Bigger classes in session

Eldorado High School’s shrinking enrollment might remedy overall campus crowding, but its individual classroom populations are expected to remain large this year.

It’s a situation common throughout the Clark County School District as students head back to school today.

Eldorado Principal Ron Lustig said the larger class sizes are the result of staff reductions. The reductions are part of $120 million in program cuts made by the district because of the state’s financial crisis.

Although the district calls for staffing grades 4-12 with one teacher for every 30 students, Eldorado this year will have about 35 students per teacher, Lustig said.

Eldorado, at 1139 N. Linn Lane, east of Nellis Boulevard and south of Washington Avenue, expects enrollment to drop by one-third this year thanks to rezoning and a new school opening. Freshmen, who last year had to attend classes at the former Bishop Gorman school site on Maryland Parkway, no longer will have to use the overflow campus, now owned by the Clark County School District.

Eldorado served 3,153 students last year and 3,400 students two years ago. This year, enrollment is expected to be just under its ideal capacity of 2,300.

The district also is opening six new schools this year, new construction that signals the sunset of a 10-year building program for the nation’s fifth-largest public school system.

Sunrise Mountain High School, 2575 N. Los Feliz St., near Carey Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard, is providing enrollment relief to Eldorado. And the new school is drawing students from two other eastern valley high schools. Desert Pines High School, near Washington and Pecos Road, was 8 percent over its capacity last year. Las Vegas High School, near Sahara Avenue and Hollywood, was 29 percent over its capacity last year.

Sharon Dattoli, district director of demographics, said that an area generally does not feel the full relief of new school openings until the second year. That is because new schools are generally not at capacity when they open.

Sunrise Mountain is opening with grades 9 through 11 and is expecting 1,650 students. The school will not have a senior class until 2010-11.

Although the district is opening with new schools and reduced staffing levels, Lustig credited district administration for giving the schools enough warning to plan for shortfalls.

District spokesman Michael Rodriguez said efforts have been made to minimize the effects of reduced funding at the classroom level as much as possible. He said the district has hired between 500 to 600 new teachers for the school year.

The district cut 209 teaching positions last year, but all teachers whose positions were eliminated were able to be placed in other district assignments, Rodriguez said.

After years of rapid growth, enrollment has leveled off. District officials this year expect a slight increase over last year’s 311,000 students.

Henderson parent Kevinn blames the district for poor planning.

He contends that the district has enough seats for about 370,00 students and that with some 60,000 vacant seats, it could close schools and reduce student-to-teacher ratios. "Lift the grid" is his solution for reducing class sizes through better zoning.

Joyce Haldeman, assistant superintendent for community relations, said Donovan’s plan would involve putting all elementary schools on year-round schedules, which is not something district officials think the public wants.

Rodriguez said it’s incorrect to think that the district has empty classrooms. When new schools do open under capacity, the unused classrooms serve other functions, such as study halls or meeting places for student government.

Also, class sizes will vary according to other circumstances.

Because Cheyenne High School, 3200 W. Alexander Road, is an empowerment school, it got additional private funding for innovative programs. District empowerment schools work to improve student performance through increased autonomy, smaller class sizes and a longer school day.

Principal Jeff Geihs used the extra funding to hire five additional teachers to keep class sizes at 30 students per teacher in core subjects such as English, history, algebra and physics.

"I don’t think large class sizes will be a problem," Geihs said.

In spite of the challenges at Eldorado, Lustig said he is fortunate to have a motivated staff. On Saturday, Lustig opened the school to teachers who wanted to make last-minute preparations. Eldorado has come close to meeting the education benchmarks of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. This year could be the year they succeed.

"We’ve made great gains," Lustig said. "Now it’s time to push the envelope."

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug or 702-374-7917.

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