Nevada: The Innovation Continues!

A short flight took me to Reno, to keynote the 2nd annual Charter School Association of Nevada Conference June 19. This state association is young, with great potential for growth in the future. In fact, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools reported that Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas) was ranked the #1 community in charter school growth potential. Dr. John Hawk (left) is Association President and the driving force behind the charter movement in Nevada. He recently persuaded Dr. Jim LaBuda to come out of retirement as a district administrator to serve as interim Executive Director of the Association—a great choice.

Association lobbyist Kathleen Conaboy (also chair of the Nevada Public Charter School Authority), led highly successful efforts this spring through a Democratic-controlled legislature to create bonding authority for charter school facilities, as well as a $750,000 revolving loan fund for school start ups. This spring just over 21,000 students were enrolled in 32 public charter schools in Nevada, an increase of over 14% from the previous school year. This fall five more will open. With this new boost from policymakers, chartering will grow more rapidly in Nevada.

What I love about these conferences is the chance to hear stories from students and charter leaders. Here’s a group from Nevada State High School, founded by Dr. Hawk along with his wife, CAO/Principal Dr. Wendi Hawk (far right). This high school is all about transitioning students to college, integrating a dual-credit college curriculum for students to earn high school credit for their college coursework. They take real college courses and customize their education to continue to a four-year degree. Two of the school’s recent graduates wowed everyone at the opening of the conference with their vocal rendition of the Star Spangled Banner: take a bow, Katherine Crowley (left of me) and Jordan Nelson (print maxi dress)!

I also enjoyed visiting with teachers and administrators of Coral Academy of Science of Las Vegas. Led by Ercan Aydogdu, Executive Director (right of me), and Maria DePina, Site Director, K-2 Tamarus Campus (far left), this K-12 charter school provides a rigorous college-prep curriculum. Every student is required to prepare a science fair project starting in early elementary. The curriculum of advanced math and science and the robotics program encourage student participation in events like Science Olympiads, First Lego League, Science Bowl, and Regional Math contests. As someone who dropped out of high school physics, I couldn’t help but be impressed!