The new school year is here, and with it comes challenges and changes.
The good news is that the Clark County School District has hired more than 1,500 new teachers. That’s good because Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said the district anticipates a growth of an equal number of new students, putting the district at its highest-ever enrollment.
The not-so-good news is that the high enrollment means the option to go year-round is on the table.
So far, three year-round elementary schools have been named — Forbuss, Wright and Reedom. Last year, each juggled more than 1,100 students. Those numbers are likely to increase as all three are in the southwest, where housing growth leads the valley.
“When you look right across the street from Forbuss and see the houses going up, just like the old days, it’s a little scary for us,” Skorkowsky said.
Carolyn Edwards, president of the Board of School Trustees, said Question 2, had it passed, would have resulted in two or three schools being built. But it failed and, as a result, she said year-round schools “will probably be around for a very long time. … Some people think we do it to shorten breaks over the summer to improve student achievement. We actually do it to increase our capacity. They’re here to stay for quite a while.”
The district is expecting 312,000 students this year. Edwards said that is likely to increase once school has begun and the true numbers are known. A meeting with trustees and the zone advisory council in September will look for “hot spots” (schools with high enrollment). Skorkowsky said most will be in the southwest, with some in the central and north-central parts of the district but that 10 to 20 schools may go year-round.
GIVENS ELEMENTARY EARNS ‘HOT SPOT’ STATUS IN SUMMERLIN
One high-enrollment school on the radar is in Summerlin: Givens Elementary School, 655 Park Vista Drive. It numbered 1,150 students last year, earning it hot spot status.
Parents should be aware that their child’s school may switch to year-round after the September meeting analyzes the numbers. Another possibility is using portable classrooms, a stopgap measure when enrollment is high.
FOCUSING ON KEY AREAS
Skorkowsky said the main areas of focus for the 2013-14 school year are: achievement; ensuring that every graduate is college-ready; quality teachers; parental and community involvement mixed with innovation; equitable educational opportunities that take into consideration the diverse community; and improvement in student achievement scores.
A parent engagement focus will be achieved through active engagement, PTA or similar groups for input and access to school meetings. The district is also working with the chamber of commerce and major Strip properties to reach parents who work during school hours.
“We’ll be looking at setting up tables in employee dining rooms (at the) major casinos,” Skorkowsky said, “so that we can teach them to stay involved with their child’s grade, attendance, how to communicate with teachers more effectively.”
EVALUATING TURNAROUND SCHOOLS’ PROGRESS
More effective teaching is the goal of the turnaround schools program, begun in 2011. The program is designed to fast-track academic achievement, improve the school climate and increase graduation rates.
Cimarron-Memorial High School, 2301 N. Tenaya Way, has been named a turnaround school. Principal Lori Lawson Sarabyn has been installed and is building her team.
Some turnaround schools implement extended school days and bring in outside consultants to boost student test results.
“Our biggest problem is our decreasing graduation rate,” Sarabyn said. “… We are working to tackle this concern from many different angles, which include ensuring student assessment, curriculum, classroom instruction and professional development are all the main focus points of improvement.”
Edwards said the main element of a turnaround school was a cohesive teaching staff.
“When you have 50 staff members and 10 are paddling in a different direction, it’s hard to keep going the direction you want to go,” she said.
Sarabyn has implemented a standardized grading system. All biology teachers, for example, will ensure tests, quizzes, labs, classwork, projects and homework are given the same percentage weight in each teacher’s classroom. An extra 95 minutes each week will give teachers professional development time.
Cimarron-Memorial will receive $105,000 for the 2013-14 school year. The turnaround status gives an additional $500,000, which Sarabyn is using to update the school’s Wi-Fi access and hire more staff.
“No more algebra classes with 40 or more students enrolled,” Sarabyn said. “We are now looking at 28 or less students in these classes.”
Typically, turnaround schools show no gigantic leap in student achievement but rather a change in climate with better school spirit and a higher energy level. After about two or three years, the higher achievement scores kick in.
A similar program used in the past declared schools “empowered.” In Summerlin, Bonner Elementary School, 765 Crestdale Lane, was given empowerment status in the 2008-09 school year.
Empowerment schools work with a flexible budget. The school identifies its specific needs and spends its allotted funds how it sees best. Bonner opted to focus much of its budget on more staff members, allowing for an extra 20 minutes of teaching each day.
Bonner principal Paul Catania said it’s not about the amount of money or how much staff but rather the quality of the teaching. He said a teacher must be willing to give 100 percent.
“If you look at funding, our funding’s been the lowest it’s ever been,” Catania said. “But if you look at scores, our scores are the highest they’ve ever been. … All across the country, the economy has changed, and we’re being forced to do more with less. And I think we’ve done a good job. … It’s been good in a way. It’s forced everyone to look at things a little bit differently. There’s no waste in the district any more.”
Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.