New school provides insight into state of charter schools in Nevada

Parents and high-school-aged students will have an opportunity tonight to hear from representatives of a proposed for-profit charter high school that will for the first time offer curriculum in Nevada.

Portland, Ore.-based Insight Schools, Inc. bills itself as "the nation's largest network of tuition-free, diploma-granting, online public high schools." The organization operates eight schools in eight different states.

But the road to accreditation is not a slam dunk for any charter school, state school officials said Wednesday.

"I think in general there probably is a (concern) which is why most districts don't want to sponsor charter schools," said Nevada Department of Education superintendent Keith Rheault. "Washoe, Douglas and Clark (county school districts) have (outlawed) charter schools. When you approve (a charter school), you're losing students."

That Insight Schools is trying to get accreditation by next fall also presents some immediate hurdles, Rheault said.

"We haven't finalized our June agenda yet, but there's a hole for them," Rheault said. "They basically have to come to us with a facility and insurance before they can be (considered) for approval."

Insight Schools' executive director Gary Waters said the company plans to comply with the state education department's guidelines in time to be on the June agenda.

In the interim, the company is hosting a series of informational meetings around the state.

A local meeting will take place at 6 p.m. tonight at the Plaza Hotel, 801 South Carson Street.

"It's not an enrollment," Waters said. "This is just an informational and question and answer session."

Company officials are setting a goal of 350 enrollees statewide for the fall '08 session in Nevada.

For some students, Carson City School District superintendent Mary Pierczynski said, charter schools are "a good alternative."

"Everyone who's in the business of educating young people " whatever works, you have to give it a shot," she said Wednesday. "Sometimes that means you get the child in the charter school and that may not work.

"I think when you're interested in students learning, if something isn't working than you try something else. For some students a charter school can work. This is another opportunity to try to help a certain segment of students."

District trustees have not discussed outlawing charter schools, Pierczynski said.

Without speaking for individual districts, Rheault noted companies like Insight Schools usually go straight to the state department of education for sponsorship " which calls into question a long-standing problem of how charter schools are funded in Nevada.

The funding for each student is based on how much each child receives, based on the county in which they live. These funding models vary in each county.

Anecdotally, the problem, Rheault said, is Lincoln County gets $10,000 per student, but the same student in Washoe gets a little over $5,000 " which "doesn't make sense" when funding a charter school.

"We should only pay them one cost regardless of which school district," Rheault said.

Waters, the charter schools' executive director, said he felt confident the school will be a legitimate option for Carson students by the fall.

"It will be run by Nevada people, a Nevada operation," he said from his Las Vegas office. "Our program has a very lean, a very economical structure for delivering education. We deliver in a virtual environment, but we can do things other schools do not."

Waters said there's "no one student" for which the school's curriculum is aimed. The program is not, he said, to be considered home-schooling.

Generally, charter schools must conform to state standardized tests, employ credentialed teachers and adhere to federal standards. The methods under which they do that can vary.

"Kids must do everything," he said, "take standardized testing, (we're) accountable to No Child Left Behind " all state standards. They get a high-quality public school education in a different format.

"The idea is for charter schools to give parents another level of choice; some people say charter schools take away from public schools, I don't agree with that."

To find out more about Insight Schools:

visit www.insightnv.net or call 800-208-1931

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