Las Vegas Sun

September 30, 2014

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District wants ‘lots of results’ from Zoom schools

The Clark County School District has wholeheartedly embraced a new statewide initiative to help Nevada’s large population of non-English-speaking students, according to officials.

School District officials testified before state lawmakers this morning about the progress of its 14 Zoom schools, a pilot program established earlier this year to help some of its 51,000 English-language learners.

Over the next two years, Clark County is receiving $39.4 million in state funding for the Zoom schools that are providing new resources to help English-language learners. Resources include pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs, summer school sessions and special literacy tutoring centers.

“We have embraced (this program) wholeheartedly,” Joyce Haldeman, CCSD’s associate superintendent of governmental affairs, said, addressing legislators. “We thank you for the allocation.”

With the new state funding, the School District has created at least two pre-kindergarten classes in each Zoom school and reduced kindergarten class sizes to 21 students — down from upwards of 30 students last year.

In addition, the district has hired a teacher to boost family engagement and give kindergarten parents strategies and educational materials to help their children at home.

Danielle Miller, the academic manager overseeing Clark County’s Zoom schools, told lawmakers that the smaller kindergarten classes have allowed teachers to meet with students in small groups and individually help them learn how to read. Students, even at the kindergarten level, are expected have 160 minutes of reading a day, she said.

“That’s been a huge support for our teachers,” Miller said.

The School District also has created special literacy centers at each Zoom school to help students hone their reading skills.

The centers are stocked with books to cater to all reading levels and are staffed with a licensed literacy teacher and three paraprofessionals, including retired teachers, UNLV graduate education students and student teachers.

About 80 students a day stream through each of the reading centers for 30 minutes of specialized reading and tutoring time, five days a week.

To maintain any gains students may make this year, the School District is offering a new summer academy to Zoom school students.

Students will be able to attend 15 additional half days of school past the regular school year to ensure they don’t fall behind over the summer vacation. Summer school teachers will be using novels and special themes, such as innovation and leadership, to educate students.

The School District is also considering allowing the 14 Zoom schools to go year-round starting next year. The year-round schedule will prevent students from losing their reading and vocabulary skills over the summer, Haldeman said.

“We want (students) to have continuity,” Haldeman said. “We find that they often lose language skills over the long, three-month break. We want them to keep their language skills.”

The School District will hold a professional development session for all the Zoom schools in February to determine if there are any course corrections that need to be implemented before the end of the school year. State lawmakers are requiring that Zoom schools provide test score data to see if the program is really helping English-language learners.

“We are doing a lot of testing,” Haldeman told legislators. “Normally, I’m not proud of a lot of testing, but we want to demonstrate to you from the first day how far (students) are going. We want lots of results.”

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