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Teachers uprooted as schools balance staffing levels

Teacher Shuffle

Paul Takahashi

Richard Bryan Elementary School fourth-grade teacher Melanie Danzeisen tears up as she hugs a student on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. Four teachers at Bryan are being affected by the Clark County School District’s decision to staff elementary schools at 98 percent. They are being shuffled to different grade levels and schools in order to level out the student-teacher ratio at overpopulated schools.

Teacher Shuffle

Third-grade teacher Sandra Davila leaves Richard Bryan Elementary School with her classroom belongings on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Teachers shuffled throughout school district

KSNV coverage of 135 teachers of the Clark County School District being moved to different schools, Oct. 7, 2011.

Almost two months into the new school year, Melanie Danzeisen thought she was all set at Richard Bryan Elementary School in Summerlin.

The fourth-grade teacher had volunteered dozens of hours over the summer to prepare her classroom and learn the new curriculum. She put up colorful educational posters on the bare white walls, bought school supplies and created name tags for each of her 27 students, who hug her goodbye every day when school lets out.

But on Friday, Danzeisen bid her students and fellow teachers farewell with tears streaming down her face.

Starting next week, Danzeisen will no longer make the familiar drive down the street from her house to Bryan — where she substituted and taught for 11 years and the school her four children attended. On Monday, Danzeisen starts teaching kindergarten at nearby Givens Elementary School.

Danzeisen, 45, is one of more than 200 teachers being shuffled around the Clark County School District more than six weeks into the school year to level out student-teacher ratios at schools with higher-than-expected student enrollment.

“After six weeks of being in the trenches doing all we can for these children, we’re being torn from them,” Danzeisen said. “I’ve been at this school since 1999. This is my home and my family.”

•••

For years, the official “count day” has been used by the state to determine per-pupil funding for public schools by counting how many students are enrolled at each school.

School districts also use the official count to fine-tune staffing levels at each school. In a city that has a high transient population, the count day helps the School District determine if its enrollment projections were accurate and whether it needs to adjust the number of teachers around the district.

Schools with higher-than-expected enrollment get more teachers. Schools with lower-than-expected enrollment might lose teachers.

Furthermore, the School District decided this year to staff elementary schools at 98 percent, because of multimillion dollar budget cuts. As a result, teachers are playing a game of musical chairs, as the district balances its goal for lower student-teacher ratios with its need to balance its budget.

The reshuffling occurs every year after students have settled into their classrooms and parents have gotten to know the teachers. More than a month into the school year, teachers are uprooted and children are suddenly assigned new teachers.

“I am exhausted, stressed, frustrated and sad,” Denzeisen said. “There has got to be a better way in this School District than going through this dreaded count day.”

Over the past several years, student enrollment has declined at Bryan, in part because of the economic downturn, Principal Steve Piccininni said.

Click to enlarge photo

Richard Bryan Elementary School second-grade teacher Stacey Lynn Gelhart packs up her classroom on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. Four teachers at Bryan are being affected by the Clark County School District's decision to staff elementary schools at 98 percent. They are being shuffled to different grade levels and schools in order to level out the student-teacher ratio at overpopulated schools.

However, at Givens — one of the district’s largest elementary schools, with more than 1,000 students — enrollment was above projections.

Denzeisen and third-grade teacher Sandra Davila are moving from Bryan to Givens to help alleviate its overcrowded kindergarten and second-grade classes.

Replacing Denzeisen and Davila at Bryan are two teachers from the second and fifth grades, which have fewer than expected students. Those teachers’ students are being dispersed among the remaining classes, raising class sizes in the second grade by five students and eliminating a dedicated science teacher in the fifth grade.

At Bryan, all but the kindergarten and first-grade levels are affected by the staffing adjustments.

“This makes it difficult on staff and the community, but most of all, the students whose classrooms are disrupted,” Piccininni said. “We’ll pull together and make it work somehow.”

•••

Stacey Lynn Gelhart spent all day Friday taking down her posters and charts, cleaning out her bookcases and desk so that she could move down the hall and around the corner to her new third-grade classroom — being vacated by Davila — by Monday.

Gelhart, a nine-year veteran at Bryan, was six weeks into teaching second grade for the first time when she got the notice last week she was switching grade levels. Like Denzeisen, Gelhart spent three weeks over the summer setting up her classroom and learning the second-grade curriculum. She now has until Monday to do all that over again for the third grade.

“I’m frustrated because I feel like I put in a lot of hours of my own time to prepare for this year, and now in the middle of the school year, I need to start all over again,” she said. “I need to learn a whole new curriculum by Monday. I feel I am not going to be the best teacher I can be with these kids with just a weekend to prepare.”

For Gelhart, Monday will be just like the first day of school. It’s a new classroom and a new group of students whose names she will need to learn and memorize. Report cards come out next month.

Davila, the departing third-grade teacher, said she is confident Gelhart will make a smooth transition into her former classroom. It will, however, take some time to learn her students’ personalities and academic strengths and weaknesses, she said.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” the five-year veteran at Bryan said. “It takes weeks to figure that out.”

Davila will become the ninth second-grade teacher at Givens. She plans to transfer her first-grade daughter from Bryan to Givens, so they can be together.

Click to enlarge photo

Richard Bryan Elementary School third-grade teacher Sandra Davila loads up a cart with her classroom belongings on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. Four teachers at Bryan are being affected by the Clark County School District's decision to staff elementary schools at 98 percent. They are being shuffled to different grade levels and schools in order to level out the student-teacher ratio at overpopulated schools.

If only she could do that with the rest of her third-grade students at Bryan, Davila said, with tears in her eyes. She will also miss her fellow teachers, who have become close friends, she said.

“It’s like saying goodbye to your family,” she said. “I created bonds with my students, but then they get snatched away from you. I’m going to miss these kiddos terribly.”

•••

Denzeisen wheels her fifth and final load of boxes to her large SUV in the parking lot. Her students were split among the other fourth-grade teachers on Friday so she could make the move to Givens.

She eyes her packed GMC Denali. Most of the fourth-grade material won’t be of any use in her kindergarten class, so it’ll go into storage, just in case she’s transferred back to teach fourth grade, she said.

In the meantime, she plans to buy new materials for her kindergarten class and spend the weekend setting up her new classroom.

Before she leaves for Givens, Denzeisen pops into each of her colleagues’ classrooms to say goodbye to her students at Bryan. Just the day before, Denzeisen broke the news to her students that she was no longer going to be their teacher.

A number of them cried, she said. Some were inconsolable. Some felt they were being abandoned, she said.

“I’m going to miss you,” a girl in a striped shirt said, giving Denzeisen a quick hug. A boy asks Denzeisen if she can leave behind a picture they can hang in their classroom.

“You’re going to be in good hands,” Denzeisen reassured her students. “I’ll stop by and visit, especially next week.”

The bell rings. Denzeisen leads her students out of the classroom and into the parking lot, where they are greeted by a swarm of parents. One by one, the students hug Denzeisen one final time. She chokes back tears.

One student hands her a letter, scrawled in pencil.

It reads: “I will miss you so much. I wish you would never leave. You are my favorite teacher. Without you, this will not be RHB (Richard H. Bryan Elementary School.)”

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