Breaking up is hard to do


Is bigger always better?

Supporters of the Clark County School District apparently think so.

But in the wake of two school-related shootings near local high schools in the past few weeks, it's worth pointing out that huge schools -- often the creatures of massive school districts -- bring inherent problems associated with serious pathologies.

For instance, in a 2003 publication, researcher Eric Larsen found that "school enrollment size is positively related to the prevalence of serious violence."

Similarly, in the 2002 paper "How Smaller Schools Prevent School Violence," Michael Klonsky concludes, "Simply stated, small schools obliterate anonymity -- the handmaiden of many forms of youth violence -- and create an environment where students are visible to those charged with their education and many aspects of their school and cultural development -- their teachers."

This research is not controversial.

The recent shootings involved students at Palo Verde High School (the district's largest, with 3,458 students) and Western High School (enrollment: 2,371). And these student populations are not out of the ordinary. Every single public high school in the Las Vegas area -- not counting magnet schools, specialized academies or schools in outlying areas -- houses at least 2,200 kids.

Even many local middle schools top 1,500 students.

Some will argue this is an issue of growth and money, and that's a legitimate point.

Let's not pretend, however, that these enrollment figures are divorced from the fact that the Clark County School District is now the nation's fifth-largest, stretching from Mesquite to Primm, from Indian Springs to Laughlin and covering everything in between.

Breaking up this behemoth into a number of separate districts might eventually render obsolete the one-size-fits-all model that now rules Clark County, leading to experimentation and change -- whether it comes to union contracts, financial matters, instructional policies or campus sizes.

It's an idea that must no longer be so cavalierly dismissed.