Cheerleaders tumbled across Cimarron-Memorial High School’s gym. The band performed. The choir sang.
And the nation’s highest-ranked robotics team rolled out its cannon-like creation, shooting shirts into the bleachers at parents and children of other Clark County schools listening to the sales pitch of Principal Lori Sarabyn.
Like a realtor selling a fixer-upper, Sarabyn presided over an open house Tuesday, complete with performances and promises. Her goal: Persuade students to switch from their zoned schools to the northwest Las Vegas school, which lost a quarter of its students in recent years as academic performance plummeted.
“Cimarron-Memorial always was, and is, a good school,” said Sarabyn, who knows that convincing prospective transfers will take some doing in light of its 2011-12 graduation rate of 51 percent.
During a window opened briefly each year, Clark County School District allows students a way around attendance boundaries that zone schools based on home addresses. It’s called open enrollment. Schools with open seats allow students to apply for them at ccsd.net/schools/open-enrollment/. They can switch schools as long as they have transportation to the new campus, which is not provided by the district.
Cimarron-Memorial, near Tenaya Way and Smoke Ranch Road, is offering open enrollment for the first time and has 122 seats available. It joins 106 other elementary, middle and high schools with a total of 18,230 vacancies across the Clark County School District for 2014-15. All applications for those seats are due Feb. 3.
However, the district of 357 schools usually struggles to fill these empty seats. During the 2013-14 open enrollment, the district filled 10 percent of elementary school open seats, 8 percent of open middle school seats and 13 percent of open high school seats.
That low response comes as many schools experience over-enrollment, with some campuses exceeding their capacities by 50 percent while other schools have empty classrooms.
Rick Baldwin, the district’s director of demographics and zoning, said many parents aren’t aware they “have a choice.”
Cimarron-Memorial is faced with the challenge of recruiting new students while the ones they have consider leaving.
The Lieurance family may be part of the exodus and was at Tuesday’s open house. They’re zoned for the school, already have a daughter at Cimarron-Memorial, and another daughter is set to attend when she graduates from middle school. But they’re considering a switch to another high school.
“We’d prefer not to stay at Cimarron,” said mother Donna Lieurance.
“Yes, we are,” contradicted her seventh-grade daughter Madison Doig, whose middle school friends are zoned for Cimarron-Memorial.
The school’s enrollment peaked at 2,967 students in 2006-07 and has declined every year since then, dropping 655 students by 2013-14.
The school lost more than 200 students after the district designated Cimarron-Memorial a turnaround school last spring, meaning the school has chronically underperformed for so long that the principal, administrative staff and some teachers were replaced.
New Principal Sarabyn, who replaced about 30 teachers, said the school also received extra resources, buying interactive Smart Boards to replace whiteboards in every classroom and constructing a 2,700-square-foot weight training facility. The building received a facelift, sports teams that played in T-shirts now have jerseys and academics have received a renewed focus, she said. The school will run on an eight-class schedule instead of six, allowing students to either catch up on credits or reach for honor diplomas or college credits.
“We are up to the challenge,” said Sarabyn, noting the already apparent shifts in academics demonstrated by the fact that 80 percent of seniors have passed all four of the proficiency exams required to graduate and the 2013 graduation rate — expected to be released Monday — will show an increase. “We are clearly improving.”
But the current graduation rate has Doreen Alvarado a little concerned for her son, 14-year-old Jesse Alvarado, who applied for open enrollment at Cimarron-Memorial on Tuesday.
“Fifty-one percent is really low. That’s unbelievable,” she said.
Jesse’s home school, Cheyenne, isn’t much better with a 54 percent graduation rate. And Cheyenne doesn’t have a robotics program or Academy of Information Technology, like Cimarron-Memorial.
“The goal is to go to Cimarron,” she said. “Now, we just have to figure out how to get him here every day. That would be a little challenging.”
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.