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DECEMBER 2014
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Your guide to finding the right school in the valley — for kids, the college-bound and the career-minded

You’ve seen the dreary headlines in the daily papers, proclaiming the coming cuts to education. You’ve read about the teacher rallies, the student gatherings. You’ve been pelted by indignant Tweets and Facebook posts lamenting the sad state of education in Southern Nevada.

The icing on top: All this in an economy showing only faint signs of a turnaround. It’s not pretty.

But nothing empowers like a little bit of information. As lawmakers fight over budget scraps and the school system braces for cuts, you might be wondering: What can I do?

A lot. In fact, you can rewire your kids’ education — and maybe even fire up your own career prospects while you’re at it. Who said the school up the street is the only option? Here’s our guide to finding the right school for your child — or for you.

{kids}

You want an alternative — maybe even experimental — education that bucks
the factory mindset of public school

Consider a charter school. Who said every student learns best in a fluorescent-lit farm of front-facing desks and a teacher planted at the head of the class? Charter schools offer opportunities to shake things up. They’re alternative public schools sanctioned by local or state entities. From there, flexibility reigns. For example, Odyssey Charter Schools (www.odysseyk12.org) are hybrids that allow kids to learn on-site and online — ideal for, say, kids with harried sports or theater schedules. (Or kids whose parents want to keep closer tabs on ’em.) Other charter schools, such as the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy (www.agassiprep.org), are guided by core principles, such as taking on at-risk youth — with a budget boosted by grants, gifts and private donations.

Caveat: The popularity of charter schools means your kid might be chosen (or not) by lottery if there are more applications than slots. And do your homework: A lot of charter schools in Nevada have failed — or even been shut down  — sometimes under accusations of mismanagement, malfeasance and general flakiness.

More: Read about how charter schools are vetted in Nevada at the state Education Department website, www.doe.nv.gov.
— Andrew Kiraly

You’re a maverick dismayed by the state of public education who wants a guiding hand in what your kids are learning — and you’ve got the time to do it.

Clear off the kitchen table and give homeschooling a shot. You’re in luck — Nevada is considered a homeschool-friendly state, for the ease with which you can remove your budding learners from school without attracting the suspicion of Child Protective Services. And if the thought of turning your living room into a classroom makes you want to write “Please kill me” 100 times on the chalkboard, never fear. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available, from websites created by parents in the homeschool trenches to MeetUp groups of every stripe (www.homeschool.meetup.com), from conservative Christian homeschoolers to the Las Vegas Freethinkers homeschool network — yes, that’s actual humanist moms and dads taking Jesus-free charge of their kids’ evolution.

Caveat: You’ll need a saint’s patience, a horse’s stamina and an elder’s wisdom — all for no money. In other words, you’ll need to be a teacher.

More: Nevada Homeschool Network is a well-organized clearinghouse of homeschooling information at
www.nevadahomeschoolnetwork.com. — A.K.

You want deep involvement in your child’s early education, but don’t want to raise a kid in an airtight, living-room test-tube. Translation: You want the benefits of homeschooling, but want her to have actual friends.

Consider a parent co-op school. It’s like traditional one-room schoolhouse dosed on juiceboxes, with parents and teachers pooling their energy and their schedules to collectively teach the kids. Want to talk small class sizes? Depending on the number of people involved, you could have one teacher for every four or five students. And here, “school bureaucracy” means good-natured haggling over who’s picking up the Elmer’s Glue tab. This hands-on, it-takes-a-village model also has the advantage of bringing in parents from different backgrounds, professions and perspectives. For preschoolers and kindergarteners, the Kids’ Co-Op (www.kidscoop.org) has been operating locally for more than 20 years, putting both certified teachers and dedicated parents in the classroom. More recently, Co-Op Elementary (www.coopelementary.org) has begun offering its model to elementary-age students.

Caveat: If you’re a stickler for structure, co-ops’ freeform approach that focuses on self-esteem and open-ended learning might put your control issues to the test. — A.K.

