We’d like to introduce you to a new series of posts here at Reno Moms Blog, called the Northern Nevada School Discovery Zone. This will be an opportunity for us to gather your questions and concerns about local schools and help track down the answers for you.
We’re going to kick this series off with a feature of one of the area’s newest charter schools, Doral Academy of Northern Nevada (DANN). As a parent of two Doral students, I was excited to sit down with principal, Angela Orr, and vice-principal, Jami Curtis, to discuss the school’s transformation over the past few years and what’s in store for the future.
Just two years ago, DANN was based out of a local church and had only 163 students. Last year, the school building just off Mt. Rose Highway across from Galena High School was completed, and attendance was increased to 625. This year, DANN welcomed 814 students.
That’s a lot of growth and transition for a new school, which definitely caused a period of adjustment at the beginning of the school year. In fact, local parents (OK, mostly moms) often took to Facebook groups to discuss the challenges and changes. I took note of the topics being discussed and asked the administration for updates.
Drop off/pick-up: As with many charter schools, the majority of the student population commutes in from all across Reno, and those commuters use a drop-off loop. During the first week of school there were some delays as they ironed out the process. “Drop off seems to be going perfectly now,” said Principal Orr. “There hasn’t been a backup. It flows well, and we have staff outside greeting students personally.”
The pick-up process has improved, but the staff is still working on improving it. “We’re down to 26 minutes for the last cars. There were some misunderstandings on when to pick up because the dismissal time changed and staggered,” Principal Orr told me. “We are offering sibling care for free for families and a nominal charge for carpools ($10/week).”
Recess/lunchtime: Although some parents feel like Doral has less recess and lunchtime than other schools, Principal Orr noted that the approach is very comparable to the breaks at WCSD. The lunchtime recess is 35-40 minutes, with 20 minutes for eating and 15-20 minutes for recess. There are six separate lunches between 11-1:30, and as I listened to Angela and Jami talk, I soon began to appreciate how complex it would be to organize the logistics of 814 students using the same lunchroom every day.
“We do implement a quiet time for 5 minutes,” she said. This helps children come up, get a spot and focus on opening up their lunches. Without this quiet time, they found many students got so wrapped up in conversation that they would forget to eat.
They noted that students switch to just one recess a day at fifth grade, which is also similar to WCSD. Angela and Jami reminded me that the students move between classes, have access to standing desks, and have required PE. Plus, being an arts integration school, movement is often included in the classroom to help provide a more enriching experience.
So what’s new to the school this year? They have new advanced classes for middle school, Gifted and Talented support for children in grades 3-5, and a new PE class, yoga. I can tell you my daughter loves being able to choose yoga over a traditional PE class.
Principal Orr said that students really love the elective options, including STEAM Lab, Cartooning, Graphic Arts and 3D Printing and Design.
The day that I sat down with these two happened to be the day that the Nevada School Ratings were released. The results? A five-star rating placing Doral as the third top-performing elementary school in the state. I have to say I was super impressed that the school achieved such a high ranking in a year where their student body grew nearly 400%.
“Although the rating is important, our focus is providing an all-encompassing whole child experience that helps grow young people into great community members, understanding the need for civic participation, and being a member of the community through arts. We want to be a beacon of what it looks like to grow children and be really inclusive,” Principal Orr said. Vice Principal, Jami, added on by saying, “We have a common vision and solid plan and meeting individual student needs.”
At the end of my conversation with these inspirational women, I felt so blessed to have both my children attending school at Doral Academy of Northern Nevada. However, if you look at the social media commentary from parents, people may not get the right idea.
The administration prides itself on being very responsive to parents’ concerns. “We personally call or email every parent that reaches out to us with a concern,” Principal Orr told me. But as I discussed the above topics with them, it became clear that the best way for parents to get their concerns addressed is to contact the teachers first. Speaking from experience, I have found the teachers very responsive, and I can get a meeting with them in person if I want to dive deeper.
The moral of the story: Although it may be easy to vent your concerns on social media, it may not always be the most conducive solution to your child’s needs. Schools need to be given the opportunity to address your concerns directly, which will likely give you a much better outcome than stirring the social media pot.
What questions do you have about Doral Academy of Northern Nevada? Is there a school you’d like to see us feature next? Let us know in the comments!