development, said students shouldn’t be sitting there Googling for answers.

But, he added, the challenge to prevent cheating is the same in any regular class where large numbers of students are taking an exam.

“If the teacher is not being mindful of what’s going on, it’s the same kind of challenges you would have in a regular classroom,” he said.

The online courses also typically have both computer- and teacher-scored tests, Welsh said — so not all answers can be found online.

The district usually uses about 10,000 “seats” in Apex courses of its 12,000 maximum, at a cost of $40 apiece, according to Welsh.

But the online tests and the use of graduation rates as a key accountability metric for schools could contribute to what data shows is a serious lack of preparation shown by many Clark County students.

While the district’s graduation rate has increased in recent years, more than half of those students who enroll in a Nevada System of Higher Education institution within one year of graduating are placed in remedial courses. Those courses are intended to address academic deficiencies before students move on to college-level courses that count toward a degree.

Still aiming for college

Despite the eleventh-hour shortcuts he took, Burnett said he’s ready for college-level work.

He is hoping to attend community college and play basketball, and he’s interested in business and marketing. One coach from out of state was coming to look at him play this weekend, he said. If the basketball opportunity doesn’t pan out, he plans to attend the College of Southern Nevada.

His mother went from angry to overjoyed when she found out that he could walk just one day before the graduation ceremony. The family scrambled to make arrangements to attend.

“You should try to get pants the night before graduation,” she said. “Everything was sold out. I didn’t get the cap and gown until that morning.”

She said she cried so much during the ceremony that she couldn’t manage to record it.

The family is still celebrating the diploma, but Brandi Burnett is already looking to the future and thinking of ways to maximize her son’s chances of success in the next step of his academic life.

“D’Andre can do it if D’Andre focuses,” she said. “He’s an excellent writer. I just, I think we’re not going to do any morning classes — we’re going to do it in the afternoon, when he comes alive.”

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

Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like