(ALIANTE)–Brian and Teri Cram would be proud.
Folks once referred to Cram MS as the Crown Jewel of North Las Vegas.
Sitting on the south end of Aliante anchoring Upper North Las Vegas, what exactly makes it the crown Jewel?
Is it the recent rebranding as Cram Academy of Technology and the Arts? Is it the new technology and fine arts offerings? Or is it the new Student Success Center that offers a new approach to discipline incorporating restorative justice principles?
Or maybe all of the above?
On a walk-and-talk field trip to Cram last week, Principal Gary Bugash showed Clark County School Watch his 8th grade class, who, on this rainy morning, was taking a panoramic class picture. All 565 of them.
“This is what Las Vegas really is,” Bugash said, proudly.
This coming February will start his seventh year at Cram, a 4-star school. And even that, these days, is rare.
“It’s hard to find principals who are in their buildings for more than two or three years. The lack of consistency is hurting us,” Bugash explained.
He’s been in the District for 22 years with previous stints at Monaco MS and Fremont MS.
What makes Cram different?
“No cell phones,” Bugash said, firmly. “Literally, we’ve had to take them. Now, it’s a cultural norm.”
And even though his school has been rebranded as a technology academy, he said this about technology: “We aren’t a 1:1 [Chromebook] school. I don’t want a Chromebook to teach kids. I want teachers to teach kids. Technology should enhance the learning experience, but it doesn’t replace a teacher.”
Student Success Center replaced deans
The deans fiasco over the summer provided an opportunity for Cram, a title 1 school with about 65 percent free-reduced lunch.
“We take kids who have been expelled from [nearby] Findlay, Johnston and Swainston Middle Schools. We put them in an advisory class, gender-separated. We teach them how to interact with others. These are 12, 13, 14-year-olds with anger issues. They are angry. We have to work with them with dealing with their anger,” Bugash explained.
Anger comes from trauma. Such trauma, he said, can be from homelessness. Cram has 75 homeless families on campus.
The school replaced its Deans office with a new Student Success Center, which Bugash calls “a calming environment.”
The SSC replaced In-house Suspension. Hans Shannon, Cram’s Student Success Advocate, works with these students directly.
“This is a relaxed environment, we have calming music to settle them down,” Shannon said.
The revamped office includes new supports, including social workers mental health and additional wraparound services. The office focuses on social-emotional learning, self management and social management, which all factor in both home and peer relationships at school.
It has helped in the entire discipline process. The school has only expelled one student since the school year began.
This is restorative justice
“This is really being proactive,” Bugash explained. “It has little to do with adults and much to do with students. The key word in restorative justice is Restore. Whatever is broken needs fixed. If you’re going to restore a deficiency, the student has to take ownership.”
He has piloted a program to conduct peer mediation and 8th grade students conduct those mediations.
“We train 8th grade students to do the mediation. They use a script. They talk. As a result, both sides will be heard.”
Bugash said they’ve done about 75 successful mediations so far.
“That’s restoring something that’s wrong.”
Cram has gone to a three AP model, each one supervises a grade level. In lieu of offices, each AP is housed in each grade level hallway. Bugash said it’s not necessarily a “house model” but it’s pretty similar to running three small schools in one.
From RTI to a Tech Academy
“I care about our kids enough that I started RTI here six years ago. They thought I was crazy,” Bugash, a former elementary school principal, surmised. “I wanted the data from AIMSWeb and now, it’s a cultural norm. Thirty percent of our kids are in some form of RTI.”
He compared it to a “Check Engine” light in a car and the process of getting it diagnosed. “Our job is to get them ready for high school.”
And that, he has. Cram, Bugash said, is the only 4-star middle school in the North Valley. Not Escobedo, not Cadwallader, he said.
“If you look at the Performance Framework, more points are given for growth than proficiency. I’d rather show high growth,” Bugash acknowledged.
And when nearby Lied MS created a new STEM magnet academy, Bugash spun into action, creating a technology and fine arts focus, all with no additional monies.
“I put up banners and flyers in Walmart at the 215 and Decatur,” he said. For his Fine Arts students, he explained “music motivates. For some of these students, it’s the only reason they come to school.”
With an enrollment of 1,650 (compared to 1,100 for Johnston and 1,200 for Findlay), Bugash said Cram is now a top feeder for the Las Vegas Academy for the Arts.
The academy also includes 120 students taking classes in robotics, coding and advanced computer technology. Cram has open enrollment, thereby giving access to whomever wants to take advantage of this.
“To me, it comes down to growing students. I’m proud that our growth rate is so high. And teachers are proud of this school,” Bugash said.