SCHOOL IS A NECESSITY; GRADUATION IS A CHOICE
By Chet Yarbrough
Going to school is required by law but graduating is a choice made by a student and his family. “In a repeat of last year, Nevada was the lowest-ranking state in the nation with a graduation rate of 61.9 percent.” Like the lyrics to the Ludacris song, one wonders “how low can you go?” Las Vegas is doing better but it is bouncing along the bottom.
In 2012, Superintendent Dwight Jones reported progress in Clark County’s public school system with an increase in graduation rate from 59 percent to 66 percent but the road to improvement remains steep and unforgiving (Wisconsin and New Jersey are nearing 90%). Some Las Vegas Valley parents choose not to stand and wait; i.e. faith-based schools are growing to offer education and graduation alternatives to Clark County’s public school system.
The Las Vegas area has a variety of faith-based schools that offer education to children from pre-school through high school. Solomon Schechter, a nationwide (20 states and 2 Canadian provinces) pre-school to high school system of education, has a K-5 school located in the Las Vegas Valley. Beth Miller, the CEO of Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas, said, “The Solomon Schechter school at Temple Beth Sholom began nine years ago with K-1’ classes and has grown to K-5.” Miller, noted, “With low student/teacher ratios Solomon Schechter insures differentiated teaching for each of its students based on their level of academic achievement.” The mission statement of Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas, in part, states that it “…provides an outstanding secular education in a dynamic Jewish setting.” Miller explained, “An integral part of our curriculum is immersion in Jewish history and the Hebrew language that enriches both Jewish tradition and general studies to prepare students for higher education in schools of their choice.”
Mrs. Nancy Kane, a parent and volunteer at Solomon Schechter Day School, said, “I love this school because the teachers keep parents informed and involved in the education of their children; not just in their secular and Jewish education, but in their behavior and social interaction with others.” Kane said, “I am a believer in the public school system; I worked as a public school teacher for ten years but teacher/student ratios at Solomon Schechter Day School make a big difference in the educational achievement and parent involvement at this school.”
Solomon Schechter Day School is a member of, and accredited by, the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS). Miller explained, “Member schools of PNAIS do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, disability, national or ethnic origin…” either in their admission process or hiring practice. Solomon Schechter Day School has expanded by word-of-mouth referrals that continue to push growth of the school. Teachers are hired based on their excellence as teachers; some from the public school systems; some from private schools. Miller said, “There is very little turnover in the teaching staff.” Kane added, “There are many highly qualified teachers looking for jobs because of the struggling economy.”
Touring the class rooms shows the rapt attention of smiling faces in classes with students that are focused on learning; looking happy and excited to be there. One feels they have entered a very safe and loving environment at Solomon Schechter Day School.
Staff smiles and student greetings exude excitement and a sense of well-being at GV Christian School in Henderson. Pastors Gary and Meg Morefield started GV Christian School in 1990 as a pre-school with the first kindergarten program in 1993. Deborah Ingalls, the Elementary Principal for GVCS, explained, “Pastor Morefield and his wife found that many working parents in their community were searching for an affordable, loving, and safe child care facility for their children.” In 1993, the pastors began a day care center for three and four-year old pre-kindergarteners. This beginning led to the creation of a K to 5th grade school. As time passed and children grew older, a 6th grade was added, and in 2014, a 6-student 12th-grade-senior-class will graduate; 4 of the 6 began their education at GVCS; all 6 plan to go to college. Ingalls said, “In 2006, K-12 had 440 students, along with 235 pre-school children.” Ingalls explained, “GV Christian School is a Christian based private school; focused on preparing students for admission to a four-year college of their choice.”
The GV Christian School’s success is a tribute to Pastors Gary and Meg Morefield’s vision, the congregation’s financial support, and the administrative staff’s pursuit of educated K-12’ graduates. Ingalls said, “The heart of GV Christian School is in its Christian beliefs and teachings.” An expanding GVCS’ campus offers an education alternative aimed at student preparation for higher education.
American Heritage Academy is a K-12 school managed by Headmaster, Laurel Beckstead. Their website at ahalv.org offers insight to the philosophy, parent interest, and quality education available in a school of 175 students with 20 teachers that blend prayer and faith into academic teaching. The success of American Heritage Academy’s approach to education is reflected in the 2010, K-8’ students that placed in the top 10% nationally of U.S. students in schools that use Iowa Test of Basic Skills to measure student achievement. AHA does not rest on the laurels of these high test results but uses ITBS for feedback to teachers; i.e. AHA’ teachers individualize teaching that continues to improve student performance on basic skills tests. Jay and Lisa Hofer, parents of an American Heritage Academy’ student, said, “Individual attention is not available in public schools; that individual attention makes a big difference in the academic success of our son”.
