Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2019

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CCSD schools: Achievement schools delay relieves officials

Von Tobel Middle School rally

Mikayla Whitmore

Faculty, parents and students attend a rally at Von Tobel Middle School in Las Vegas on Oct. 26, 2016. The rally was to discuss the school’s inclusion on a shortlist to be converted into a charter school.

The decision to postpone the conversion of a handful of public schools into charters this year has cast a cloud over one of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s key education programs, but you won’t find school district officials complaining.

Administrators in the Clark County School District, the fifth largest in the country, are breathing a sigh of relief now that the state’s new Achievement School District, which was set to convert up to five academically underperforming CCSD schools into charter schools this year, will have to wait until next year.

The decision was made after it was revealed that federal agents had raided the Los Angeles headquarters of Celerity Educational Group, one of three charter school managers picked by Nevada to potentially take over public schools under the ASD. Because of that, and concerns that Celerity officials were engaging in dubious fiscal practices, Nevada officials decided to hold off on the rollout of the program after throwing out Celerity’s application.

Instead, the ASD will only oversee two charter schools that were already under the auspices of the program: The Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy will go forward with its controversial reorganization under the Democracy Prep charter group, and local charter company Futuro Academy will open its first campus.

“We think it’s a bit of a reprieve,” said Jeff Gheis, director of the school district’s turnaround program.

Gheis said the five CCSD schools on the ASD shortlist for charter conversion will now be considered for the school district’s Turnaround Zone, adding that he was “confident that our efforts will improve those schools.”

Despite reassurances that Celerity posted “strong academic results,” district officials remained skeptical about the company. Celerity had already been under investigation for possible financial mismanagement of public funds. One teacher told the L.A. Times the company would not give her money for basic school supplies, but invited her and her colleagues to a lavish party in the Hollywood hills complete with open bars and limousines paid for by taxpayers.

According to the Nevada Department of Education, Celerity submitted around 300 pages of financial documents in its application to join the Achievement School District.

“To be honest this wasn’t a surprise,” Gheis said, adding that members of the public routinely brought up concerns about Celerity in community meetings held by the district.

There are a few reasons for the bad blood between CCSD and the Achievement School District. District officials have long felt the program was meant by state lawmakers to specifically target CCSD schools. The icing on the cake was the fact that CCSD already has the Turnaround Zone, Victory Schools and Zoom Schools, special programs designed to do exactly what the ASD was created to do.

The process of figuring out which schools would be converted also caused an alarming amount of stress at schools on the state’s list. Teachers, unsure of whether they would be out of a job come summer, were often told by principals to put their head down, but many put in transfer requests or made the decision to leave the school entirely.

“This was staff that they had invested thousands of taxpayer dollars in professional development for,” Gheis said.

Had Celerity not been raided and the Nevada program subsequently halted, today was the day that Achievement School District would have announced its final decision on which schools to convert.

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