Chaparral Cowboys making a comeback in the classroom

Beth Fisher

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Chaparral Cowboys making a comeback in the classroom

CREATED Nov. 6, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- A local high school is making headlines for all of the right and wrong reasons. Chaparral High School is where the band The Killers went to school.

It's also the only Clark County school to have a national debate championship. So how did a high school with such an impressive past end up with the lowest graduation rate in the state and perhaps the country?  A better question is how is the school making such a remarkable comeback? Principal David Wilson is leading the charge.

He starts his days welcoming new students. "We're glad to have you, welcome to Chaparral."
There's no other school like it. Chaparral has more than 125 students who've been kicked out of other schools, more than 50 young mothers, and the lockers stay locked. Principal Wilson says, "When we did the turnaround, major issues were drug use and students having contraband. So we did away with the lockers."
With an embarrassing 34% graduation rate, the state of Nevada declared Chaparral a turnaround school. They brought in Principal David Wilson who fired most of the staff. What was he looking for? "We wanted people who truly care about kids."
That turnaround happened in 2011 back when the walls were covered not with school mascots but graffiti and the campus was not safe by anyone's standards. "There were two functioning toilets for all boys. We have 1250 young men on campus. Two flushing toilets. That's unconscionable. There were issues with safety."
Administrative Assistant Michelle Martin says, "And this place was falling apart at the seams. Principal Wilson came in and first did all the cosmetic stuff and made it a place where not just kids, where people wanted to work. And then after the cosmetic stuff, he hit the pavement."
Principal Wilson hit the pavement, changing the culture and funneling freshman straight in to honors classes, putting the kids on a college track.  When he took over, less than 4 percent of his students were college bound. In the next two years,1/3 of his kids will be college bound. And thanks to a partnership with the local Lindsay Foundation, every one of them will have college paid for.
Principal Wilson is loved by his staff.  His teachers tell him what works in the classroom and what tools they need.  And it's working.  We told you Chaparral had a 34% graduation rate in 2011. They hope to reach 64 percent this year, one of the largest improvements in an inner city school in the entire nation.