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Student-built home heading to the market 

By Kelsey Penrose

The students of the Academy for Career Education (ACE) charter school recently completed the build of a single family residence through the school’s building trades program. On Tuesday they asked the Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees for the deed to the property so they might sell the new custom home. 

Trustees unanimously approved donation of the district-owned property to ACE.

The property, at 4917 Hombre Way in Reno, was acquired by the district in 1995 through eminent domain to construct Donner Springs Elementary School. The district was required to build a 13-lot single family subdivision to create a buffer between the new school and the nearby existing neighborhood. 

ACE’s recent home was built on previously an “unbuildable remnant parcel” created because of the subdivision, according to the district’s Chief Operations Officer Adam Searcy. 

Since the district first partnered with ACE on its pupil construction program 20 years ago, nine homes have been successfully constructed and sold. The Hombre Way house is the 10th constructed by ACE. 

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous home,” Trustee Diane Nicolet said. “This was the right and good decision.” 

Nicolet asked how involved the district was in the building of the property. 

“The district has not provided anything except for the raw land,” Searcy said. “[ACE] pride themselves on being fiercely independent when it comes to things like that. They’re building homes – there are obstacles, but they have consistently overcome them independently. They take care of all of it.” 

Students in the building trades program at ACE Charter High School work on the roof trusses for the house they built on Hombre Way in Reno. The house has been completed and will be listed for sale in the coming months. Image: ACE

ACE Director Bob DeRuse told trustees that the market value of the house is around $530,000. 

“We’re a small, 230-student charter school, and I think we’re a positive impact in the school district,” DeRuse said. “We make a difference in every kid’s life. That’s what we try to do every day.” 

Trustee Elizabeth Smith said DeRuse was being “modest,” and that ACE was one of the first charter high schools in all of Nevada.

“One of the things I’m most impressed about is that you deliver,” Smith said. “You have a wildly successful graduation rate at ACE. You put out high school graduates into the community.” 

DeRuse admitted that the school has had a 100% graduation rate for the last five years.

“We’re a school of choice,” DeRuse said. “We get to have good, honest conversations with kids about their choices.” 

The Hombre Way house will be available for public sale through a realtor. 

Students make progress in ELA performance, still down from pre-pandemic scores 

The 2021-2022 ELA performance metrics have been released, showing 45% of Washoe County’s students in grades 3-8 met or exceeded state standards. ELA, or English Language Arts, scores comprise reading, writing, speaking and listening. 

This percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards is down four percentage points from the 2018-2019 school year but up two points compared to the 2020-21 ELA scores. 

The performance metrics are the result of SBAC testing, short for Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which according to Chief Accountability Officer Joe Ernst is a “measure of college and career readiness. SBAC is a rigorous test.” 

According to Ernst, students in 15 states including Nevada take the test once per year, typically between March and May. 

Students in grade 7 made the largest increase in the percentage of those meeting or exceeding state standards, with an increase of five percentage points to 50%. 

While the district overall has a 45% pass rate, there are large performance gaps depending on race, ethnicity and special groups. For example, white students have a pass rate of 59%, while Black students have only a 26% pass rate. In special groups, students with IEPs have a 15% pass rate, while GT (Gifted and Talented) students have a 95% pass rate. 

“We have much to celebrate, and much work to do.”

These disparities are not new; in fact, in the past four years – prior to, during and after the pandemic – numbers have stayed fairly consistent within groups. 

Washoe County has a higher pass rate than Nevada as a whole though, which reported a 41% pass rate last year, and a 44% pass rate this year, compared to Washoe’s 44% and 45%, respectively. Clark County’s numbers are even lower, with a 37% pass rate last year, and a 41% pass rate this year. 

State charter schools, however, do better across the board, with pass rates of 53% and 56% in the past two years. 

When compared with other states who take the SBAC, which include California, Washington, Connecticut and West Virginia, WCSD has surpassed many of the other states in the 2021-22 school year. Out of those states who take the SBAC, none have reported a pass rate over 52% for the past year. 

Superintendent Susan Enfield via Zoom told trustees that the district will be reinstituting MAPS testing for students – however, SBAC is a required test by the state. 

