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New school year to bring challenges and changes

When students go back to school Aug. 26, there will be more of them than the Clark County School District has ever had. Newly hired Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said he expects 312,700 students.

“We don’t have enough seats available for all our students,” Skorkowsky said. “We’ve decreased our elementary seat capacity by 3.6 percent. We’re going to have to have more classrooms, and it’s getting to the point here we’re running out of portables.”

About 1,500 new teachers have been hired, but the district anticipates there will be at least 1,500 more students this year. Some of the teachers will replace positions vacated by teachers who retired or resigned, but the lion’s share of them will be brought in to fulfill state legislation to reduce elementary school classrooms to a 21-to-1 student-teacher ratio. Last year, the ratio was 23-to-1.

One solution to the problem is the return of a year-round schedule. Three elementary schools in the southwest valley, Forbuss, Wright and Reedom, are set to become year-round this year. The schools had an enrollment of 1,100 to 1,200 students last year, and it is anticipated that numbers will be higher this year.

It has yet to be determined which schools will become year-round in the 2014-15 school year, but Skorkowsky anticipates that schools in the north and central valley are the most likely candidates. Some schools in the Paradise/downtown area are likely to become year-round.

WATCHING OUT FOR EFFICIENCY

Skorkowsky said class size is an issue but one that will have to be worked out with the funds that are available.

“We’re going to have to weigh the cost versus making sure every child gets a quality education,” Skorkowsky said. “We’re going to have to make some difficult budget decisions.”

Among those decisions are determining which reform efforts and special education systems are working and which aren’t. Only one has been cut so far — Classworks, a computer-based program that was being used for special education in many valley schools.

“We’re looking at the reform efforts we’ve put in place,” Skorkowsky said. “We’re looking at what the investment is and what we’re getting for that investment. We’re ensuring that each of these reform efforts is giving us academic achievement in the classroom.”

The district determined that Classworks wasn’t being effectively used in the majority of the schools. It will be retained in two schools.

The One to One program, introduced in 2011, provides iPads to students in a number of middle schools.

“The technology is great for increasing student engagement,” academic manager Tam Larnerd said. “It’s just part of who kids are these days and how they interact with the world and one another.”

Larnerd oversees performance zone 13, an area that includes 24 schools, including portions of downtown.

“The dynamics of the communities that the schools of PZ13 serve are very different,” Larnerd said. “We added new schools in Summerlin to the zone this year, and I’m looking forward to sitting down at the table with all those diverse elements.

Garside Middle School, 300 S. Torrey Pines Drive, is in Larnerd’s zone and is included in the One to One program.

“The goal is to seek out substantive apps that can add to the rigor of the classwork that the students are doing,” Larnerd said. “They need to be working tools.”

Larnerd said he had seen students’ iMovie presentations that showed great skill at working the program and making a slick presentation but that didn’t show a firm grasp of the subject being presented. He said that with the right guidance, the technology can serve the educational process.

STATE EXAMS TO UNDERGO CHANGES

One large change that will affect eighth-grade students this year was the vote by the Nevada Legislature to end the high school proficiency exams in math, science, reading and writing beginning in 2018. This year’s freshmen will be the last class required to pass the tests.

This doesn’t mean that testing is being discontinued.

“There will still be testing, but instead of one big test at the end of the students’ academic career, there will be tests at the end of each year,” Larnerd said.

The change may help increase the district’s graduation rate, which was 61 percent for the 2011-12 school year. Budget concerns aside, Skorkowsky plans to focus on five points: achievement; ensuring that every graduate is college-ready; quality teachers; parental and community involvement; and innovation and equitable educational opportunities that take into consideration the diverse community and yield results in the form of student scores.

Skorkowsky said he is looking for ways to make parents more involved with their children’s schooling.

“We have to get parents in the door so they can see the classroom,” Skorkowsky said. “We have to figure out ways to allow them to be active participants in their child’s education, because that is a major factor in the success rate.”

The school district is working with the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce and Strip properties to help engage parents who work during school hours.

“We’ll be looking at setting up tables in employee dining rooms in major casinos so that we can teach them to stay involved with their child’s grades, attendance and how to communicate with teachers more effectively,” Skorkowsky said.

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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