Beckstead explained, “We are a small non-profit private school and exposure to the values we espouse here at AHA is greatly appreciated.” She goes on to say, AHA’ teachers “…are passionate about education and understand how children thrive academically, socially, and mentally in a positive educational environment.” With a student/teacher ratio of 8 to 1, individuation and ITBS’ scores prove that AHA has a lot to offer Las Vegas Valley children.
There is competition for high school achievement and graduation, both in and among faith-based schools in Las Vegas. GV Christian School and American Heritage Academy are only two of several faith-based high schools in Las Vegas.
Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School offers a curriculum for grades 6-12. CEO Steve Buuck, a Marquette University Ph.D graduate, came to Faith Lutheran in 2008 as its high school Principal and became CEO in June of 2011.
Buuck offered a brief description of the growth of Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School. He explained, “The school began with 6th and 7th grade classes in 1979, expanded to K-12, and graduated its first high school students in 1985.” Buuck said, “We moved to Summerlin in 1998 to become the largest Faith Lutheran School in the United States.” He noted, “We are not simply a private school; we are a Christian school that delivers both a Christian and Academic education that graduates students that have gone on to Yale, Duke, NYU, Dartmouth, West Point and many other fine American Universities.” Buuck said, “… ½ of Faith Lutheran’s student body is Christian but all are enrolled in Christian classes that are part of Faith Lutheran’s standard curriculum.”
Teachers for Faith Lutheran come from all over the United States. Buuck said, “Science positions are the most difficult to fill; we look first to our ten Concordia Universities for our faculty, but also hire excellent Christian faculty from the local Las Vegas market.” He adds, “We hire the best teachers we can find but I use faith as an eminently persuasive recruitment tool.”
Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School is very popular in the Las Vegas area; in part because it has “state of the art” facilities. Buuck explained, “Faith Lutheran Middle School and High School is an ‘Apple’ school; i.e. all middle school kids are given iPads and all high school students are given MacBooks.” The campus includes a theater that is used for faith-based services but is also finely outfitted for first class fine arts productions. Buuck said, “97% of the Class of 2012 is going to college”, and adds, “In grades 6, 7, and 8 our Middle School boasts ITBS’ scores in the 90th percentile of other schools in the nation.”
Buuck has an “open-door” policy for parents; his outgoing personality and the quality of Faith Lutheran programs speak for themselves. Faith Lutheran Middle School & High School is another fine opportunity for an excellent education in Las Vegas.
Before leaving Buuck’s office, Grand Canyon University (a Christian school of higher education) came up as a topic of discussion. The University had visited Buuck earlier because of a possible interest in locating a campus in Las Vegas. Buuck met with a University representative to show Faith Lutheran’s facilities.
Grand Canyon University is a Christian university located in Phoenix. It was founded by the Southern Baptists in 1949 in Prescott, AZ. In 1951 the school moved to its present site in Phoenix. In the early 1990s, Grand Canyon University severed ties with the Baptists and became non-denominational.
We contacted William Jenkins, Vice President of Grand Canyon University to ask about the possibility of a campus in Las Vegas. He said “We are looking at a number of cities, including Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Tucson.” When asked what that would mean in employment, Jenkins said, “Based on projected growth for a new location, up to 1,000 jobs over the first five years.”
Jenkins explained that Grand Canyon University offers Bachelors, Masters and Doctoral programs through seven colleges (Education, Nursing, Business, Fine Arts & Production, Arts and Sciences, Sports Business, and Theology). He said, “We do not differ significantly from UNR, UNLV, or from faith-based schools like Bob Jones University or BYU.” He noted, “As a Christian School we have Chapel Service every Monday morning and a second service Tuesday evening but neither service has mandatory attendance requirements.” Jenkins explained, “All students are required to take a Christian World View course with voluntary chapel services offered twice a week.” In describing student enrollment, Jenkins said, “Nearly 50 percent of our students at the Phoenix campus enroll in sciences; Pre-Med, Pre-Pharmacy, Pre-Physician’s Assistants and Nursing.” A significant difference in Grand Canyon University from most universities is that average class sizes are under 20 students.
Grand Canyon University offers both campus and on-line classes. Jenkins said, “Full time faculty on campus is 109; full-time faculty online—121.” There are currently 6,500 students on the Phoenix campus and another 45,000 adult learners taking courses on line. Jenkins explained, “We have 97 degree programs and we are regionally accredited by the HLC (Higher Learning Commission). Published tuition is $16,500 per school year but Jenkins said, “…we have a very generous institutional scholarship program, primarily based on a student’s GPA, that results in the average student paying $7,800…” which he noted, “…is comparable to most public universities.”
According to Jenkins, Grand Canyon University has reached out to both public and private schools in Las Vegas. Grand Canyon University would be a welcome addition to the Valley.
Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” American compulsory school attendance was first required in the State of Massachusetts in 1852. The State of Mississippi was the last state to require school attendance in 1917. And so, school is a necessity; graduation is a choice, your choice.
(Posted in the “Las Vegas Review Journal” 2/17/13)