Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 | 2 a.m.
More than 312,000 children returned to Clark County public schools last week, heralding the start of another school year.
The nation’s fifth-largest school district has a new superintendent, who is experimenting with some new ideas this year. These new initiatives include special schools to help English-language learner students and reintroducing year-round schedules to alleviate crowding in some schools.
The Sun breaks down some of what’s new that parents, teachers and students should expect this school year:
The School District created 14 special elementary schools that will receive additional funding to help their high population of English-language learner students.
The 14 “Zoom to Literacy” schools are: Cambeiro, Cortez, Craig, Detwiler, Diaz, Herron, Lunt, Martinez, Paradise, Petersen, Ronzone, Tate, Warren and Williams. These schools will receive $39.4 million in additional state funding over the next two years to aid their non-English-speaking students.
Zoom schools will have lower student-to-teacher ratios than the average elementary school and offer prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten classes to help English-language learners get a head start in the classroom. Students also will be able to enroll in summer school and intersession classes to help them maintain their reading skills over breaks — often a time when they can fall behind.
Some of these schools will partner with UNLV to help students with their reading skills. All of the Zoom schools will receive funding for additional textbooks and supplies, as well as technology, such as tablet computers, headsets and laptop computers.
Three elementary schools in the southwest valley have shifted to a year-round schedule this year to alleviate student crowding.
The three schools — Forbuss, Reedom and Wright — each were designed for about 800 students, but last year they housed nearly 1,300 students as developers started to build new homes again after the recession.
The year-round schedule, while inconvenient for families wanting summer vacations, was more appealing than rezoning children to other schools, according to school board members. Last year, the School District had several meetings to decide the fate of more than a dozen southwest valley elementary schools, which had class sizes approaching 40 students.
The year-round schedule is expected to cost the district $1.5 million in additional staffing, transportation and utilities, as well as portable classrooms.
This year, Clark County welcomed a new superintendent, Pat Skorkowsky, who is a 25-year veteran of the School District.
Skorkowsky rose through the ranks from first-grade teacher to deputy superintendent and then interim superintendent. He brings a wealth of knowledge about the challenges facing the School District and has committed to increasing graduation rates and test scores for all students, “without excuses and without exceptions.”
This summer, Skorkowsky reorganized his central administration to focus on student achievement. He also quickly negotiated contracts with his staff unions, repairing relationships that had soured under his predecessor, Dwight Jones.
New teachers contract
Teachers are expected to have a contract in place at the start of this year, the first time that has happened since the 2010-11 school year. During the past two school years, contract negotiations fell into a bitter arbitration battle as Jones fought to keep budget cuts from affecting classroom programming.
The School District also recently approved a contract with its support staff union. Both the teachers' and support staff's contracts contain pay raises, which had been frozen during the past two years. District and union officials are heralding the swift contract approvals as a new era of cooperation between the sides.
Common Core state standards
Nevada is continuing to roll out the Common Core state standards, a new set of national benchmarks for reading and math adopted by 45 states. The standards outline, grade by grade, skills that students should have mastered, from kindergarten to high school. A new set of science standards is being developed.
With the new standards comes a new set of tests. After the 2013 legislative session, Gov. Brian Sandoval approved new graduation requirements for Nevada high school students. He eliminated the Nevada High School Proficiency Exam in favor of four end-of-course examinations, two in math and two in reading. While the new exams won’t affect students this year, middle school students will begin preparing for the new exams starting this year.
Next school year, juniors also will be required to take a college and readiness exam. The state Board of Education is expected to decide what that exam would look like. Members are considering the two common college entrance exams, ACT and SAT, as well as a new computerized assessment aligned with the Common Core being developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
School budget increases
After several years of drastic cuts, the School District received additional state funding that allowed it to hire additional teachers, add school resource officers at middle schools, and purchase new school buses and computers.
The School District hired nearly 1,800 new teachers this summer, the largest group of new hires since the recession. Average class sizes are expected to decrease by about three students districtwide. In addition, the district hired additional assistant principals at elementary schools with more than 600 students.
The district also put more money into credit recovery programs to help students who have fallen behind in classes and a summer “bridge” program to help remedial middle school students prepare for high school.
A new $34 million bond program will help replace 107 buses that are more than 14 years old and purchase 65 new buses for special-needs students. The district also will purchase 14,000 new computers with the bond over the next several years.