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Nicole Alcantara

Star Graduates 2019 – Mission High School

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Here is the truth about second chances: They rarely happen by chance. It takes dedication, hard work and a desire to have something different. There is a quote that says, “And suddenly, you know that it’s time to start something new and trust the magic.” This quote couldn’t be more perfect than for Mission High School’s Star Graduate, Khara Greenwell.

Khara was the first student to enter Mission High School, a school that supports students who are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Despite her darkest days, Khara wanted to do something new and to learn how to “trust the magic.”

In May 2017, shortly after leaving rehab, Khara gave up her anonymity at the Clark County School District board meeting where they were voting on whether to approve funding for MHS or not. Khara wanted the school board and world to know that she wanted and needed something different.

She began her junior year with only 2.5 credits and thought that she would never graduate from high school. Today, Khara is graduating on time with an unweighted grade point average of 2.875, and is looking to join the military this fall!

It is with great honor and pride that Mission High School selects Ms. Khara Edie Greenwell as its Star Graduate.

Dream, sparkle, and shine, sweet girl!

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Star Graduates 2019 – CSN High School West

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Bridget Egan embodies all that is good about young people today: dedication, passion and a multitude of talents. As a result of her tenacity, she has developed very clear educational and vocational goals. In an effort to achieve these goals, Bridget has pursued a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. While being proactive to make her goals a reality, Bridget applied to and was accepted at the College of Southern Nevada High School West, a dual credit program. Upon successful completion of all her academic coursework, Bridget will have about 60 transferable college credits and currently garners a 4.625 grade point average.

Bridget is the picture of determination. Since being admitted to CSNHS West, she has purposefully and passionately used her talents both inside and outside the classroom for the betterment of our school. Bridget was the junior class president, and currently serves as the Student Body president. Bridget is not the natural extrovert that describes most Student Body presidents. Through hard work and determination, she has grown strong, confident and knows more about her intrinsic self than many adults.

Bridget dedicates a lot of her time to helping others outside the classroom. She founded a high school chapter of She’s the First, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting girls who will be the first in their families to graduate high school. For over two years, she has worked as a theater and vocal coach for Life Long Dreams, a nonprofit organization transforming disability into special ability through arts in Las Vegas. One of Bridget’s greatest strengths is her passion for helping others. With that passion, she is able to see a need and, in a systematic way, figure out how best to give support.

Bridget will continue her education at the University of California, San Diego in the fall.

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Star Graduates 2019 – CSN High School East

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McKenzie Carmichael is graduating from College of Southern Nevada High School East with 44 college credits and a perfect 4.0 college and high school grade point average. Her peers nominated McKenzie as the school’s Student of the Year, and one student stated how exceptional she is, because of both her intellect and her altruism.

Even though McKenzie lives with a life altering disease, she is unshakably optimistic. She takes handfuls of medications with side effects worse than the symptoms of her disease, yet she knows they keep her alive. Many would struggle with this, but not McKenzie.

She chooses to be positive, consistently keeps a smile on her face and joy in her heart, and while she spends much of her free time studying, she also finds time to bake. Not brownie-from-a-box baking–layered cakes, stuffed cupcakes and gooey, chocolate chip cookies baking! She makes sheet cakes for other students, and watches with delight while they all enjoy her masterpieces.

McKenzie’s goal of becoming a doctor is truly attainable. And we are sure she will give the best care to her patients. McKenzie has had major challenges and will have more, including medical school, but she prides herself in making it through the tough times. McKenzie believes it is possible for great outcomes to arise from the darkest of times.

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Star Graduates 2019 – Southwest CTA

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Gabriela Hernandez-Lugo was born in Cuba, and came to the United States at the age of five. Raised and educated in Las Vegas, the shy five-year-old was put into the first grade and was told to adapt to her new circumstances. By the third grade, she had learned to read, write and communicate in English.

Gabriela has come a long way, and is now the valedictorian of her graduating class, in addition to being the treasurer of Southwest Career and Technical Academy’s chapter of the National Honor Society. She has completed countless hours of community service, and hopes that one day she can educate others about the importance of diversity and the beauty of cultures.

Gabriela will attend the University of Aberdeen in Scotland this fall.

Star Graduates 2019 – Spring Valley High School

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Congratulations to Amber Chou, Spring Valley High School’s Star Graduate!

Amber Chou has earned straight A’s throughout high school, making her a valedictorian candidate. She has four years of perfect attendance, and has chosen to take all of the most challenging courses the school offers, earning top scores on her many AP exams.

Amber is a talented performer and gifted artist. Her participation in both Speech and Debate and Model United Nations are particularly noteworthy, as Amber has distinguished herself in these programs, both as an award-winning orator and accomplished delegate. She also completed a stellar AP Studio Art portfolio last year.

