The State Public Charter School Authority Board voted 4-1 Friday evening to deny a charter contract renewal for Nevada Connections Academy, an online school that for years has been under scrutiny for lackluster student performance.
The move followed hours of testimony from Charter Authority staff —which recommended the denial —as well as school officials, parents, students and teachers who showed up en masse in a bid to save their school. The elementary, middle and high school portions of Nevada Connections Academy had been operating under a “notice of breach” because of poor academic performance.
The online charter school was seeking to renew its charter for the middle and high school only. Nevada Connection Academy’s elementary school is subject to mandatory closure, per Nevada law, because of its third consecutive one-star rating in the 2018-2019 academic year.
The middle school most recently earned a two-star rating, while the high school received one star. A third year with either a one- or two-star rating would make them eligible for either permissive or mandatory closure — the latter reserved for schools with three years of one-star ratings.
“This is not a decision that I have taken lightly, nor that staff has taken lightly, and appreciate the gravity and potential impact this has on children,” said Rebecca Feiden, executive director of the Charter Authority.
Feiden said the staff’s recommendation to deny renewal was based on a holistic evaluation of Nevada Connection Academy’s performance. Although the online charter school had brought its graduation rate up to 70 percent, she said the majority of other academic indicators were not positive. Students’ math proficiency, for example, is well below the state average.
Officials from Nevada Connections Academy, however, defended the school’s academic performance, pointing out it serves some of the most transient students and families in the state. Additionally, about 40 percent of students in the 2018 cohort were credit deficient when they enrolled, which school leaders described as a common situation.
Scott Harrington, president of the school’s board of directors, said Nevada Connections Academy does not “cherry pick” its students.
“If our doors close, where will these students go?” he said. “Everyone wants to help the homeless, but they all say not on my street.”
Parents who spoke in support of the contract renewal shared stories about how their children — some of whom have medical conditions, had been bullied or otherwise struggled in traditional school settings — thrived after being enrolled in Nevada Connections Academy. A few parents who attempted homeschooling but then turned to the online charter school also praised the difference it made in their children’s lives.
Ultimately, the majority of Charter Authority board members sided with the staff recommendation, citing a lack of confidence in Nevada Connections Academy’s ability to improve student achievement. Board member Don Soifer cast the lone opposition vote. He had proposed a three-year renewal of the middle school and a gradual phase-out of the high school, which was similar to an offer the Charter Authority had given the charter last fall and did not accept.
Charter Authority Board Chair Melissa Mackedon said she had “absolutely zero pleasure” in denying charter renewal to Nevada Connections Academy but noted that delays would only make it more difficult for students and families to make alternative plans.
“The sooner we can start that, the better it will be for kids in the end,” she said.
The school serves 3,468 kindergarten through 12th-grade students across the state. Nevada Connections Academy’s existing charter expires on the last day of this school year.