New hopes, old grudges collide as Clark County schools begin

In Shana Middleton’s portable classroom, empty desks await students in a room so quiet you can hear the air conditioning purr.

In the Clark County Government Center, angry teachers and support staffers applaud as colleagues tell the School Board they’re unappreciated and barely making ends meet.

The signs on the wall of Middleton’s eighth-grade classroom encourage students: “Don’t let the past define you” and “Learn from mistakes.”

The signs held by teachers at the School Board meeting make a demand: “Honor our contract now.”

It’s just days before the start of the school year, and already the noise outside the classroom is loud.

Support staffers want better pay and better health insurance. Teachers want to stop fighting the district for pay raises and insurance contributions that a judge ordered be given to them.

It’s the same stifling atmosphere that’s been hanging over Clark County schools for a while.

But in some ways, this is a period of the new. The district is embarking on a new school year with a new superintendent.

And although it may be naive, this new journey may bring something else the district really needs: hope.

Perhaps it’s the hope that Superintendent Jesus Jara says he’s heard as he meets with the community.

“My impression is that from the overall community, there seems to be a lot of energy and support — and excitement, I would say — for CCSD and for the children,” he told the Review-Journal editorial board this week.

Middleton, who teaches at West Prep Academy, is also new. She and her husband packed their car last week and made the trip from her home state of Louisiana, where she previously taught.

She came to Las Vegas for the first time last year on vacation — and also got married in true Vegas fashion.

“I was just awestruck by everything that I saw,” she said. “I fell in love with the mountains.”

Middleton contacted the school after seeing a job opening for social studies. Now, she’s preparing lesson plans for students who will pile into her room on Monday.

The cleanliness of her classroom reminded me of a clean slate.

“I came in and tried to figure out how I wanted my classroom to look,” she said of her first few days on the job. “I brought a few things that I have with me from my previous classroom here, just so I can kind of make it my own.”

Middleton notices similarities between Las Vegas and Louisiana, such as low achievement levels, but also notes some positive differences.

For one, her salary here is significantly higher than the $36,000 she made in St. Landry Parish, she said. She’s also looking forward to having a co-teacher assist in the class at times.

She may not know about the frustration and anger plaguing employees in the district, but she does know what it’s like when funding is tight.

“The school (in Lousiana) had to do a lot of its own fundraising,” she said. “Whatever money we could raise at that time was used to support the staff as well as activities for the kids.”

Who knows what this new year will bring? But here’s a toast to the new and the feeling that things will change for the better.

Middleton, at least, brought an optimistic outlook with her on her new journey.

“As an educator, you have to,” she said. “Each new school year brings hope.”

Contact Amelia Pak-Harvey at apak-harvey@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4630. Follow @AmeliaPakHarvey on Twitter. On Education appears every other Saturday.

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