Signature Academies growing in Reno-Sparks schools

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Updated: 9/04/2013 12:42 am
RENO, Nev. (KRNV & -- When it comes to the Washoe County School District, AB 46 and school maintenance funding have been taking the spotlight for most of this year, but there are other school capital projects that have been waiting on the back burner. 

Signature Academies have been growing in the district over the past few years.

They're specialized, career-driven education programs and, as of this year, they're active at each of the Reno-Sparks high schools.

But to continue to grow, they'll need about 9.5 million dollars for upgrades and expansions.

"I want to be able to design parts and stuff that will make cars run more efficiently," said Connor Nielsen, a senior at the Academy of Arts Careers and Technology.

Nielsen is studying engineering.

So is Travis Windle, who said being in the program is like a getting head start on college.

Which is exactly why WCSD Signature Academies director Dana Ryan said the program exists.

"Our goal as educators has to be to prepare kids to live a successful life, not to graduate from high school but to be successful in life," Ryan said.

Each of the 11 Reno-Sparks high schools has at least one signature academy.

"I think they're going to grow by leaps and bounds because they are absolutely the right way to do school," Ryan said.

To support that growth, Ryan said there is about 9.5 million dollars worth of improvements they would need to make to the schools.

Chief Operating Officer Pete Etchart said it could be paid for with 2002 rollover bond money.

"There was about 45 million dollars that was previously allocated by the board of trustees for signature academies, safety and security projects and school revitalization projects," Etchart said. "Those have all been put on hold while we look for that stable source of revenue for that school maintenance."

The revenue could come from AB 46, but that money couldn't be used for Signature Academies or security.

However, there is more than enough left from the bond. Etchart said there is 94 million dollars remaining, and if it isn't used within the next five years the bonds will expire.

So they're bringing the projects back to the school board for review.

Principals and teachers say the program is making a difference.

"It's a great opportunity to see a lot of students flourish," said Robert Sullivan, principal of AACT.

"Kids that work hands on and work in career and technical education courses do better on standardized tests, they have a higher graduation rate," said Tim Conley, Reed High School Enterprise Academy coordinator.

"It really truly brings authenticity and engagement to kids and it lights a fire inside of them that maybe wasn't there before," Ryan said.

The district will be holding information sessions on Signature Academies for prospective students and parents in November.

The other items mentioned as part of the 2002 rollover bond allocation - security, technology and revitalization - are expected to be on the school board agenda Tuesday.

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