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Leader of Las Vegas charter school defends ‘culture change’

The newly appointed leader of struggling Discovery Charter School on Monday defended his actions, attributing the loss of more than 100 students to a “culture change” resulting from his appointment to oversee the school.

John Haynal, who also works as a principal over three schools in the Clark County School District, was appointed as a “receiver” by the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority Board over the summer.

As a receiver, Haynal is tasked with improving the school’s abysmal academic performance, but he said he’s been fighting heavy criticism from the start.

“The doors never got opened and a website was started up about us, and I spent four hours at an open house where people asked questions and all I kept saying was ‘Give us a chance,’” he told board members. “We have to start out putting structures in place for success.”

Board Chairman Jason Guinasso said he has received at least three emails a week from Discovery parents complaining about the school. Guinasso also attributed the complaints to a culture change.

Haynal described the previous culture as a “public home-school” where parents could come and go as they please. The school also operated on a four-day week. He said he changed the open-door policy and shifted the school to a five-day-a-week schedule and was met with vociferous protests.

“We didn’t even get a chance to start explaining what we can do,” Haynal said.

Discovery parents who spoke before the board earlier in the day took issue with Haynal’s leadership. Parent Ron Tetirick said parents have been trying to get involved and have been stymied.

“I’m here begging for help from you again,” he told the board, echoing testimony he gave when it was considering closing the school because of poor academic performance. “I feel like the parents are trying to be really involved in the school and the parents are trying to make a better school for the kids.”

Assistant Principal Amanda Kettelson, who worked at the school before Haynal was appointed, said some families were having difficulties adjusting to what amounted to a major change in the way the school was run.

Before Haynal arrived, she said, between parents coming into classrooms in the morning, an hourlong lunch period and multiple snack and recess breaks, students were barely spending any time learning, she said.

“It is a completely different school,” Kettelson said. “I know that’s where a lot of them have been having a hard time.”

Board members said they stood behind Haynal and would support him during the transition. Board member Sheila Moulton praised Haynal for his tough-love attitude, even while she said she was worried about the enrollment dropping from 488 to 378.

“I understand and I feel for what these people say, but I so appreciate your demeanor that I sense from you,” she said.

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