Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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School starts in Clark County amid familiar struggles, new bright spots

first day of school ccsd

Mikayla Whitmore

Students start their first full-day of kindergarten in Miss Pirrone’s class at James B. McMillan Elementary School in Las Vegas on Aug. 29, 2016.

Students headed back to class this week may not notice anything different, but this school year is a big one for the fifth largest district in the nation.

For starters, it’s the first time full-day kindergarten will be a standard offering at every school in the Clark County School District, a byproduct of a $142 million investment made by legislators last year. Previously, only certain schools offered the classes, and some charged an annul fee of around $3,000.

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky was on hand at McMillan Elementary early Monday to greet families arriving to take advantage of the classes.

First Day of School

Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky talks with students at Dean Petersen Elementary School in Las Vegas on Aug. 29, 2016. Launch slideshow »

The district has long wanted to offer the service — research universally has found that full-day kindergarten is beneficial to kids — but funding and space issues were a barrier.

“It’s been a challenge,” said Rick Baldwin, CCSD’s director of demographics and zoning. "All of our schools were built for half-day kindergarten.”

The lack of space is still an issue, though the district has found a workaround by simply plopping down more portable classrooms.

Wright Elementary, nestled in the rapidly expanding community of Mountain’s Edge, has nearly 500 more students this year than it was designed for. Staff likely won’t see any relief until a new school — one of 13 either under construction or in the planning phase — is completed nearby in time for the 2019-20 school year.

The district has incrementally added portable classrooms to keep up with enrollment at Wright, including four this year just for full-day kindergarten. The school now has 28 portables, holding all of its third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. They eat lunch in a specialized “cafeteria portable,” a claustrophobic room with no windows, because the regular lunchroom would be too crowded. Kids are funneled like livestock in one door and out another, stenciled “IN” and “OUT” in military-style lettering.

“We have several of these, unfortunately,” Skorkowsky told reporters. “But they work.”

At Petersen Elementary, across the street from the Boulevard mall, news was a bit more positive.

The school’s partnership with Wynn Resorts landed it a new sound and lighting system as well as a renovated teacher’s lounge, where volunteers as late as Saturday moved in a handful of marble-top tables from the resort’s surplus.

“By having the partnership with Wynn, it has allowed us to meet our needs easier,” said Principal Krista Yarberry.

The district has tried to encourage public-private partnerships like this, and schools involved in them are termed "Reinvent Schools." Paradise Elementary, on the same block as UNLV, has partnered with the university.

At CCSD's high schools, graduation rates are the name of the game at the moment. Only 70 percent of students in Nevada graduated in 2014, putting the state ahead of only Washington, D.C., and New Mexico.

The new school year brings other changes, including the removal of seven elementary schools from Year-Round status. The change is estimated to save the district around $1.8 million.

But the legacy of the 2016-17 school year will be a bittersweet one for CCSD, or at least its administrators in the central office.

By this time next year, the much-discussed reorganization of the district will have been mostly completed, and CCSD as it has existed for decades will be gone.

In its place is an ambitious plan to make school staff and local parents the engine of decision-making, with top-level officials taking a supporting role.

“For some of our schools it will be new, and we will have to see how it plays out,” Skorkowsky said.

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