Pioneer Academy is increasing in enrollment and academic courses being offered, Principal Jason Zona reported at the March 8 Carson City school board meeting.
The school district announced in March 2021 it would transition all full-time online education for students in first through 12th grades to Pioneer Academy as of this school year. Zona said Pioneer High School has turned what was meant to be three schools into four. Pioneer Online Elementary School, Pioneer Online Middle School and Pioneer High School became a consortium of schools for families wanting different options for remote or on-campus education, and students can still choose elect to take courses by a hybrid method if they wish.
Because the academy serves all levels now, Zona said the school has increased its curriculum, going from 32 core and elective classes for the upper grades in 2020-21 to 95 for first through 12th grades for 2021-22, and the school continues to build on its program with recent additions of poetry, literature and more.
“If the kids are interested, they’re going to come to school,” Zona said. “These are quality core classes.”
Total enrollment as a singular academy this year is 222 students including 7% Gifted and Talented Education students, 5% English language learners and 18% Individual Education Program students. PHS has 183 students, the middle school has 23 students and the elementary school has 16 students.
The site remains enrolled in programs such as Achievement Via Individual Determination, a nonprofit college readiness program, and statewide nonprofit Jobs for Nevada’s Graduates. Pioneer was the first alternative high school in the Silver State to initiate J4NG. Students involved in the program have an opportunity to job shadow, and they have maintained a 100% graduation rate in 2019 and 2020 and receive continued support after they finish school by the program’s staff.
“(J4NG graduates) are definitely on our radar,” Zona said.
Zona also celebrated the 222 enrollment figure this year particularly since it is the school’s highest population since 1998, although Pioneer is experiencing its lowest number of seniors and more freshmen and sophomores, an unusual flip since the pandemic.
“That means we have more time to work with them and straighten them out,” he said, referring to higher numbers of disciplinary referrals since students have returned to full-time, on-campus classes.
The school is looking at its practices, interventions and transiency issues to determine possible causes for the influx of grade level changes. Staff members also are examining areas where they can make master schedule or system adjustments to welcome more freshmen and sophomores.
“This is the first year I’ve ever seen this,” Zona told the school board.
Hiring was done to accommodate the elementary and middle school courses. Pioneer’s staff now includes 10 seventh- to 12-grade teachers, one elementary teacher for first to sixth grade, eight classified staff members, a school psychologist, counselor, social worker, learning strategist and administrator, among others. Most teachers have a master’s degree and only a few are new this year. While Pioneer might only lose a couple to retirement or to moving out of the area each year, he said his team remains stable.
“Our staff members on campus are truly phenomenal,” he said. “They inspire me every day.”
Zona said Pioneer is excited about returning to its normal graduation ceremony this year back in its building and hopes to fill its theater in June.
Graduation rates consistently have averaged in the high 80s since 2017, although COVID-19’s had some impact on the rates with the school dropping from 78.26% to 74.58% from 2020 to 2021.
Zona said he was proud of the class of 2021, with 55 seniors who began in their cohort with 44 still on the roster last June. Twenty scholarships were earned with 26 high school standard diplomas received as well as two associate degrees from WNC. Students also earned six advanced diplomas and two honors diplomas, and five students were in the JumpStart program. Eight earned adult diplomas and three juniors graduated early.
Trustee Joe Cacioppo said during Zona’s presentation the year was a chance “to capture some kids,” thanking Zona for taking Pioneer beyond its reputation for helping students who might be experiencing academic or personal hardships.
“We still try to help kids,” Cacioppo said. “It’s grown into a bigger campus.”