Nevada charter school initiative still alive, but debate grows hotter

Could Nevada’s Achievement School District be doomed before it even began?

The divisive charter school initiative has encountered a rocky start, with strong opposition from Clark County School District parents and staff who are steadfastly against any charter takeover.

But events Wednesday — during National School Choice Week, no less — took the debate to another level.

After an L.A. Times story revealed that the Celerity Educational Group was under federal investigation, the Nevada Department of Education revoked its conditional approval as a charter operator for the achievement district. And did so within hours of learning that the FBI had raided Celerity offices.

It was like adding gasoline to the anger already burning against the special district.

So much for the furious tide of people bracing for some sort of impending disaster — suddenly, the five failing Clark County schools that were eligible for conversion under Celerity are no longer on the chopping block this year.

Still, there’s Democracy Prep that will run the Agassi Prep charter school, and a new school called Futuro Academy that will serve as another choice for students attending Cambeiro Elementary.

Then again, there’s also an attempt to repeal the achievement district legislation by state Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, who filed a bill draft request calling for such. He thinks the latest news bolsters his proposal.

“I think it definitely puts some issues out there and concerns that people have said,” he said. “We seem to be moving very fast into something. Is it more important to do things quickly, or is it more important to do things right?”

In this situation, I can’t help but wonder: Does the image of one charter operator ruin the reputation for all of them? It certainly doesn’t help.

Jim Goenner, president and CEO of the National Charter Schools Institute, said some people implement the concept of chartering really well. Others simply don’t.

“Then you have somebody that lacks character and integrity and taints the people that are trying to do this work well,” he said. “And so it’s incumbent upon really all educators to say look, what we stand for is schools that win for kids.”

Goenner applauded the state for pulling the plug on Celerity immediately.

The operator was granted approval only on the condition that it fix its issues in Los Angeles. Yet if the public had not found out about an FBI raid, would anything have happened?

Was the recruitment of Celerity by state charter-school harbormaster Opportunity 180 done thoroughly?

“What we’re doing now is we’re going back through all of the materials and conversations that we had throughout the recruitment process for both operators, Democracy Prep and Celerity, to see where we may have missed something,” said Opportunity 180 President Allison Serafin. “And to determine where we need to potentially tighten up the process on the recruitment side.”

They’ll need to take a hard look. Or the achievement district might not achieve anything.

On Education appears every other Saturday. Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at 702-383-4630 or Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter.

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