The charter school founded by tennis great Andre Agassi is succeeding in an at-risk Las Vegas neighborhood where surrounding public schools were failing.
But according to Agassi, who testified before a legislative committee on Monday, and Principal Brian Thomas, there's nothing magic about it: They're succeeding by doing all the things public schools have requested for years but can't afford.
Thomas said the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy has a longer school day - eight hours instead of 6 - with both pre-school and after-school programs ranging from music and drama to computers and tutoring. It has 190 school days a year instead of 180. It has a maximum 25 students per class with a teacher and an assistant in each classroom.
And the school has active parents who commit to public service at the school, to attend school board meetings and to sign off on homework assignments.
"That's pretty much it," said Assembly Education Chairwoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City.
A former school teacher, Parnell said those are all things teachers, administrators and lawmakers have known would work wonders for years. The big difference is that Agassi's Foundation makes all those things possible by adding nearly $2,000 per pupil to the school's budget.
"It shows what schools could be," she said.
Nevada Superintendent of Education Keith Rheault also said the programs, longer hours and other amenities are the key to the Agassi school's success.
But he said they also have a hammer the public schools don't have - students can get kicked out of the school if they and their parents don't keep their commitments.
Rogers and Thomas said the commitments both student and parents must make are important to the success of the school. And Thomas said sending a student back to Clark County schools is appropriate if they aren't following the rules or meeting those commitments. He said the waiting list of those who want to follow the rules and attend the school is now longer than the 289 students the school now has room for.
Agassi told the committee he and longtime friend Perry Rogers formed the foundation and set up the school to change the lives of at-risk children.
"The greatest way to truly impact their lives is to educate them," he said.
It is Agassi's foundation which adds nearly $2,000 to the $5,400 per pupil Nevada provides. Rogers said that money doesn't really go into higher pay for teachers. He said their pay scales are actually a bit below Clark County's but that teachers have the opportunity to more than make up that difference in bonuses.
The result is a school which sees its first students shortly after 7 a.m. and provides programming for them as late as 6:45 p.m. Next fall, he said, they will have kids attend one Saturday a month as well.
"It's about pushing the bar up higher and higher," said Thomas.
The Agassi school now serves grades 3 through 8. Each year, Agassi said, they will add another grade until they reach 12. But he said they also plan to go back to kindergarten.
"What we've discovered is the sooner you get these kids, the better," he told the committee.
One reason for the visit was to ask lawmakers to loosen some of the rules governing charter schools, including changes designed to make sure the school continues to serve the at-risk neighborhood surrounding it rather than being taken over by students from all across Las Vegas.
The details of that legislation, AB162, will be debated before the committee Wednesday.
n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.