Among her many accolades, our staff, students and parents named Amber our 2017-18 Student of the Year. Additionally, she is a 2018 Harvard Prize Book recipient, and was recently confirmed as our school’s first National Merit Scholarship Finalist in over a decade.

Amber plans to pursue a career in the medical field, and will be attending Johns Hopkins University in the fall.

Amber’s strong personal and moral character, outstanding academic success, involvement in school activities and respect for teachers and administrators were just a few of the reasons this remarkable young woman was selected as Spring Valley High School’s Star Graduate.

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Clark High School Student Angela Hernandez Wins Car at “Drive for Excellence” Celebration

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Clark High School student Angela Hernandez, a graduating senior wins a Chevrolet Sonic, courtesy of Findlay Chevrolet, during the 13th annual “Drive for Excellence” celebration at Wet’n’ Wild Las Vegas on May 22, 2019.

More than 760 high school seniors, who qualified for the grand prize by maintaining a weighted grade point average of 3.7 or higher and an attendance record of zero unexcused or unverified absences. In addition to the new car, students also won scholarships, Chromebooks and a number of prizes donated by community partners.

The CCSD School-Community Partnership Program coordinated “Drive for Excellence” with the generous support of Findlay Chevrolet, Wet’n’ Wild Las Vegas, Silver State Schools Credit Union, Advertising and Marketing Solutions, Horace Mann Insurance Company and 98.5 KLUC Radio.

Star Graduates 2019 – Durango High School

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Durango High School is proud to recognize Damen Smith as its 2018-19 Star Graduate. The road has been long for Damen.

In middle school, Damen struggled with building positive relationships with his peers and with his teachers. As a freshman, Damen admits to getting caught up with older students who were not focused in the right direction. He was frequently in trouble and did not have a plan for his future.

Through some very tough years in high school, Damen’s mother pushed him to change his ways and be a positive example for his younger siblings. Damen is a self-proclaimed “mama’s boy,” and says there was always a little bit of light throughout his troubles because he did not want to disappoint his mother. He admits that the light was almost extinguished when he made some life choices that almost negatively affected his future.

Damen quickly turned his life around. He learned, in his senior year, that it was time to grow up. Damen said, “My household and the Durango environment was needed for me to be successful.”

He attributes his graduation from high school to his mom and the many people at Durango High School who never gave up on him. With the consistent encouragement of administrators, his counselor, his teachers, safe school professionals and secretaries, Damen saw a glimmer of light become brighter and he ran toward it.

Damen Smith will be the first in his family to graduate high school. He plans to enroll at the College of Southern Nevada this fall, and hopes to pursue a career as a firefighter. Damen will undoubtedly do great things in life, and the staff of Durango High School is excited for his future.

Congratulations, Damen. You are our Star Graduate!

Brooks and Jara Provide Legislative Testimony Expressing Strong Support for Historic Proposed Education Funding Formula

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The Senate Finance Committee and Assembly Ways and Means Committee held a joint meeting to hear Senate Bill 543, which would modernize Nevada’s education funding formula. Below is testimony provided by Board of School Trustee President Lola Brooks and Clark County School District (CCSD) Superintendent Jesus F. Jara in strong support of the proposed new funding formula:

Testimony provided by Trustee President Lola Brooks:

Senator Woodhouse, Assemblywoman Carlton, and members of the joint committee – my name is Lola Brooks, and I serve as the President of the Board of School Trustees for the Clark County School District.

The Board of Trustees approved a legislative platform in December, which included modernizing the state’s education funding formula as our top priority. We support AB 543 and see it as a step forward in addressing the education funding issues within the state. We feel that the community also supports this; their support was expressed when they elected a record number of candidates who ran on this and other education funding issues during the last election cycle.

One of the main roles of the Board is to give final approval for the district’s budget. Over the past few years, this has been a painful process which included more than $120 million in budget cuts and while it’s true that we’ve made due…it’s important that we are all very clear about the fact that we’ve made due at the expense of our students and our staff. Our class sizes are the largest in the nation. A reduction in staffing has led to unmanageable workloads and our inability to budget for raises continues to take a toll on staff morale.

At this juncture, you have an opportunity to move us in a different direction by modernizing the state’s education funding formula. There are several reasons why we feel this is a positive step forward.

We need to stabilize the amount of funding the state provides for education. SB 543 will require a State Education Fund that will increase by the rate of inflation or growth in the economy – whichever is greater.

We need to ensure that additional revenue goes to education as voters intended. Having the State Education Fund as a separate account will prevent new funds from supplanting existing funds.

