Monday, Aug. 29, 2005 | 11:10 a.m.
Clark County School District officials celebrated the start of a new academic year this morning with a tour of the biggest and potentially most efficient campus the district has built.
"It's big, maybe too big," Arbor View High School freshman Michael Molina said. "I'm not sure where I'm supposed to go."
Dozens of Arbor View teachers and administrators lined the corridors directing the more than 1,500 students who had arrived for the first day. That's about 1,200 students fewer than the school was built to hold. As is the district's practice with new high schools, Arbor View opened without a senior class.
The 330,000-square-foot Arbor View High School campus on Whispering Sands Drive near the Gilcrease Orchard, is the first of a new two-story prototype that uses a mall design.
"So far things are running smooth," Principal Pat Hayden said. "It's a beautiful facility and we hope our kids are going to take pride in it."
In recognition of the land's heritage, the school plans to expand its science program in the coming years to include agricultural education, Hayden said. Students this year will be able to take botany and horticulture. With a nearby tract of the Gilcrease Orchard slated to become a housing development the school plans to transplant as many of the site's fruit trees to the campus as possible, Hayden said.
Arbor View students will be able to concentrate their studies on vocational and occupational programs, college preparation, science or the fine arts.
Reducing the district's dropout rate and improving the graduation rate are two top priorities for the coming year, Walt Rulffes, interim co-superintendent, said. Developing more magnet programs and career-related learning opportunities, like those being offered at Arbor View, are key to addressing those issues, Rulffes said.
"We know freshman year is where the dropout problem really escalates so our plan is to give those students more individualized attention," Rulffes said. "We know if we can get them more excited about career paths early on they're more likely to stay with us for the whole four years."
The school's mall layout, with the four corners separated into "houses" and sharing the open central esplanade, will encourage a "small school environment" even though the school is by far the largest in the district, Rulffes said.
Incoming Arbor View junior Brittany Marez said she liked the idea of the various "houses" but was unimpressed with the layout.
"I spend enough time at the mall already," Marez said this morning. "I want my high school to look like a high school."
Though Arbor View is about 60,000 square feet larger than most other district high schools, it is expected to use less energy.
"This building rewrites the book on modern high school construction," said Bill Snyder, principal of Tate Snyder Kimsey Architects, which created the prototype. "By maximizing the efficiency of the building, students and teachers will also be able to perform at the highest level."
The district opened 10 new schools this morning: Batterman, Goynes, Hickey, Jeffers, Ries and Tartan elementary schools; Bailey, Mack and Del Webb middle schools; and Arbor View.
An 11th campus, Thiriot Elementary School, fell behind in its construction schedule and is scheduled to open Sept. 19. A replacement campus for the Miley Achievement Center, serving students with severe emotional disabilities, will open in December.
Student enrollment was expected to top 295,000, an increase of 5 percent over the prior academic year. And for the last month the district has been scrambling to fill more than 400 teaching positions, with the highest number of vacancies in special eduction.
Dozens of long-term substitutes were on the job this morning. They will be replaced in the coming weeks as more full-time teachers are hired, said George Ann Rice, associate superintendent of human resources. By later this fall the district expects to have hired more than 2,250 new teachers.