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Nevada Connections Academy to close elementary grades

The online Nevada Connections Academy charter school will shutter its elementary grades at the end of this school year following the state’s latest accountability ratings that once again puts its elementary school in the one-star category.

The decision comes ahead of the school’s renewal process with the State Public Charter School Authority, which must decide whether to renew the school’s charter when it expires at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

“After much discussion and consideration at last night’s school board meeting, the (Nevada Connections Academy) Board decided to submit its renewal application for grades 6-12 only as a way to place our school in a stronger position to be able to continue to serve students throughout Nevada,” lead principal Heather Engelhardt said in an email to families.

Chris McBride, executive director for the school, said staff members are devastated. There are about 860 students in the elementary grades.

“It was really difficult for the board to come to this decision, and (we) by no means wanted this for our students and families,” he said. “It was just very clear from the standards of the authority that it was highly, highly unlikely that they would approve or enable our elementary school to continue moving forward serving kids when we’ve had one star three years in a row.”

The school has a history of poor performance under the state’s five-star accountability system — its elementary, middle and high schools all had one star in the 2017-18 ratings. The latest 2018-19 ratings show a two-star middle school and one-star high school.

The school has had a contentious relationship with the authority, filing a lawsuit in 2016 when the authority flagged the school for potential closure because of its low graduation rate. In 2017, the authority and school reached an agreement over standards for its high school, setting graduation rate benchmarks of 49 percent for the class of 2018 and 60 percent for the class of 2019.

The school exceeded the benchmark for 2018, and McBride said the school also exceeded it for 2019.

The Legislature recently passed a bill that set forth a regulatory process for virtual schools, following pushback and litigation that the authority has experienced when it comes to holding underperforming virtual schools accountable. The school is one of two online charters that have fought back through litigation against academic performance measures set forth by the authority.

McBride said the school plans on “engaging deeply” in that regulatory process.

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

This story has been updated to give a more accurate number of students in the elementary grades.

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