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Southwest’s growth includes 2 new elementary schools

Two of the seven Clark County School District elementary schools set to open this fall to help alleviate overcrowding are in southwest Las Vegas.

They are Dr. Beverly S. Mathis Elementary, 7950 Arville St., and Jan Jones Blackhurst Elementary, 11141 S. Pioneer Way. Each cost about $28 million to construct and is set to accommodate 850 students.

Enrollment in the School District increased from 319,713 in the 2015-16 school year to 322,770 in 2016-17, according to the district’s demographics department. The department’s projections for 2017-18 put the district above 323,000 students.

“Even during the recession, the growth never did stop,” said Rick Baldwin, director of Demographics, Zoning and Geographic Information Systems with the School District.

Baldwin’s department manages zoning for each school, tracks enrollment trends and creates projections for future school years. The team also keeps an eye on future real estate developments, tracking how many homes each will have and how many potential students it could bring.

For every 100 residential units built, the district can expect a yield of about 20 elementary students, Baldwin said.

The new schools are aimed at alleviating overcrowding at the southwest’s five existing elementary schools: Mark L. Fine, Robert L. Forbuss, Carolyn S. Reedom, Aldeane Comito Riesand William V. Wright.

William V. Wright was operating at almost 182 percent capacity in the 2016-17 school year, district figures show. The school had 1,247 students , much higher than its capacity of 686.

Robert L. Forbuss was close behind, at 165 percent capacity. Reedom was at 161 percent, Ries at 153 percent and Fine at 153 percent.

The five schools have been operating on a year-round calendar “to try to maximize the availability and use of that building,” Baldwin said. The schools are broken up into groups of students on five tracks. At any point, one “track” of students is out on break, because there’s not enough room for everyone.

All of the district’s schools are set to finally be on the same nine-month calendar starting Aug. 14.

The year-round schedule is “kind of like a revolving door,” said Paula Zephyr, assistant principal at Ries Elementary. To keep track of who is on break, “we have calendars on top of calendars on top of calendars,” Zephyr said.

Having one group of students out of school at all times also means activities have to be doubled up, so no one misses out on a book fair, popcorn party or reading week.

Changing every school’s calendar back to the nine-month rotation was a key focus of the district’s 2015 capital improvement plan, Baldwin said.

Going back to the nine-month calendar has pros and cons for families.

Previously, the year-round track meant families with both elementary school students and middle/high school students often had mismatched school breaks.

“For some families, this is going to be a very good change for them,” Zephyr said. “Now they can take vacations as a whole family.”

Other families prefer the year-round schedule so they can travel at other times of the year, she added.

“For us, it’s nice,” Zephyr said. “It’s tough for the kids to be in school in the heat knowing their siblings are home.”

The district estimated that operating schools year-round cost an additional $308,000 for each school, though some of the savings will be offset by starting school two weeks earlier, in mid-August, where the need for air conditioning will push utility bills higher.

Over the years, the district has installed more than 2,000 portable classrooms. The district’s elementary schools use more than 1,600 of them. Wright Elementary alone had 26 portables last year, more than any other elementary school in the valley.

Staff members at Ries Elementary have “become quite accustomed” to the 14 portables on campus, Zephyr said. Though the mobile classrooms don’t have restrooms, they do have air conditioning.

When school starts, Ries will still have 10 portable buildings.

“We’re grateful to have (the portables),” Zephyr said of the persistent need for space. “It’s scary to think of all those being gone.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at mreese@viewnews.com or 702-477-3834. Follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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