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Schools meet challenge to leave no child behind

Nevada Appeal Editorial Board

They told her not to worry. No one expected that her school – where two-thirds of the students didn’t speak English at home and 82 percent were poor enough to qualify for reduced-price lunch – would meet the arbitrary requirements set forth in the No Child Left Behind act.

She was a good principal. The teachers were doing the best they could. Empire Elementary School had nothing to be ashamed of, some school board members said. It wasn’t the school’s fault it would never meet the standards, it was faulty legislation.

But in that meeting three years ago in the cramped board room of the Carson City School District Office, Pat Carpenter would not accept the excuses.

She said she couldn’t change the law, but she and her teachers would change what they were doing. Even if they never made adequate yearly progress as determined under the new federal law, she reasoned, they could do better.

A school improvement team was formed. They increased focus on math and language arts. The students improved. But when the test results came back, it was the same: Failure.

Under the guidelines of the law, parents were now allowed to send their children to a different school. Some did. And, Carpenter said, it hurt.

They weren’t alone. In the 2004-05 school year, none of Carson City’s schools met guidelines.

But they continued on. Scores went up – still not enough. Carpenter continued to tout her school as the “gifted and talented school,” with a majority of students being bilingual or bicultural.

Then after four years of disappointing failures, it was announced Tuesday that nine of Carson City’s 10 schools made adequate yearly progress. Empire was among them.

“I’m so pleased with those parents who stuck with us,” Carpenter said. “They still believed in us.”

It was a moment of triumph, not just for Empire, but for the district. Carson Middle School fell short of the mark by six special-education students.

Seeliger Elementary School was designated as “high achieving.”

Dave Aalbers, who retired last year as principal of Fritsch Elementary School, came to the meeting to celebrate his students’ success. Fremont Elementary’s students had a 10 percent improvement over the previous year.

School board trustee Bob Crowell said it was a community victory, with parents, teachers, students and other leaders all playing a role.

Carpenter agreed, then said it was only possible with the support of district officials and board members.

“Those of you who know me, know I wouldn’t say it unless it was from my heart,” she said.

They knew. They learned that three years ago in the cramped board room of the district office.