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Low-performance schools get second chance with new staff

The Clark County School District is banking on new leadership to help four struggling "turnaround" schools. In a way, being some of the consistently lowest-performing schools is the best thing that could have happened to them.

The four turnaround schools for the 2012-13 school year are Roundy Elementary School, 2755 Mohawk St.; Sunrise Acres Elementary School, 211 N. 28th St.; O’Callaghan Middle School, 1450 Radwick Drive; and Canyon Springs High School, 350 E. Alexander Road.

They received new principals and were able to replace some teachers – five in the elementary schools, eight at O’Callaghan and 10 at Canyon Springs.

They joined Carson, Elizondo and Hancock elementary schools, and Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools in the turnaround academic zone.

Jeff Geihs, former principal at Cheyenne and Liberty high schools, is the academic manager overseeing the schools’ recoveries.

"It’s an opportunity, not a punishment," Geihs said. " … When a school goes into this zone, that’s good. The schools that were turnaround schools last year they’ve all shown great achievement strides."

Belinda Jones took the head position in May at O’Callaghan. She was the principal at Ullom Elementary School for the past six years. Ullom was one of 37 in the 357-school district that earned Five-Star recognition, the district’s highest designation.

Jones’ first gig in education was as a teacher at O’Callaghan, where she later was a dean.

"I’ve always had a special place in my heart for O’Callaghan," she said. "It was quite enticing to come back. I guess I was ready for the challenge to do something to help these kids in this area – let these kids know they can achieve anything they want."

Jones said it all starts with the teachers. She said she had "phenomenal" teachers at Ullom, and she plans to have the same kind of staff at O’Callaghan. She also is using Title I funding to hire extra teachers to reduce class sizes and some strategists to help train and provide support for teachers.

Jones also has extra custodians working this summer to get the campus cleaned and spruced up. Walls have been painted in bright blue throughout the school, and Jones plans to have all the lockers cleaned and repainted, too.

"It’s going to be a place they’re excited to be," she said.

New Roundy principal John Haynal is the former head of Helen Smith Elementary School, which two years ago was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Smith was one of 304 schools nationwide to receive the award, which recognizes high test scores and achievement gains by at-risk students.

"When the opportunity came for us to make a difference with some of the other kids (at Roundy), you’ve got to take the opportunity," Haynal said. "For me, it’s the challenge. I like the challenge of what we can accomplish."

Haynal said he plans to increase the rigor for students, which probably will lead to a temporary setback but eventual, long-term success.

New principals not reached by press time include Margarita Gamboa at Sunrise Acres and Ron Guerzon at Canyon Springs.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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