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December 18, 2014

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NLV charter school, stable after a rough stretch, scores district OK

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Paul Takahashi

Junior Achievement volunteer Brian Pauling of NV Energy teaches financial literacy to students at Imagine 100 Academy of Excellence in North Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.

The Clark County School Board unanimously voted Thursday night to allow a two-star-ranked charter school in North Las Vegas to operate for another six years.

The 100 Academy of Excellence is one of seven charter schools granted authority by the Clark County School District to operate outside of the district. Every six years, charter schools must renew its charter — or contract — with the School District to continue operations.

Charter schools are tuition-free, public schools that receive state per-pupil funding in exchange for greater accountability. These schools are given greater freedoms in their curriculum and budget, but receive no funding for school buildings and its charter may be revoked at any time if the school fails to meet its educational goals.

100 Academy was granted its charter in July 2005 to operate as a K-8th grade school aimed toward at-risk minority students, many from low-income households. The charter school opened a year later under a partnership with Imagine Schools — a charter school management company — and the 100 Black Men of Las Vegas — a local nonprofit organization serving the black community.

In the six years since it opened, 100 Academy saw three principals replaced and several major compliance issues including being unable to present a balanced budget. Although it showed some academic growth, 100 Academy failed to make its annual yearly progress goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law for the past three years. Student enrollment plummeted from a high of about 600 students in 2008 to 345 students last year.

The situation looked dire with the School District threatening to revoke 100 Academy’s charter. However, in recent years, the school has begun to turn around, said Daniel Tafoya, director of the district’s office of charter schools.

Under the new leadership of Principal Peggy Selma, 100 Academy has worked with the School District to comply with state laws regarding teacher qualifications, health and safety codes and school amenities. As a result, the number of compliance issues has dropped from 31 in 2009 to 6 in 2010, Tafoya said, adding that the school scored second highest among the district’s seven charter schools last year.

Selma, who came to the struggling school in 2009 after a long career with the Los Angeles Unified School District, has made strides in turning the school around, Tafoya added.

Under Selma’s tenure, all but two of the staff at 100 Academy are now considered by the district to be “highly qualified,” and the school plans to work with a top-performing school to emulate best practices. Further, the school has been working with parents and volunteers from the 100 Black Men of Las Vegas who regularly mentor 100 Academy students.

“We’re not an employment agency, but an education agency,” Selma said. “We won’t be satisfied until we have five stars.”

100 Academy also resolved its budget issues with Imagine Schools, which operates 75 charter schools in 12 states and Washington, D.C. In 2008, Imagine forgave $285,000 in debt owed by 100 Academy and allowed the school to pay rent on a per-pupil basis to save overhead costs at the Imagine-owned school facility at 2341 Comstock Drive in North Las Vegas.

Test scores have continued to improve as well. Last year, 100 Academy made adequate progress in all subjects at every grade level except for English Language Arts, according to Ron Grogan, chairman of the charter school’s governing board.

As a result, student enrollment has gone up from 345 students last school year to 558 students this year, Grogan said. That’s a sign the school is moving in the right direction, he said.

“As a charter school, our parents vote for our school with their feet,” he said. “Our parents aren’t leaving. In fact, they’re coming back.”

Although School Board members expressed some hesitation over renewing 100 Academy’s charter, they all threw their support behind the school despite its “checkered past.” The School District has never revoked a charter, although two charter schools have closed of their own volition.

“We’ve allowed so much complacency in our system,” School Board member Deanna Wright said. “I feel a sense of urgency we can no longer do that. But I feel like you guys have gotten a hold of that and are moving in the right direction.”

School Board member Chris Garvey said she too was encouraged by the school’s improvements, but requested to have a one-year checkup of 100 Academy after the 2012-13 school year.

School Board member John Cole agreed, issuing a sharp warning to 100 Academy leaders. Although underperforming schools in the past were able to hide behind the shadows of the fifth-largest school district in the nation, it won’t be tolerated under a new regime that is trying to shine a light on school performance, he said.

School Board President Linda Young said she was “very, very pleased” with the new direction of 100 Academy. “I’ve always believed in the capacity of 100 Academy, she said. “It has been a checkered past … but similar to CCSD, it’s trying to move the dial.”

Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones — who implemented a school ranking system in February — said he supports 100 Academy, despite its two-star ranking, after visiting the school and meeting its principal. He added jokingly that the “100 Black Men have made it clear to keep my hands off.”

Tafoya, the district’s director of charter schools, said all public schools have “peaks and valleys” and that charter schools — especially those working with traditionally underserved children — have a difficult time getting started. He said he is confident 100 Academy of Excellence is on the right track toward earning its namesake “excellence.”

The School Board approved 100 Academy’s charter renewal by a 6-0 vote, with School Board member Erin Cranor absent. The board room — packed with nearly 100 school officials, parents and students wearing gold and black uniforms — erupted into applause.

“They’re going in the right direction. To kick their legs out from under them would be bad,” Tafoya said. “I’m very proud of these guys.”

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