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Southwest schools looking at positive school year

For the first time in four years, the Clark County School District can breathe a cautious sigh of relief.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky said that while the school district did not receive a lot of funding during the state legislative session, he does not anticipate budget cuts for the 2013-14 school year.

“Over the last four years, we’ve had to cut $80 million,” Skorkowsky said. “This is the first time we’re not having to make cuts of that nature. We’re cautiously optimistic.”

In addition, the school district filled more than 1,500 teaching positions across the valley. Although some of these teachers were brought in to fill retirements and resignations, most of them are new.

“We are focusing on two things: one, adding back in the teachers we had to cut because of loss in arbitration,” Skorkowsky said. “Two, we have to keep classes at a certain ratio in certain schools.”

SCHOOL OVERCROWDING

Overcrowding continues to be an issue for schools in the valley as Skorkowsky anticipates more than 312,000 students to be enrolled in the district by next year.

Because of the large influx of students, Forbuss, Reedom and Wright elementary schools were placed on a year-round, five-track schedule, in which only four-fifths of the students are on campus at any given time.

The solution came after a 2012 ballot question regarding funding for new schools failed.

Forbuss Elementary School has a small city of portables just off its playground, including 18 classrooms, a cafeteria and bathrooms. The school, 8601 S. Grand Canyon Drive, was built for about 780 students but is expecting to start the year with about 1,220.

Despite going year-round, the school is scheduled to receive two additional classroom portables at the end of August.

“I think going year-round was the best decision for the enormous growth out here. I have five housing developments going up,” said Shawn Paquette, principal of Forbuss. “We’re expecting 50 percent of students to be new. It’s a lot different from when we opened six years ago.”

A state legislature mandate required the school district to cut kindergarten class sizes, reducing elementary seat capacity by 3.6 percent.

“We’ll have to make some sacrifices. We’re literally running out of portables,” Skorkowsky said. “We have to weigh the costs versus making sure every child gets a quality education.”

However, Paquette is sure the quality of his students’ education will not be affected by going year-round.

“We’re a five-star school, so I’d say we’re doing pretty darn well,” he said. “It goes to show that, even with overcrowding, you can still attain the same achievement that other smaller schools can.”

TURNAROUND SCHOOL

Roundy Elementary School, 2755 Mohawk St., made double-digit improvements in all subjects during its first year in the turnaround program after 50 percent of the staff was replaced.

“Principal John Haynal is very prescriptive,” said Jeff Geihs, academic manager of the turnaround school zone. “He continued to have structures and systems that monitored the progress, aggressively and frequently. When there was a lack of progress, he had other systems and structures to fix it.”

The school’s success came from changing the culture of the school and focusing more on academics, according to Haynal.

“This has been a highly transient school in the past, but we have about 85 percent of our kids that ended the year with us signed up to come back,” he said.

Hancock Elementary School was also introduced to the turnaround program in the 2011-12 school year. Principal Jerre Moore continues to increase her students’ proficiency in math, reading and writing, according to Geihs.

Sunrise Mountain High School, Cimarron-Memorial High School and Wilhelm Elementary School will be introduced to the turnaround academic zone this school year.

They join Carson, Elizondo, Hancock, Roundy, and Sunrise Acres elementary schools, O’Callaghan Middle School and Canyon Springs, Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools in the program.

“It’s an opportunity for schools in the community,” Geihs said. “It’s not a punishment.”

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

The school district is also focusing on increasing parent engagement at both the school and district level to improve student achievement.

“Those students who are active successfully in school have actively involved parents,” said board Trustee Lorraine Alderman. “We want to show parents it doesn’t matter if they didn’t graduate high school or were born in a different country. They can still help their child be successful.”

At a community level, schools will have a parent-teacher group to inform and get parents involved in making classroom decisions. At the district level, parent representatives at each school will have access to the performance zone academic managers and district trustees to voice opinions and concerns.

“We realize if we don’t engage our parents, then we’ve lost one of the most important allies we have in the children’s education,” Skorkowsky said.

Clark High School is one of five schools that has a family resource center on campus. The center is open for families that do not have access to a computer.

“Our strive is to push (parents) to engage in their child’s education and feel comfortable being part of it,” said assistant principal Gena Reagh. “The more parents are involved, the better the students are.”

Tam Larnerd, academic manager of performance zone 13, will be using the “three R’s” in efforts of closing the achievement gap: rigor, relevance and relationships.

“We want to make sure we make the classes engaging and rigorous and relevant,” Larnerd said, “but we also want the schools to connect with the community and cultivate relationships with parents and students.”

Contact Southwest/Spring Valley View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at cbelcher@viewnews.com or 702-383-0403.

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