The former Silver State Charter School in Carson City is undergoing a transformation its new bosses say is designed to better tie education to the needs of students.
Will Truce, dean of the newly-christened Argent Preparatory Academy, said that means a much stronger focus on dual enrollment where high school students are taking classes at Western Nevada College well before they get their high school degree.
It also meant a new name because, after well over two years of contentious dealings with the state’s Charter School Authority, they felt the need for a clean slate.
“We wanted to give ourselves a fresh start,” he said.
He and principal Krystal Hoefling said the legal issues were pretty much taken care of and the school given its marching orders including achieving a 60 percent graduation rate within a couple of years.
“What was hard to move beyond was the stigma,” he said. “We felt that it was hard to allow ourselves to evolve, hard for the public and the community to allow us to evolve it if still had that strong association with the past.”
So they changed the name from Silver State to Argent. Hoefling pointed out Argentum is the Latin word for Silver, in a sense retaining that connection.
Adding Preparatory Academy to the name,Truce said, was to emphasize the focus on transitioning students from high school to WNC and other higher education institutions.
“By the time a student is a junior here, a lot of their educational engagement is with WNC,” he said.
But both said they aren’t doing it the same way the traditional “brick and mortar” schools handle students.
A key, they say, is flexibility traditional high schools can’t offer.
“Lots of students need more flexibility in their academic schedule than traditional schools provide,” Hoefling said.
Many of their students, they say, need more flexibility because they’re working, babysitting siblings and dealing with other needs. Argent, they said, can provide that flexibility because students don’t have to be there every day.
At the same time, Hoefling and Truce said one of the problems with the old Silver State and similar distance learning charters is the lack of accountability.
“We realized you cannot have flexibility without accountability,” he said.
He said too many students were simply calling their teacher weekly to say they were studying, “and not doing a single assignment for the entire year.”
They said that issue has plagued distance learning schools from day one and graduation rates were suffering because of it.
So they’re making much more intensive use of the fact unlike many distance learning schools, Argent actually has a campus on Fairview.
“Make them show up,” Truce said. “That may be the secret to how we make online education work.”
When students start at Argent, Hoefling said they have to show up on campus at least three times a week.
“We review that every so often and either it’s working good or somehow needs to be adjusted so they can be successful,” she said.
Hoefling said teachers work to develop academic schedules that fit the individual students’ needs — something a traditional high school can’t do.
She said to do that and support those students, every teacher in effect works with their students as a counselor, a tutor, a case manager to help them through whatever problems they’re having whether educational or personal.
“It’s very teacher centered, teacher empowered,” Truce said.
“Every one of our teachers is a case manager of sorts,” she said.
One of the ongoing problems Argent and other charters have is a perennially low graduation rate — one of the things that got Silver State in trouble with the Charter School Authority since it had rates in the 20s.
Hoefling said that shows up in the number of students who show up in their junior or senior year, many of them seriously “credit deficient.”
“That affects our graduation rate even though they were somewhere else for the last three years,” she said.
As a result, Argent has a disproportionately high number of seniors compared to traditional schools.
“We have to make sure there is more accountability for our students and make sure students are getting more individualized attention,” Truce said.
Both said they’re confident Argent will be able to meet the 60 percent graduation rate mandated by the state in a couple of years.
The school has just about 100 students so far this year, the first since they began the school’s reorganization. Both Truce and Hoefling said they expect that to grow over the next few years.