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September 18, 2014

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Edison-operated schools in CCSD show improvement

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Leila Navidi

Gabriela Pace, center, and her fellow kindergartners have daydreaming time at Elizondo Elementary School in North Las Vegas on Sept. 29, 2011. Elizondo became an EdisonLearning-run campus in July 2011 as part of the district’s efforts to improve the struggling school.

After more than a decade of tepid results, EdisonLearning Inc. proved it can deliver higher student achievement in the seven schools it operates in the Clark County School District.

A lackluster performance by Edison through the years in its Clark County schools had jeopardized its contract renewal in June. Yet despite raising some concerns, School Board members gave the pricey for-profit education management company another chance to boost test scores among low-income and minority students.

By a 5-1 vote, the School Board rubber-stamped a two-year, multimillion-dollar contract after being swayed by passionate supporters and a petition with 2,000 parent signatures. School Board member Carolyn Edwards cast the sole dissenting vote.

Six months later, School District officials lauded Edison for finally delivering on its promise. It took Edison nearly a dozen years and more than $30 million in taxpayer dollars.

"I'm very pleased with the work and progress at these schools," said Clark County Schools Superintendent Dwight Jones, a former operational vice president for Edison Schools. "I appreciate you stepping up to the plate."

More than 5,000 elementary students are in Edison schools Cahlan, Crestwood, Elizondo, Lincoln, Lynch, Park and Ronnow. More than 90 percent of Edison students are from minority backgrounds and upwards of 70 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunches – both of which are higher than district averages.

Edison came to town in 2001 promising to boost student achievement despite the challenging demographics. And while some schools such as Cahlan and Crestwood showed positive improvement on test scores, other schools such as Ronnow failed to make similar gains.

Last year, none of the Edison schools made adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind system of accountability, prompting the School District to place stricter benchmarks and greater oversight on these schools.

That additional oversight seemed to help, as five of the seven Edison schools made adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind this year. Lynch was even named a "high achieving" school by the federal government. Crestwood and Ronnow did not make adequate progress however.

Test scores in math and reading jumped significantly as well.

While Crestwood and Ronnow dipped, the math proficiency rates at Edison schools increased by two to 12 percentage points. At Elizondo, a turnaround school, math scores went up by nearly 23 percent.

In reading, all the Edison schools improved by four to 21 percentage points. Reading scores went up more than 20 percentage points at Lynch, Park and Elizondo.

Because of these gains, all of the schools moved up in the district's star rankings. Four of the seven Edison schools are now rated five stars.

Edison's senior director of achievement Marsha Irvin, a former Clark County regional superintendent, credited her schools' gains to an enhanced Edison method and curriculum that raised student, teacher and parent expectations.

Students have a longer school day and are given monthly benchmark tests to track their academic progress.

Teachers were given 40 minutes a day to devise lessons plans and review student data with colleagues. Subject specialists also gave the teachers professional training.

Parents were expected to be involved in their children's education. Edison schools mandate parent-teacher conferences four times year.

"We don't let (student backgrounds) get in the way," Irvin said. "We focus on what the kids need."

If Edison is able to sustain these improvements and maintain its popularity among its teachers and parents, the once-shaky company is likely to stay in Clark County.

The School District will spend between $9,203 and $10,763 per student at each of the Edison schools – higher than the district average – until the contract expires next year year.

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