Clark County school kids return to the classroom amid the reorganization experiment

School starts early this year, but the most significant change as Clark County students head back to class on Monday will be the nascent experiment involving empowerment campuses.

The mid-August start is itself somewhat of an experiment. Back in 2015, the trustees decided to revise the district’s schedule beginning in the 2017-18 school year. Students will still spend the requisite 180 days in class, but those days will be more spread out. The new calendar more closely mirrors a typical college schedule, giving students the opportunity to take their end-of-semester testing before — not after — the winter break.

The intention is to keep grades up by ending the quarter prior to the extended vacation, minimizing the distraction of the December recess. We shall see. And while many students may grumble over the earlier start this year, they’ll certainly be pleased to know that they won’t be schlepping to classes in June, as they did under the previous schedule. The new calendar ends on May 22.

But the most notable adjustment for the Clark County School District — the nation’s fifth-largest — will be the implementation of the state-mandated reorganization. The district’s central offices are being shifted into new categories with the hope of boosting efficiencies and outcomes.

The reform is intended to deconsolidate the district’s massive bureaucracy and transfer power and decision-making to parents and individual principals. Officials at each school will theoretically have the authority to handle budgets and select which services or programs best fit their unique circumstances. The more grass-roots approach should encourage more parental involvement.

No doubt there will be glitches — anything that upsets the existing order will generate controversy and resistance. Indeed, some trustees have tried to undermine the proposal since its initial passage at the 2015 Legislature. But district officials and teachers should view it as an opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t — and to showcase policies at successful schools in an effort to improve achievement across the district.

Finally, with roughly 320,000 students and 40,000 teachers heading back to school, safety is a concern. Metro and school district police are reminding motorists to slow down around schools and to practice safe pedestrian habits.

Drivers endangering others by speeding through school zones will face hefty fines, double the usual punishment. Parents also need to remember to stop behind school buses and to remove all distractions, such as cellphones and headphones, when bringing their kids to school.

The Clark County School District’s long-term struggles are well-documented. Let’s hope the optimism that accompanies the first day of school, along with reforms meant to help unleash the potential within each student, will put the district on a more encouraging trajectory.

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