State board denies City of Las Vegas charter school application, for now

Board wants details of financial arrangements with outside management organization

By: - November 9, 2021 6:00 am

The City of Las Vegas operates a preschool program, which includes Strong Start Go, a mobile classroom pictured here. The city is now planning on opening a K-5 charter school. (Photo courtesy of City of Las Vegas)

A charter school proposed by the City of Las Vegas was denied approval Friday by the state Charter School Board. The proposed elementary school is expected to revisit its application and reapply in upcoming months.

Strong Start Academy, as it will be known, wants to open for the 2022-23 school year. The City of Las Vegas has dedicated a million dollars of Covid relief funds toward the project initially.

Charter School Board members praised the overall application but ultimately voted for denial based on the recommendation of State Public Charter School Authority staff, who felt the school’s plans to partner with outside vendors was not fully articulated. Charter schools, which receive public funding, are expected to detail their expected financial relationships with third-party companies, including so-called “education management organizations” that can take upwards of 15% of the school’s overall budget.

Strong Start Academy isn’t planning to use an EMO but does want to partner with The New Teacher Project, a national nonprofit. Authority Staff noted they find TNTP to be reputable but said the proposed school’s application was “underdeveloped” and “lacks specifics.”

“It is not clear how TNTP would be held accountable for the many responsibilities outlined in the narrative, including recruitment, selection and staffing, teacher onboarding and induction, teacher coaching and support as well as leader coaching and support.”

It is not unusual for proposals to be first denied by the Charter School Board but later approved. A representative from the Strong Start team told the board members they are still committed to the school and will resubmit their application.

Charter School Board chair Melissa Mackedon expressed excitement for the city’s involvement, saying she finds it “inspiring.”

Las Vegas City Council earlier this year approved on a 6-1 vote to create a nonprofit to apply for and run the charter school. Councilman Cedric Crear, who represents one of the three wards being targeted for enrollment, cast the lone vote in opposition.

Strong Start Academy was one of several charter school applications rejected by the board on Friday.

Two proposed charter schools were approved. The first was pilotED’s Cactus Park Elementary, which plans to open with 351 students in kindergarten through fourth grade and eventually expand to fifth grade and enrol 468 students total by 2027-28. The school will be located at Las Vegas and Pecos boulevards.

The second proposed school approved was the Young Women’s Leadership Academy of Las Vegas, which despite its name will be required to accept students of all genders. The school, which will be located inside a church on Mojave Road near Desert Inn Road, has been approved to open with 150 students in sixth through ninth grades and expand to 600 students grades sixth through 12th over five years.

YWLA is backed by the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and will use Academica, the largest third-party charter management company in Nevada, as its CMO.

Also at the Charter School Board Friday, two schools already slated to open next year received a green light to modify their plans.

Sage Collegiate, which was previously approved to open this year but opted to delay until the 2022-23 school year because of the pandemic, was approved to expand their grade offerings. It will now open with 224 students and offer kindergarten through fifth grade, instead of its originally approved 180 students from kindergarten through second grade. It plans to expand to 588 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade over five years.

Eagle Charter Schools of Nevada received approval to open their proposed school in the east Las Vegas zip code 89110. The school, which is approved to open with 648 students for the 2022-23 academic year, previously planned to be located in 89104, 89106, 89115 or 89122. It considered 33 different possible facilities within those zip codes before looking in 89110.

Eagle did not provide the exact address of its prospective facility but told the charter school authority it is 0.7 miles from 89115 and 2.6 miles from 89104.

The new 89110 zip code is one of the many zip codes identified in Nevada’s Demographic Needs Assessment, which prioritizes opening new charter schools in areas with low-performing schools.

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April Corbin Girnus
April Corbin Girnus

April Corbin Girnus is an award-winning journalist with a decade of media experience. She has been a beat writer at Las Vegas Sun, a staff writer at LEO Weekly, web editor of Las Vegas Weekly and a blogger documenting North American bike share systems’ efforts to increase ridership in underserved communities. An occasional adjunct journalism professor, April steadfastly rejects the notion that journalism is a worthless major. Amid the Great Recession, she earned a B.A. in journalism from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, where she served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper. She later earned an M.A. in media studies and a graduate certificate in media management from The New School for Public Engagement. A stickler about municipal boundary lines, April enjoys teaching people about unincorporated Clark County. She grew up in Sunrise Manor and currently resides in Paradise with her husband, two children and two mutts.

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