{Teens}

Your child has a keen, specific interest you want to nurture.

Consider a magnet school or technical academy. It used to be that budding high school nuclear physicists were relegated to tinkering in mom and dad’s garage in the wee hours. Now there are magnet schools and technical academies to nurture young, burgeoning brains. Originally conceived to prod schools to be more diverse, these are public schools with an extra helping of dance, chemistry, cooking — you name it. Does your son belt out hits better than the contestants on “American Idol”? Consider the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts (www.schools.ccsd.net/lva). Does your daughter dream of trotting the globe as a United Nations translator? There’s Robert O. Gibson School Dual Language Immersion and Leadership Academy (www.schools.ccsd.net/rgibson). Specialties are as varied as the Clark County School District’s 24 magnet schools and technical academies.

Caveat: Because these schools are public, attending won’t cost you a dime. However, their popularity makes for limited seats. If there are more kids than class space, a computer lottery picks the lucky students. And if you do get in, you may be looking at a long-term, cross-town commute.

More: Get a comprehensive list of magnet schools and technical academies at the
Clark County School District website at www.ccsd.net — A.K.

You want your kids to learn in a faith-enriched environment — with tighter code for dress and behavior.

Consider a parochial school. It’s got to be a nail-biter to raise your children in strict accordance with your faith, only to pack them off to a public school where a million mini-Lady Gagas in half-shirts and glitter hot pants are sending completely different signals. If that’s the case, consider a religious school. Not the goddy type? No worries. If you’ve got the money, you don’t even necessarily even need to be a true believer; for instance, Faith Lutheran (www.faithlutheranlv.org) guarantees admission to academically qualified students in certain area congregations, but they also consider applications from the community at
large (of course, your kids still have to attend chapel). But in other religious schools that also take applications from the wider community, you do get discounts for provable churchiness — such as at Bishop Gorman (www.bishopgorman.org), where it can get you a $1,400 discount on tuition.

Caveat: Expense. If money is an object, you might want to consider squirreling a
way the bucks to blow it all on college down the road. — A.K.

You want a top-notch education with well-paid teachers and dedicated administrators — and you’re willing to pay for it.

Consider a private school. If there was ever a definitive rebuff to the notion that per-pupil spending has little to do with educational outcomes, it’s the private school. Small class sizes! Devoted teachers! Sprawling campuses! Cutting-edge facilities! You pay for it! (Though old rich people also kick in with endowments and charitable donations.) But what you get is quite nice, particularly in Southern Nevada, whether it’s the Meadows School’s 100 percent college-placement record (www.themeadowsschool.org) or Alexander Dawson School’s crazy 8:1 pupil-teacher ratio (www.adsrm.org).

Caveat: Eeew! Uniforms!

More: Education Bug (www.nevada.educationbug.org) has an exhaustive list of private schools in Clark County. — A.K.

Whether because of choice or circumstance, your kid is attending public school.

Consider spicing up a traditional public education. Okay, time for a little pep talk. Who said the learning’s done when the final bell rings? Not vigilant parents who want to see their brood do their best no matter the circumstances. Remember that envy-inspiring, hyper-achieving, self-actualizing brainiac in high school who was the football team’s hero quarterback and president of the Chess Club and head tuba in the marching band? That can be your kid! In short, open your eyes to the smorgasbord of extracurricular goodness that lies in front of you. And don’t forget there are a raft of bonus programs for high school uber-students, such as the Alexander Dawson Foundation Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (www.dawsoncenter.org). Their program treats selected, high-achieving students to an intensive summer course held at the Alexander Dawson School that leans toward addressing a local or global problem. It’s replete with research and field trips, culminating in the creation of a public awareness campaign. Hey, beats spending the summer playing “Call of Duty.” — A.K.

{Adults}

The economy stalled your career plans.

