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July 28, 2014

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Delta Academy, a ‘second-chance school,’ has charter renewed

The Clark County School Board unanimously renewed the contract of Delta Academy, a two-star-rated charter school, on Thursday.

The issue: Charter schools must renew their charters every six years to comply with district and state policy.

Charter schools are public schools that receive state per-pupil funding, but are privately managed.

Delta Academy Charter School, located in the northern Las Vegas Valley, is up for renewal this year.

The vote: Unanimous, 5-0, with School Board members Lorraine Alderman and Patrice Tew absent.

The impact: Delta Academy can operate for another six years.

The Clark County School Board granted Delta its first charter in 2009.

The charter school offers a traditional "brick and mortar" education as well as online instruction to about 220 at-risk children in grades seven to 12 who have behavioral, emotional, learning and social challenges.

Most of Delta's students have been suspended or expelled from other public schools. Many students come to the school with legal troubles and parole officers, said Kyle Konold, Delta's executive director.

"This is a fresh chance for them," Konold said. "(Delta is) a second-chance school."

Delta's mission is to reduce the incidence of dropouts with smaller class sizes, increased parental engagement and different methods of instruction, including technology and vocational opportunities.

The school strives to accomplish these goals while spending $2,000 less per pupil than the district average.

It's a tall order, considering the challenges facing Delta's students.

About two-thirds of Delta students are from minority backgrounds and participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. In addition, about 85 percent of students come to Delta behind on their course credits.

Furthermore, the school has a 99 percent transience rate, which means nearly all of the students transition in and out of school at least once during the school year. For comparison, the transience rate for the district is about 30 percent.

Over the past several months, the Clark County School District's office of charter schools conducted annual check-ups and an "extensive review" of Delta Academy's charter renewal application.

The district's charter school review team found "Delta is continuously improving in the area of compliance with state laws and regulations." The team recommended that the School Board approve the charter renewal.

A recently adopted state law, however, requires that Delta Academy return to the School Board with another charter that will tie future contract renewals with how well the school performs academically.

Transitioning to a performance-based contract may prove difficult for Delta, a two-star rated school that serves a challenging student population.

During the 2011-12 school year — the most recent year for which test scores were available — 41 percent of Delta students were proficient in reading, 38 percent in writing and just 30 percent in math.

That same year, Delta posted a graduation rate of 51 percent and a dropout rate of 15 percent. For comparison, the district's graduation rate was 66 percent and its dropout rate is 4 percent.

"You're serving a population that's very hard and high-need," said School Board President Carolyn Edwards. However, "we're not going to let you slide on (student achievement). You have work to do."

Delta Academy has seen a decrease in discipline referrals and suspensions. Furthermore, the number of students graduating from the academy has more than doubled each year for the past three years, according to the school's website.

Over the past five years, the school has graduated about 80 students. Half of the students have ended up going to college or vocational school; the remainder have enlisted in the military, Konold said.

"That's 80 students who otherwise wouldn't have graduated," Konold said. "We take great pride in that."

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