Southwest-area elementary schools hoping to relieve overcrowding issues

Under clear skies on May 18, the Ries Rockettes — Ries Elementary School’s cheer team — added a little grace to an otherwise dirt-and-shovel affair. Heavy machinery loomed in the background.

The occasion: Clark County School District’s groundbreaking for an as-yet unnamed elementary school at the corner of Arville Street and West Mesa Verde Lane.

For kids returning to class on Aug. 29 — as well as parents and staff members — there’s more change in the air than the smell of autumn.

According to the school district, the Arville-Mesa Verde site marked the second of six new elementary schools to break ground in 2016, with funds from the school district’s 2015 Capital Improvement Program. The new school will ease the burden of five nearby, overcrowded elementary schools.

“I think it will be good ‘cause a lot of the schools on this side are going year-round because they’re getting too crowded,” said Trew Akiyama, a Rockette, who’s most comfortable doing flips. She’s also a fifth-grader at Ries.

While her school is fun, she said, “It’s slightly crowded.”

CCSD Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky agreed.

“We have students who live on the west side of I-15 who actually attend school on the east side of I-15,” he said. “The school in this area will not only alleviate the overcrowding of Ries Elementary School but actually downsize Wiener and Hill on the other side and let families have a school that’s closest to their home.”

Facing the challenge of “catching up to the growth of the valley,” he added, the school district is working to build the schools, get the doors open to alleviate overcrowding and bring education in the valley closer to home.

The passage of SB 207 made the 2016 groundbreakings possible, allowing for 10 years of bonding authority for new school construction and renovation and an anticipated $4.1 billion in funding, according to the district.

Overall, the 2015 legislative session jumpstarted the construction of six new elementary schools, to open in 2017. In addition to the Arville-Mesa Verde site, a site at Maule Avenue and Grand Canyon Drive is on the list. And a replacement school for Bell Elementary is expected to be completed in 2017.

Sites at Ford Avenue and Riley Street, and Interstate 15 and Dean Martin Drive, are scheduled to open in 2018.

The school district will also offer four new magnet Academy of International Studies programs this year. Among them: the Spring Valley High School Academy of International Studies, grades nine and 10. The advanced curriculum will help students develop international understanding and commitment to service and community.

That program is made possible by a budget for the new school year approved by the Clark County School District Board of School Trustees on May 18. It covers $2.3 billion in expenditures. It takes into account items such as the expansion of the international programs; school-based staffing increases of 58 licensed positions; 123 licensed special education staff; and 57 support staff; an increase in class-size ratios; and a projected average daily student enrollment of 321,308 students.

The district also anticipates a savings of $1.8 million, with the removal of seven schools from the year-round schedule for the 2016-17 school year. Among them is Tanaka Elementary School.

Also in the works for this new school year: Wynn Elementary School will join Roundy and Vegas Verdes Elementary Schools under the leadership of principal John Haynal. Roundy will get off the turnaround zone list, demonstrating success.

In addition, UNLV’s College of Education will partner with Paradise Elementary School to create a research-based environment for innovation.

At press time, Guillermo Lifoifoi, a spokesman for the district, had no news on principal changes or new teacher hirings. As of Aug. 9, the district still needed 331 teachers. On the same date last year, there were 963 vacancies. A state-approved provisional licensing regulation has eased the process of applying for a license for out-of-state teachers. But it hasn’t changed the requirements, Lifoifoi added.

Student/teacher ratios will increase. They’ll rise by one student in grades 4 and 5 at underperforming elementary schools; by one in all grades at other elementary schools; and by 1.5 in middle and high schools.

Meanwhile, consideration of the plan to reorganize Clark County School District continues.

Shawn Paquette, principal of Blue Diamond and Forbuss Elementary schools, said he’s excited about working toward a revival of the “Empowerment” school model. Empowerment could accompany reorganization.

Blue Diamond Elementary has an enrollment of about 35 students.

“The funding formula would change, which will provide that school with more funds,” he said. “I can take those funds and create programs or even turn it into a small magnet school.”

That possibility conjures up pipe dreams that might now be within reach — a drama program, a choir, or the possibility of creating a technology magnet school.

“When I’ve had people speak to me about taking an open enrollment seat, that’s one of the drawbacks,” Paquette said. “They want their kids to be exposed to some of these things that other schools have.”

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