Take a look at UNLV’s Continuing Education in the Division of Educational Outreach. Continuing ed is the crowbar to dislodge professionals (both budding and seasoned) from a rut. Say you’re a receptionist; you could get training to become a legal secretary. A legal secretary could become a certified paralegal. The division offers degree programs as well as professional certification and development. Certificate programs included in this summer’s catalog are forensic social work, human resources, maintenance management, payroll and professional wine/sommelier. Christopher Schearer, UNLV’s director of continuing education, says the best thing about the courses is the instructors: high-level professionals with years of experience in their fields.

Caveat: Expect to work your butt off. Schearer warns that UNLV’s continuing education is not for those who expect to simply sign up, pay a lot of money and have a diploma at the end of the term. “We expect people to show up, do their homework, put in the required effort,” he says. Clear your calendar, and if you’re going through something demanding of your time (say, a close family member is ill), get through that first.

More: Visit the official site at www.edoutreach.unlv.edu/continuingeducation — Heidi Kyser

You have a trade, but the labor calls are few and far between.

Find out if your union offers training. If apprentices are a dime a dozen, journeymen must be at least a dollar each. The local bartenders’, culinary workers’ and carpenters’ unions all offer training; in fact, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters’ largest U.S. training facility is located right here in Las Vegas: the 345,000 square foot International Training Center. Marc Lilly has been a bartender for more than a decade and currently slings drinks at Morton’s Steakhouse. He thought bartender training at the Local 165 might teach him a little more about wine, but not much else. Turns out, the training opened his eyes to volumes of knowledge about all things alcohol. “It was the most intense training I’ve ever done, as far as bartending goes. It reinvigorated my appreciation for what I do,” he says.

Caveat: Although it’s not always exclusive, union training is designed for union members. If you shudder at the thought of paying dues, adhering to codes of conduct, following labor rules and showing up for labor calls, this might not be the best option for you. — H.K.

You want to fast-track your career in a highly specialized and/or technical field.

Private school might be the thing for you. Although public institutions of higher learning have programs in fields such as graphic design, they may not offer complete immersion. Or, they go deep into a subject … over a longer period of time. A more condensed approach can be found at the many private schools with adult education programs in Southern Nevada, such as ITT Technical Institute, Kaplan College and University of Phoenix. Some zoom in on one or two things — for instance, The Art Institutes (art), Le Cordon Bleu (culinary science) and Touro University (healthcare and education). Others have more choices, and almost all offer something between a certificate and a doctorate in a shorter period of time than traditional colleges and universities.

Caveat: For-profit, private schools can be expensive — many times more costly than their public counterparts, in some cases. Last fall, the U.S. Senate held hearings on why a large percentage of students attending for-profit colleges took out student loans they were subsequently unable to pay. That’s not to say they’re all out to make a buck (Touro, for instance, is nonprofit), but it’s best to do your homework before school’s in. — H.K.

You’re unemployed or underemployed, and need tools to improve your job prospects.

Check out the College of Southern Nevada’s Division of Workforce and Economic Development. Maybe you got laid off after decades in the same position and suddenly found your computer knowledge was outdated. Maybe your entire field became obsolete. With programs such as Computer Skills for the Workplace, Bail Agent Pre-Licensing and Welding Training, CSN’s workforce division gives people hands-on exposure to immediately employable tools. Director Rebecca Metty-Burns says students completing the Patient Care Dialysis Technician and Health Unit Coordinator programs have been especially successful in landing jobs lately. “This training changed my life,” says Derek Solis. “I was an accountant before, and I made more money, but I got laid off. In dialysis, I’m able to help people; the money is less important than that. I wouldn’t go back to accounting now even if I could.”

Caveat: These are non-credit classes created to provide entry-level career training, so don’t expect to walk out with a degree and walk into a management-level job. Not all programs culminate in certification, either; some prepare students for examinations or apprenticeships that, once completed, result in certification.

More: Get an overview at www.csn.edu/workforce — H.K.


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