Trustee Nicolet said that, in her trips to schools, she’d been told that the SBAC was not a favorite test among educators. 

“I think the concern and the struggle is that it does not provide that growth data that they’re looking for,” said Nicolet. “Teachers are the experts in the classroom, and I’m learning that this is usable information, but it’s not what teachers think about on a daily basis to help their children academically. I’m glad to hear from Superintendent Enfield that we’ll be returning to MAPS.” 

Ernst and Troy Parks, chief academic officer, also discussed WCSD’s response to the needs of the district, including the need for high-quality core and supplemental materials and how to address academic disparities, interventions and assessments. 

While the full document can be viewed here beginning on page nine, highlights include providing specialized instruction for students with IEPs via GoalBook, hiring additional personnel for small group instruction, offering site-based mentorship programs for new teachers, focusing on the transition of sixth graders, providing free breakfast and lunch to students and incentivizing increased student attendance. 

“We have much to celebrate, and much work to do,” Enfield said. 

Math and science scores reported in low- to mid-30s

Trustees heard a presentation on the state of math and science scores throughout the district as well. Similar to ELA scores, math scores come directly from the SBAC. 

Just 34% of students in grades 5-8 in the district are meeting or exceeding standards in math, 20 percentage points below the target of 54%. This is, however, a 3% increase from the 2021-2022 school year. 

In recent years, the highest score reported was in the 2017-2018 school year, at 41%.

“A lot of our successes have been in the area of common assessments, especially in math,” Parks said. “We feel like we’re getting those tightly aligned with our essential standards, and we’re hearing from initial reports that they’re much better and much more concise.” 

A science classroom at Marce Herz Middle School just before the school opened. Image: Eric Marks / This Is Reno

Common assessments have been implemented for math in grades 2-8. 

In science, scores do not come from the SBAC, but rather from the State Science Assessment. 

Science scores for the district are reported at 31% of students in grades 5 and 8, the only grades assessed for this particular test, as meeting standards. 

The target is for 55% of students to meet the standards. However, the low scores aren’t new. In the years prior to the pandemic, from 2016 to 2019,  only 30% to 36% of students met standards, recovering to 31% last year.

“Science is incredibly important, especially in our region when we look at workforce preparation,” Parks said. “This is definitely an area where we can make tremendous growth in the future.” 

Last year, the district implemented FOSS in grades K-5, which is a science curriculum that provides hands-on experiments and activities consistently across all elementary schools in the district. 

Adoption of new core instructional material for secondary science is planned for as early as January 2023. 

Application approved for $20 million grant for learning loss assistance 

In 2021 the Nevada Legislature passed Assembly Bill 495 which appropriated $200 million to the Nevada Department of Education. Funding requests must address the impact of learning loss the district has experienced as a result of the pandemic. 

Trustees approved a request for the district to ask for $20.5 million in funding to assist with recovering learning loss. 

The majority of the grant – $15.66 million – would be spent on academic recovery including instructional support, tutoring, English learner support and dyslexia training for staff. 

The request also includes funding for technology support, equipment, supplies and musical instruments. 

The remaining $4.9 million would be spent on student wellbeing, including crisis counseling, substance abuse counseling, mental health administration, re-engagement facilitations, attendance officers and CIT (Children in Transition) liaisons. 

One public commenter, Shannon Coley, said she was speaking on behalf of teachers in the district. She said that while the funding choices “looked good on paper,” they were leaving something very important out: teachers themselves. 

“They ask over and over again for help, but they have been told ‘there is no money for help’,” Coley said. “They must be paid more. They need you all to step up and do something meaningful. Administration said they have [training materials] that will help improve student test scores, but [teachers] are not given training on these materials, and are expected to learn them online, on their downtime.”

Coley said that teachers have told her that the district spent too much money on new technology but what they really need are extra hands and eyes in the classroom. 

Coley added that while there is on-demand tutoring, it is only available to middle and high schoolers, not for elementary school students. She suggested instituting an extra credit program for high schoolers to tutor younger children. 

“We need to think outside the box,” Coley said. 

Trustees approved the request to apply for the grant by a unanimous vote. 

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