Las Vegas Sun

November 26, 2015

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Nevada 3.0 - The state of education:

Collaboration gives children better chance

Nevada 3.0: Education

As the Legislature considers several proposals for education, the Sun asked for a variety of opinions on the state of education in Nevada. It's part of the Sun's Nevada 3.0 project, which is looking at issues confronting the state and ways to move forward. You’ll find:

• The Sun’s editorial, "Invest in schools"

• A conversation with Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie

• A conversation with Clark County School District Superintendent Dwight Jones

State Sen. Scott Hammond, a public school teacher and charter school board member, writes about choices facing the state.

Dr. Sonya Douglass Horsford, the senior resident scholar on education at The Lincy Institute at UNLV, writes about a missed opportunity in Nevada.

Ruben R. Murillo, president of the Clark County Education Association, writes about what the schools need.

Judi Steele, president of the Public Education Foundation, writes about improving school leadership.

Another view?

Have your own opinion? Write a letter to the editor.

As our state’s elected leaders work to move us forward, it’s important that we ground ourselves in the lessons of our most successful classrooms and schools. In these classrooms and schools, especially those that defy the odds and prove that demographics are not destiny, there is a powerful collaboration between teachers, administrators, families and partners centered on a common goal. Together, the school community finds ways to overcome challenges and create the additional capacity students need to be successful. Encouraging this type of community collaboration and embracing the lessons that emerge is our best chance to take a meaningful step forward and transform the prospects for all of Nevada’s kids.

Since 2004, Teach for America has recruited, trained and supported more than 500 teachers in the Las Vegas Valley, reaching more than 42,000 students in our low-income communities. We are humbled to be a partner in Nevada’s efforts to address educational inequities, and through the work of our teachers and alumni we witness the importance of partnership inside and outside of the classroom every day.

Teachers like Ben Salkowe and Rachel Warbelow, who founded Scholars Working OverTime, will tell you that the commitment of students and families is essential to improving outcomes. Scholars Working OverTime is led by a team of teachers supported by their principal at Keller Middle School in East Las Vegas. The innovative program includes 204 sixth- and seventh-graders who, with the support of their families, have committed to an extended 9 1/2-hour school day built on college-prep expectations and rigorous academic, character and fitness instruction. Families are integral in coordinating out-of-state college trips, monthly family nights and other extension activities. The program’s students, 92 percent of whom identify as people of color, have consistently outperformed their district peers on every state assessment. Despite starting as many as three years below grade level, the program’s newest cohort scored 79 percent proficient in reading and 88 percent proficient in math on the 2012 Nevada CRT in their first year with the program.

Or take Erica Mosca, a first-generation college graduate, who moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to teach at Goldfarb Elementary School. This past year, Mosca used her savings to start “Leaders in Training,” a nonprofit that is partnering with Las Vegas high schools to help students get on the path to college. High school freshman leaders from East Career and Technical Academy, Las Vegas High School, Advanced Technologies Academy, Eldorado High School and Green Valley High School volunteer in a Goldfarb elementary classroom, receive help on their own homework from volunteer teachers three days a week and collaborate on projects that connect their high school curriculum to real life. Last month, the group traveled by train to President Barack Obama’s inauguration. While only in its first year, the program has an ambitious plan for its young leaders and future first-generation college graduates that includes improved academic performance, career internships, financial literacy, college readiness and leadership development.

Other education leaders have reflected on their classroom experience to improve the way teachers collaborate across the district. Fourth-grade teacher Justin White developed Wiki Teacher in his first year in his Wengert Elementary School classroom in 2005. He wanted to find a way to connect teachers and provide a repository of lesson plans. Today, he is the driving force behind Curriculum Engine, an online tool that helps Clark County’s 17,000 teachers plan more purposefully and collaboratively. He and his co-developer, Barry Bosacker, lead professional development sessions across the district and help on-board teachers new to the system.

The endeavors of these Teach For America alumni reflect just a few examples of the rich collaboration happening across classrooms and schools in Las Vegas. It’s encouraging to see that education is top of mind for our elected officials, but we must create the space and encourage more collaborative efforts like these for teachers, parents, schools and communities to come together to tackle their unique challenges. As a community stakeholder, Teach for America is eager to continue working closely with all of our partners across the state, including the Clark County School District, UNLV, the Clark County Educational Association, philanthropic organizations and community leaders, to ensure that the solutions we develop as a state match the unique and dynamic needs of students and families. Together — and only together — we can give our children the educational opportunities they need and deserve.

Victor Wakefield is the executive director of Teach for America in the Las Vegas Valley.

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