Carson City school needs improvement

Parents whose children attend Empire Elementary School can choose to send them elsewhere next year after the school performed poorly on standardized tests.

In the federal No Child Left Behind program, schools that have not made adequate yearly progress for two years in a row are labeled in need of improvement. Students at those schools must be given the choice to transfer.

"We will offer that because we have to by law," said Superintendent Mary Pierczynski. "But it is a quality school. They have a very strong staff."

Empire was one of 21 schools across the state to be identified as needing improvement -- the only one in Carson City.

Under the federal guidelines, schools must show adequate yearly progress among all categories of students, which include ethnic groups, special education, low-income and English-as-a-second-language students.

If one group is not improving, the whole school fails. And one student may be counted more than once.

For example, if a Hispanic student enrolled in ESL, who is also living in a low-income home, scores poorly, that score will be counted four times.

Although as a whole Empire Elementary School did show adequate yearly progress, some of the sub-groups did not.

Pierczynski said the school, which traditionally has more than half of the students learning English as a second language, face challenges but has confidence it will overcome them.

"A lot of them have the extra challenge of learning a second language, but just because a child is trying to learn the language doesn't mean they don't have loads of abilities," she said. "It takes a little extra time for them, but they are very bright. Most of them speak two languages."

If schools remain in "needs improvement" status for three years, school hours or days of the school year may be increased.

In the fourth year, principals and staff may be replaced, the school could reopen as a charter school or the state could take it over.

Low income schools receiving federal Title I grant money are subject to sanctions based on the state's tests. Three Carson City Schools qualify as low income: Empire, Bordewich-Bray and Mark Twain elementary schools.

Mark Twain Elementary School had been labeled in need of improvement, but shed the distinction this year after performing adequately for the second consecutive year.


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