Jacqueline Mariani felt more like a tennis player than a crossing guard on the first day of school.
“I was running from corner to corner trying to catch all these kids,” said Mariani, mother of two Ries Elementary School students who also volunteered in the cafeteria on Monday. “There are a lot of students, a lot.”
The southwest school enrolls 1,100 students, a little more than last year when it exceeded its capacity by a third. Even more students are expected to register through next week – the usual late arrivals.
“But it’s less crowded,” added Mariani with a sigh of relief. “Oh, yeah.”
That’s because a fifth of the school’s students weren’t present, and it will remain that way throughout the school year, said Principal Mario Quinonez. Ries, near Silverado Ranch Boulevard and Lindell Road, switched from a nine-month schedule to year-round classes on Monday, dividing students among five tracks to alleviate crowding. One track will always be on break, with students obtaining their mandated 180 school days over an entire calendar year.
Despite fewer students being present at any time – costing an additional $308,000 to operate Ries on a year-round schedule – the school has added four portable classrooms to fit everyone, making for a total of 16 portables.
But the school’s efforts to reduce crowding have been hampered by a state-ordered improvement, a change with repercussions for all 217 of the Clark County School District’s elementary campuses, which now enroll an average of 16 percent more students than they were built to hold.
State lawmakers have pumped funding into reducing kindergarten classes to 21 students each, allowing Nevada schools to hire more teachers to make that happen this year. Clark County schools, which are pressed for space, received a waiver to make that 25 students at most per classroom, which is still an improvement considering some kindergarten teachers previously had 38 students, Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said Monday during a visit to elementary schools.
Elementary schools will continue to receive attention from district officials and state lawmakers this school year.
“That’s what I’m excited about, being focused,” said Clark County School Board President Erin Cranor while visiting Ferron Elementary School, near Flamingo Road and Mountain Vista Street. “We’re focused on what is going to be the biggest change factor.”
That factor is making sure students know how to read by third grade because that’s when students shift from learning to read, to reading to learn, she said.
Fewer students in Diane Kelly’s kindergarten classroom will likely mean more students reading chapter books by the end of the year. She’s taught as many as 27 students per class in her 10 years at Ferron.
“With a class that big, it takes a lot to manage everybody, and it does interrupt teaching,” said Kelly, who read the book “Tom Goes to Kindergarten” to her 17 kindergartners on Monday.
Fewer students will allow her more one-on-one time to focus on the high- and mid-achieving students who might otherwise have gone without attention.
“It’s about having the time,” Kelly said. “Kindergarten is so important, and it was overlooked.”
While the reduction in kindergarten class sizes lessens one problem, it exacerbates another. District officials expect district-wide enrollment to jump from 315,000 at this time last year to 320,000 students, with most of the growth happening at elementary schools.
By decreasing the number of students per kindergarten teacher, elementary schools will need to create more kindergarten classes when they have no rooms to spare. Those like Ries have had to haul in portables.
Principal Quinonez isn’t complaining. But the reality will be a cramped one, year-round schedule or not.
“We have just enough space,” said the principal while guiding kindergarten students to their cafeteria seats.
“If we had any more students, we’d have to figure out what to do with them,” he said.
Mariani said the school does well at managing so many students and she wouldn’t send her children elsewhere. That’s a reason why district officials have favored more year-round schools over rezoning, having added 10 year-round schools this year and likely more in 2015-16.
“My kids know this school,” Mariani said. “It’s like home.”
Contact Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279. Find him on Twitter: @TrevonMilliard.