Tennis Stars Put Hearts Into Vegas Charter School

LAS VEGAS – It’s been a tough year at Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, with criticism over enrollment in low-income areas, looming budget issues and a testing mishap that cost the middle school principal her job.

But retired tennis superstars Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf say they’re excited about the future for 19 seniors getting set to graduate June 12 from the Las Vegas charter school that bears Agassi’s name.

“This is like the dream day of the whole year; it’s the next set of kids we’re sending off into their futures,” Agassi said as the married tennis champions visited a classroom last week. “This is the best part.”

Agassi, a Las Vegas native, never finished high school. But he has a passion for education, and he founded and opened Agassi Prep in 2001 to serve the historically minority West Las Vegas area.

The first class of 34 seniors graduated last year.

Graf called graduation ceremonies incredibly emotional.

“Everybody has tears in their eyes as they’re talking about the opportunities they have now, how they’re hopeful for the future and being able to accomplish their dreams,” she said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

The Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation underwrites the school, which has no entrance exams or tuition, and its $40 million school campus. The 623 students are selected by a public computer-based lottery, with preference to children living in a two-mile radius.

The school spends about $13,000 per student each year, more than twice the per-pupil funding for Nevada public school students.

Agassi told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he is stepping up fundraising to offset possible budget shortfalls. He lamented that more than 800 children were turned away for admission.

“Truth is, the hardest part is the kids on the waiting list,” he said. “You realize just how bad the need is and how many kids just don’t get the chance to have a future of their choosing. It’s a sad, harsh reality.”

In March, state officials investigated former middle school principal Bevelyn Smothers for giving five students additional opportunities to complete state standardized tests that evaluate student progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. State law does not allow officials to give students extra help or time with the tests.

Agassi called it a mistake instead of a scandal.

“It was disappointing for us, for those kids and certainly for the middle school teacher who literally made a mistake,” he said. “We adapt, we overcome life, and we move forward.”

Agassi said he hopes school graduates will return to Las Vegas as adults to help future generations achieve educational goals.

“That’s what I’d love to see,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s all to help our community, and I’m going to do it the best way I possibly can. So far it’s 623 kids, but it’s not enough.”