Amidst Budget Battle, Opportunity & Community in Vegas
By Princess Moss, NEA Executive Committee
No one said that transforming schools would be easy work. It is not.
Rancho High School, the largest high school in North Las Vegas, has more than 3,000 students. Of the 3,000, approximately 1,000 attend the magnet school embedded in the high school. The magnet offers special classes in pre-med, bio-medical engineering, and aeronautics. The students who attend the magnet go on to attend some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges and universities. The 2,000 students in the general education program, however, face another scenario. Seventy per cent of the students there qualify for free and reduced price lunch and only 52% graduate from high school. Around the corner looms a homeless shelter with a large Rancho student population. Who would ever imagine that one school could be the home of so many demographic variables?!
Rancho is utilizing the transformation model as a part of the School Improvement Grant process. Using the transformation model with such a large staff and student population has presented its challenges as well as opportunities.
Some of the challenges that Rancho faces with implementation of the transformation model include the fact that none of the 169 classroom teachers had to reapply to be at Rancho. Oftentimes, with new people come new ideas, a new attitude, and therefore, a new culture. While a culture change is still possible with the transformation model, my perception is that it won’t be immediate at Rancho because there was not time allowed for a shift in thinking. In fact, even the school administration expressed frustration over the quick turnaround time for the development of the school plan. Nonetheless, what is quite evident is that the staff – teacher, ESP, and administration – loves the students and want to help them succeed.
On Monday morning when I arrived at Rancho, I learned that the staff would be receiving a school budget presentation and would vote that same day. In order for the school’s budget to be adopted, the vote needed to be in the affirmative by at least 70 percent. After a heated discussion about resources, the budget did pass by a margin of a little over the needed 70 percent.
Later that morning, I met with teachers in two large sessions. When probed about what was different between last year and this year (non-SIG year vs. SIG year), many could not make clear distinctions, which is an unfortunate consequence of being in a low-performing school that is using the transformation model.
Opportunities are plentiful for Rancho and the community that surrounds it. There was lots of good feedback which will be used to target Association resources for Rancho. There is opportunity for the community to play a significant role in Rancho’s progress.
An extremely bright spot is work underway to partner with the community. As a result of the SIG, the school has hired a part-time Parent Outreach Coordinator. The coordinator runs Spanish speaking classes for Latino parents after school. A new partnership with Communities in Schools would allow a full time coordinator to develop and provide wrap-around services for parents and students at Rancho. There is also a school alumni group helping Rancho with resource attainment.
After lunch, the NEA Team met with the Rancho administrative team as well as, in a second meeting, school board members. We went over available resources from NEA and re-affirmed the fact that we want Rancho to be successful. The CARE and ELL Trainings sparked an interest that the Clark County Education Association and NEA are going to explore with Rancho.
Monday afternoon, I traveled to Southern Nevada to attend a legislative hearing on education. Governor Sandoval is proposing a 9 percent cut in state spending on public education, including 5 per cent salary cuts and proposals requiring teachers to pay higher retirement costs. The hearing, held at Green Valley High School, and auditorium was jam-packed. People were standing around the walls. The moderator announced that an additional 200 were standing on the outside and worked to ensure they had the opportunity to hear the proceedings. There was a resounding number of teachers and ESP who spoke on the budget. I was proud of my union brothers and sisters who spoke up and spoke out against the cuts being proposed by Sandoval.
Tuesday morning, I went back to Rancho and met with Education Support Professionals. Accompanying me were John Carr, NSEA President, and Brian Christensen, NSEA Executive Director. Much of what I heard in response to implementation of the School Improvement Grants was what I heard from the teachers – there needs to be more collaboration, better communication and meaningful professional development. The ESP at Rancho were very clear in that they want to be included in helping increase student achievement. “We live in this community,” said one member, “we know the needs of our students and they will often talk to use before they talk to their teacher.” We had a great discussion about how ESP, through the Education Support Employees Association, can become involved in the Priority Schools Campaign.
While the transformation model presents its challenges, there is opportunity for all school personnel, the union and the community to work together to make a positive difference in the lives of the students at Rancho High School.