We also need to give districts the opportunity to build an ending fund balance to ensure their financial stability.

While this legislation will not solve all of our funding issues, we are hopeful that it will be the first step to illustrate the state’s long-term commitment to adequately funding education. Thank you for your time today, for your work on this legislation, and for your ongoing leadership.


Testimony provided by Superintendent Jesus F. Jara:

Sen. Woodhouse, Assemblywoman Carlton and members of the joint committee: My name is Dr. Jesus Jara, and I am the superintendent of the Clark County School District, where we work every day to be the number one choice for our kids.

I want to start by thanking you all for the opportunity to speak at this historic event. While I have served the students of the Clark County School District for just less than a year, it was clear to me from when I first considered applying for this position that the 52-year-old education funding formula is a hindrance to equity and achievement.

So thank you, especially to Sens. Woodhouse and Denis, along with many others, who have worked countless hours on this enormous task.

I appreciate that you have outlined an implementation plan to hold harmless districts that might lose funding for several years, as we join as a state to work out details. It’s safe to say that many in Clark County are eager for this implementation to start immediately, but we also want to ensure that this plan will work for all kids across the state.

I want to add that I am sympathetic to districts that do not have the benefit of an economy of scale and face their own unique challenges. However, I hear a clear consensus among many that Clark County should no longer continue to subsidize school districts that have lower class sizes and higher ending fund balances than we do. It doesn’t make sense for our kids.

The Trustees and I have a five-year strategic plan to increase student achievement, reduce equity gaps and strengthen operations. I encourage you to view Focus: 2024 at While we are excited about this plan, it’s difficult to guide major change knowing that we could be a few days away from bankruptcy, due to any major unforeseen expense.

If we want to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, we need adequate, stable funding today. Here’s why we are supporting this legislation:

First, we know we need to build trust throughout our community. This bill offers transparency to the public. We welcome the provisions that require school districts to report more about their budgets and administrative costs. Also, we welcome a formula that is easier for the public to understand.

Second, the new formula ensures that new money intended for K-12 public education stays with K-12 public education. I have spoken with thousands of educators, parents and community members in my 11 months in this position, and I can tell you they are sick of increasing funds for education and continuing to see budget cuts. Today we can start to put an end to the terrible cycle of budget cuts that has lead to our state having some of the largest class sizes in the nation.

Let me share a few numbers with you about our student needs today versus 1967, when the previous funding formula was created.

In 1967, CCSD had 62,944 students. We now have 320,000.

In 1967, we didn’t track the number of English Language Learners we served. Today, we serve 55,565.

In 1967, we didn’t track the number of students on Free and Reduced Lunch. Today, students on FRL make up 63.84% of our student population.

The number of students receiving special education services also has increased exponentially, now serving 39,709 students.

Here’s what is truly transformative about this formula: It will provide funding based on the individual needs of students. It provides weighted funds for students who need more support. It also adjusts funding based on the needs of smaller school districts, small schools, and areas where the cost of living for school employees is higher, such as in Clark County. This will be a game changer in Nevada.

I’d like to address some concerns that I have heard.

First, that SB 543 does not increase the overall amount of education funding. This is true – for now. That is why we are working with the sponsors of AB309 and SB545 to provide “bridge” funding to get us through this biennium. Nevada needs to modernize our funding formula before making significant new investments in education. Make no mistake, this is the right first step to fixing decades of chronic underfunding of public education in Nevada.

Second, I hear concerns that programs we know are working — such as the Zoom schools — might not continue. I want to thank legislators for Section 78 of this bill, which provides flexibility with student weights so we can maintain the programs that are proving successful. And I want to assure those with concerns that I will continue the successful structured programs currently funded with categorical dollars.

I will mention that one of our concerns is the implementation of weights for special education students. We have special education students who cost $50,000 a year to educate and students who require extra supports that might cost a few hundred a year. The vast majority of services provided to our children with special needs are through centrally provided programs, personnel and services. Therefore, it’s difficult to send the weighted funding directly to the schools serving our students without a significant change in the model that we and many other districts use to deliver the actual services for these students. We look forward to resolving this concern.

Finally, I have heard concerns about the provisions to protect district ending fund balances and wall off some funding from collective bargaining. This also will help stabilize our budget. As the chief executive of this district, I can tell you that something needs to happen fast to stabilize our budget. We have cut more than $120 million over the past two years. I will say it again – we cannot run a district with less than a week in reserves.

Our students, employees and community have struggled for far too long under a funding formula that doesn’t serve our needs today.

This proposal lays the groundwork for us to work together as a state to transform education. As the superintendent who represents more than 70 percent of the students in our state — students who deserve our absolute best — once again I want to say thank you.