Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2003 | 11:01 a.m.
Transfers Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the Clark County School District offers students at schools identified as "needing improvement" transfers to higher-achieving campuses. The list shows the school identified as needing improvement and listed in parenthesis are the schools students can transfer to.
Parents of students who attend eight Clark County schools labeled as needing improvement by the state will have until Tuesday to decide whether they want their children transferred to higher-performing campuses.
But the district's letter to those parents about the transfer option is one-sided and could discourage parents from making what could be a good move for their children, said Moises Denis, a past secretary of the Nevada PTA. Denis will be receiving one of the letters from his son's school, Ronnow Elementary. He received the same letter last year and said it underscores the need for improvement in the district's handling of the school option choice required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In the letter mailed Tuesday, Agustin Orci, deputy superintendent of curriculum for the Clark County School District, urged parents to consider a variety of factors.
"Will your child miss friends he/she has made? Will there be a loss of continuity of instruction and/or of the extra programs that your home school has as a result of receiving Title I funds?" the letter says. "How early will your child have to get up to catch the bus? Will your child be safe walking to and from the bus stop? Would there be a transportation problem for you to go to the new school to pick up your child if he/she were to become ill during the the school day?"
Each letter includes a self-addressed postcard for parents to return to the district, indicating which of the available schools they want their child to attend. The letters do not include additional information about the schools open to transfers, such as the district's own accountability reports.
Denis said the district's letter amounted to a laundry list of potential negative consequences without detailing the potential benefits of transferring their child to a higher-achieving school.
"The responsible thing is to give parents all the information and then let them make the decision," Denis said. "I don't think the letter presents both sides fairly."
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which took effect in 2002, seeks to have 100 percent of children proficient in reading, writing and mathematics by 2014. Schools are required to test all students in grades 3 through 10 annually and show progress by 36 subgroups, including special education, non-native English speakers and ethnicity. Schools that don't have at least 95 percent of each subgroup participate in testing will be deemed deficient.
Schools that don't show progress for two consecutive years must offer students transfers, with the cost paid for from the district's the Title I funds. The Nevada Department of Education last week released a preliminary list of 21 Title I schools meeting that threshold, including nine in Clark County.
Title I schools are designated by the percentage of students who come from low-income homes, and receive a larger share of the district's federal funding.
Last year about 100 students at four Title I campuses identified as needing improvement took advantage of the school choice option.
The 2003-04 school year began last week, making it less likely that a large number of parents will want to transfer their children this time around, said Charlene Green, associate superintendent of student support services for the district.
The district is switching to a new testing schedule this year so that schools that fail to show progress can be identified earlier in the year, giving parents more time to decide whether they want their child transferred, Green said.
The district would have preferred to have the transfers taken care of well before the start of the school year, Green said. The hope now is to have the students who elect to transfer in their new schools before the official "count day" later this month, after which the district typically reassigns teachers to level out classroom assignments, Green said.
"We want to have as little impact as possible on the receiving schools and get students into their routine for the year as quickly as we can," Green said.
Denis said he realized there was a learning curve for the district on school transfers. He suggested the next time the district should offer tours of the receiving schools so that parents have an opportunity to see what their options are.
"Just looking at a piece of paper isn't going to tell you what that school is really like," Denis said. "I still don't think the majority of parents are going to want to transfer their children, but at least give enough information and the opportunity to make an educated decision."
Denis said he did not plan to move his son from Ronnow, where his daughter finished fifth grade last year. Despite it's "needs improvement" status the campus is able to offer extra programs and services by being an Edison school that aren't available elsewhere, Denis said.
The receiving schools were chosen based on proximity, availability of seats and performance, said Dusty Dickens, director of zoning and demographics for the district.
Last week's list of schools needing improvement was limited to Title I campuses on nine-month schedules. A second list of schools needing improvement is due out later this month once test results are tabulated for the more than 100 Clark County schools on year-round schedules, as well as middle and high schools not receiving extra federal dollars.
And a third "watch list" of schools in their first year of not making adequate yearly progress will also be released.
Calling last week's list of nine Clark County campuses "a preview of coming attractions," Clark County Schools Superintendent Carlos Garcia said Friday he wouldn't be surprised if over the next few years the majority of the district's schools found their way onto one of the state's lists.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," Garcia said.
The schools named last week are: Bracken, Carson, Kelly, McCall, Sunrise Acres and Wendell Williams elementary schools, as well as Bridger, Von Tobel and West middle schools. Bracken has been converted to a magnet program and already offers school choice. This is Carson's third year on the state list, and school choice is already offered.
The district will also continue to offer school choice for three other campuses, which were placed on the state's "needs improvement" list last year -- Lynch and Ronnow and Tate elementary schools. Lynch and Ronnow are managed for the district by Edison Schools Inc., as is West Middle School.
Just as it takes two consecutive years of low scores for the designation, a school must show two years in a row of adequate progress in order to work its way off the list, said Mark Lange, director of Title I compliance for the school district.
Because this is Carson's third year on the state list, the school will have to offer additional tutoring and academic services in addition to continuing to offer transfers.
Parents of students at Sunrise Acres may choose from Harris Elementary -- 3.7 miles away -- or French Elementary, nearly eight miles away.
Arturo Ochoa, principal of Sunrise Acres, said he doubted whether more than a handful of his students would opt for school choice.
"Over the years we've established a very strong school community, and every year we get better and better," Ochoa said. "Our parents have trust and faith in us that we're moving on the right path. I think they'll stay."
Sunrise Acres already has one of the higher transiency rates in the district, with nearly half of its students leaving during the course of the academic year. That makes it difficult to track whether the school's academic improvement plans -- such as extra tutoring in reading and math -- is making a difference in student achievement, Ochoa said.
"It's tough to say what we're doing right and what's not working when we're looking at a completely different group of kids every year," Ochoa said. "There's a bigger picture here than just test scores."