New charter school in Reno to target budding business mavens

A charter school is a business, says Ricci Rodriguez-Elkins, the driving force behind E-TECHS, a charter school enrolling students to prepare for futures in entrepreneurial, technical or engineering fields.

And while the Nevada Department of Education dispensed federal grant money to cover some startup costs, such as custom desks, the school can't skate by on that alone.

The grant, for instance, wouldn't begin to pay for a building.

After a long hunt, the school moved to buy a building at 3380 Lakeside Ct. that previously housed a Scolari's grocery store. The 10,000-square-foot vacant space cost more than $2 million.

"It will take a few months for the purchase of the building to finalize," says Rodriguez-Elkins, "but we expect that renovations will begin in January and we will move in sometime in June."

A national charter school developer, Ryan VanAlfen of Idaho, is investing $3 million in the project, she says. "He prefers that we'll own the building within three to five years, and then get a 30-year bond."

E-TECHS spoke with architects and contractors this month about renovating the building. It's also seeking a tenant partner, someone who plans to move out in a few years when the school will want all the space.

Each student enrolled brings to a school approximately $6,500 in state funding. E-TECHS plans to start with 125 students, add up to 50 the next year, and serve 350 within five years, says Rodriguez-Elkins. The facility could hold 400.

"The goal is to get 50 kids enrolled before Jan 1, 2008," she says. "We need to demonstrate to the investor that there's a definite desire here for this kind of school."

To attract those customers, the school mailed flyers to 10,0000 families throughout Reno and Sparks who have middle school and high school students in the household. A second mailing is planned. It will also air radio and television ads in both English and Spanish.

"The charter school must pay for its facility, insurance, and overhead costs out of the operational funds attached to each student.

As administrator, Rodriguez-Elkins will supervise four teachers and three part-time employees: a counselor, special ed teacher, and secretary.

Because today's students grew up plugged into rapid-fire media communications, she says their instructors must be willing to keep up.

Teachers will cover the standard core curriculum, but with work emphasis where possible. For instance, English class will also teach how to write technical papers.

The school plans to recruit a business advisory council comprised of companies who can provide resources both time and equipment in science and technology, medicine, and corporate structure.

The school already has ties to the University of Nevada, Reno. Ted Batchman, vice president of E-TECH's board of directors, is dean of the college of engineering. And board president Jean Perry is special assistant to the president for athletics academics and compliance at UNR.


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