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New graduation standards for Douglas County

The folks at the Douglas County School District certainly have their work cut out for them.

After six years of strategizing and planning, the time has finally come to begin implementing the strategic plan for this year’s ninth-grade students. Under the new requirements, students will be held accountable to meeting the standards when they graduate in 2002. Preparing students, parents and teachers for the tough new academic standards has been one of the biggest challenges the district will face.

Parents of ninth-grade students will learn about the new graduation requirements at an initial information meeting Jan. 27, from 7 to 8 p.m. at Whittell High School.



“This is the first time we will really be able to say everyone who graduates knows the basic skills in these areas,” said Superintendent Pendery Clark.

Understanding the requirements



Many parents have no idea what competencies, strategic plans and assessments mean to their children.

“It’s crucial that parents understand what the competencies are. We are sending each parent an invitation designed by high school students,” said Maggie Allen, Douglas County School District communications liaison. “Lots of things will have to change. It will be really controversial because everyone has to change how they do things. But students who aren’t ready just won’t be passed on anymore.”

Parents at the Whittell meeting will view an informational video about the standards, receive explanatory brochures, participate in question-and-answer groups and get fact sheets to take home and study.

Allen said the district is determined to include all parents, and plans to meet one-on-one with parents who don’t come to the meeting. They might also hold more meetings in the spring for further clarification of the requirements.

The strategic plan

According to Clark, in the first half of the 1990s, Douglas County grew by 25 percent, and the school board was faced with a facility crisis. In May 1992, the board finally passed a bond issue to address facility needs after four previous bonds had failed.

After some of the facility needs were met, the board decided to shift the focus back to student achievement and hired Clark to develop a strategic plan.

“We wanted to know whether we were adequately preparing students for employment in a rapidly changing world,” Clark explained.

The first step was to look at what they were already doing and decide what needed improvement.

An accountability committee made up of community members, parents, business people and educators determined which basic skills would be needed for students to succeed in the 21st century, and what knowledge level students should have in order to graduate.

“The strategic plan is well planned. We have taken a lot of time with it. The community wanted higher standards and wanted students to know the basic skills. Now, if a student has their 23 credits and passes the state proficiency test, they can graduate,” Clark said. “The world requires a higher level because of increasing demands of technology. All people need basic skills in all areas and we need to raise the bar.”

Identifying problems

Historically, when public school teachers held students back a grade, research shows students continued to be unsuccessful in school and eventually dropped out, Clark said.

The idea behind the competency plan is to identify problem areas early, and aggressively work with students to improve their understanding of the subject, while allowing them to continue with other classes.

Meanwhile, talented students should be able to move on to more challenging work once they meet the competency levels.

For instance, the math competency is at a ninth-grade level, so once the student meets that, they are free to take classes at Western Nevada Community College.

Clark said students having trouble will receive extra help through tutoring, after-school instruction and additional instruction during breaks.

“I think, historically, we have done a good job preparing those students who continue onto higher education, but this ensures all students will have the basic skills,” Clark said.

The parent meeting is Jan. 27, at Whittell High School from 7 to 8 p.m.

For information, contact the school district at (702) 782-5134.

BREAKOUT BOX: Plan goals

n Graduates will be competent in the basic skill areas of communications (reading, writing, listening and speaking,) foreign language, math, science, social science, technology and employability.

n Schools will work with families and community to support student success.

n Curriculum and instruction will include factual information regarding other cultures, the environment and world issues.

n All students will have access to educational programs until they graduate.

n All students will have adequate facilities and resources for learning.

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