Las Vegas Sun

May 29, 2015

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Education:

School District announces 14 schools to get extra money for English-learning programs

The Clark County School District announced 14 schools that will receive additional state money and resources to help students who don't speak English.

This past legislative session, lawmakers approved a $50 million in state funding to help English-language learner students, who have among the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the state.

There are about 55,000 English-language learner students in the state, the majority of whom are in Clark County.

The majority of the funding — $39.4 million — will go to 14 elementary schools in Clark County over the next two years. These so-called "Zoom to Literacy" schools will offer unique programs and services to help students learn English.

The 14 "Zoom" schools in Clark County are: Cambeiro, Cortez, Craig, Detwiler, Diaz, Herron, Lunt, Martinez, Paradise, Petersen, Ronzone, Tate, Warren and Williams.

These schools were selected because more than half of the students are considered English-language learners and at least 80 percent of students participated in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. Letters were sent home about a week ago, notifying families of their schools' new designation.

The "zoom" schools will offer a combination of resources to aid English-language learner students over the next two years. These schools will also use a variety of teaching methods, such as a project-based curriculum, to help students learn.

"The goal is to have students actively engaged in class," said Danielle Miller, the academic manager overseeing the "zoom" schools. "I expect our students to make great gains."

These resources include programs such as pre-kindergarten and full-day kindergarten classes designed to give young children a head start in the classroom.

Students may also be able to enroll in summer school or intersession academies to help maintain their reading skills over the summer, when many fall behind. It's unlikely these schools will go to an year-round calendar this school year, but that is a possibility during the 2014-15 school year.

Some of these "zoom" schools will also partner with UNLV to host a Reading Skills Development Center on campus. Teachers and tutors from UNLV will work with students on reading skills.

All "zoom" schools will receive funding for additional textbooks and supplies, as well as technology such as tablet computers, headsets and laptop computers. Funding will also go toward lowering kindergarten class ratios to 22 students to one teacher.

The staff at these "zoom" schools won't change, district officials said. It's unknown whether bilingual teachers and office staff will be hired to help bridge the language gap between parents and the schools. Miller said the schools will have several community events to help engage parents in their children's education.

On Thursday, the Clark County School Board approved $19.7 million in funding in each of the next two years for the creation of these "zoom" schools. Each of the 14 "zoom" schools will receive about $1.4 million next school year.

Whether that's enough funding to boost English-language learner student achievement remains to be seen. It's also unknown how the cash-strapped state plans to scale up this initiative if the "zoom" schools are successful.

"That money goes fast," Miller said. "Let's see what difference we can make in these schools."

These "zoom" schools represent a bold experiment in whether these additional resources and funding will help some of Nevada's lowest-performing students succeed academically.

"Our goal is to have every kid graduate from high school and go on to college," Miller said. "This will help move Nevada forward."

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