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Charter authority moves to close Nevada Connections Academy

Updated February 5, 2020 - 1:32 am

An online charter school serving more than 3,000 students will shut down after this year following a recommendation from the State Public Charter School Authority to deny the school’s request for a contract renewal.

A report compiled by SPCSA staff found that Nevada Connections Academy posts achievement rates far below those of other schools statewide, including other charter schools. The report also said that the school has consistently earned only one or two stars on the state star rating system.

“Significant evidence indicates that this is not a high-quality school for many students that attend, which ultimately does not align to the statutory purpose of the SPCSA,” the report said.

The authority’s board decided Friday to accept the staff recommendation after a marathon meeting that saw dozens of families speak up in support of the school. It will effectively close the school at the end of this school year, but school officials said they will explore all legal options to keep the school open.

Nevada Connections Academy Superintendent Chris McBride said the school serves a unique population of students, many of whom landed at the academy after struggling at two or more schools. The academy offers its students free computers and headsets for lessons developed by local teachers.

But the school has struggled with its performance, posting one-star ratings for its elementary, middle and high school programs in 2017-18. In 2018-19, its middle school program earned a two-star rating, with its elementary and high schools keeping the one-star designation.

Last fall, the school opted against seeking a renewal for its elementary school grades. McBride said the school believed that focusing on its middle and high school programs would give it a clear path to renewal.

“A lot of these families won’t have any other option,” McBride said. “It would be a tragedy for this school to close.”

In 2016, the school fought another potential closure over its low graduation rates, eventually coming to an agreement with the authority to improve those rates over two years. The SPSCA report acknowledged that the school improved its graduation rates to the agreed-upon levels but said that the authority has the discretion to look at the “totality of the evidence,” with no factor given more weight than the academic performance of the students.

“We feel that, with a new director, the authority is pulling a bait-and-switch on us,” McBride said.

The full 17-page report from the SPCSA staff found that while student proficiency data from the ACT assessment increased this year, it remains “far below statewide and SPCSA averages.” In 2018-19, 35.8 percent of NCA students were proficient in reading and 10.6 percent were proficient in math, compared with 46.7 percent and 25.5 percent of all students statewide.

In her presentation to the board, SPCSA Executive Director Rebecca Feiden said the staff recommendation was not made lightly and should not be taken to mean that the program is not working for anyone.

“When we say one in 10 kids is proficient, that means the program is working for one of those 10 kids,” Feiden said. “But unfortunately it’s not working for enough of those kids.”

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