By Selwyn Harris
Nye County School District’s NCSD chief academic officer and assistant superintendent expects nothing less than optimum performance from students attending classes throughout the district.
At present, Dr. Kim Friel’s main focus is on the performance of students attending Pathways Alternative School.
School board members heard a presentation on Tuesday evening about what changes if any need to be made to raise academic standards at the alternative campus, which was briefly mired in controversy last year when a former Pathways teacher blew the whistle on some questionable practices.
Details of the findings will appear in Friday’s edition of the Pahrump Valley Times.
Last month Friel unveiled the district’s School Improvement Plan SIP to the board. Trustees subsequently voted to approve it with the hopes of increasing graduation rates and test scores while decreasing the school’s dropout rate.
A recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education shows that the Silver State’s high school graduation rate remains among the lowest in the nation.
Friel said the SIP was reviewed by trustees who then made a few alterations to the plan.
“In this school improvement plan, there were some changes that needed to be made because of the state audit. It is exactly what was presented at the last board meeting. There is nothing new to it. It’s just that we needed to let the school board look at it,” she said.
The assistant superintendent also said that Pathways was not the only school that was recently audited by the Nevada Department of Education.
“The state curriculum audit for Pathways is being done by the state alternative education department and they are actually auditing all alternative education schools in the state of Nevada. It was not a case of our school being singled out. It was that all of them are being audited this year because the state department of education is looking at making changes. They are just monitoring it to make sure that things are being done properly and if changes need to be made,” she said.
Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction James Guthrie, meanwhile, said that the latest curriculum audit falls in line with regular procedures and are administered by the respective school districts.
“They are not state required. We are talking about a local district policy here. They are done whenever a board member believes something is possibly out of alignment. This is their initiative. It’s not something we would have required of them. If a district does something bad, they will hear from me. Nye County is beautifully administered and Dale Norton is a terrific superintendent. I know some of the board members and I have great confidence in them,” he said.
Board of Trustees President Traci Ward said that as an alternative middle and high school, instruction at Pathways is vastly different than that of traditional schools.
“The thing about Pathways is they have an interesting way of doing their studies. Basically the students get packets and they do it at home and then they come in and take a test. But unlike other online programs, we require the students to actually meet with the teacher and spend time with them as opposed to other online schools where they meet on the phone for an hour,” she said.
The unorthodox manner of study at Pathways was questioned by a Pahrump Valley High School teacher last year.
Steve Dotson worked at Pathways High School for more than six years.
He said he was squeezed out of his position by a teacher with more seniority.
Dotson also said he warned superiors on many occasions that students were being allowed to skip lessons, skip quizzes, and possibly take tests at home, which opened the door to potential cheating.
Some students according to Dotson also received credit for English and math classes even though the actual subject material covered was for test-preparation purposes only. The deviations appeared to run counter to normal practices.
The allegations were investigated but no action was taken as a lack of evidence was cited as the reason.
Friel, meanwhile, mentioned yet another change, which will be the elimination of Adequate Yearly Progress AYP .
AYP is a measure of how students in every school district perform academically on standardized tests.
“We will no longer have AYP, but we will look at growth and we will look at how we are meeting students’ needs, how students are catching up, and how they are keeping up,” she said.