Year-round schools, growth and retention
Last week, we announced that three of our most overcrowded schools would be switching to a year-round schedule. While this brings about new challenges for the District, the families and the communities impacted by the decision, I want to talk about the facts behind this difficult choice and why I think it represents some positive changes.
Elections have consequences. The failure of Question 2 at the ballot box sent a clear message to the District that taxpayers want us to be more accountable with the funds we have before awarding us more money. What I wrote about the impact a loss would have on our schools last October was not hyperbole to get voters to see things our way, but the reality of what the cash-strapped District faces:
“I visited William V. Wright and Robert L. Forbuss Elementary Schools in the Southwest part of the valley. If you’re not familiar with these two schools, they’re both run by stellar administrators and staffed by outstanding teachers and support staff. The students are advancing academically and were a pleasure to be around.
“Both schools were built to house around 750 students. Today, both are bursting at the seams with nearly 1,200 students. To accommodate the growth, these schools have portables everywhere. Portable classrooms. Portable restrooms. Even a portable cafeteria. Students in Clark County deserve better.
“Conditions at Wright and Forbuss are simply not sustainable. The District will build two new schools to reduce overcrowding if Question 2 passes. If Question 2 does not pass, we’ve identified two possible solutions. First, we are considering busing students out of the area to other schools. The other option is to convert some campuses to year-round schools."
Converting those two campuses with the addition of Carolyn S. Reedom Elementary School was the least painful option in this case. I consider that a positive sign of what’s happening at each school. A massive rezoning effort would have prevented all three campuses from going to a year-round schedule but that idea was met with heavy opposition from parents who attended meetings to address overcrowding. They like their schools. That is a testament to the teachers, staff and administration. We wanted to honor those parents’ wishes and keep their children at the schools they thrive in and are used to.
Many staff and students have said to me that they didn't want to change anything because the schools are doing okay with the overcrowding. My first concern, though, is always student safety. Reedom could have more than 1,400 students in a year or two given current growth projections. That's too many elementary students for one nine-month campus.
The issue of growth will eventually have to be addressed district-wide. The Las Vegas valley is no longer experiencing the record-setting growth that we saw in the 90s and the early part of the new millennium, but we are still growing, and not just in the Southwest region.
I'm proud to say that the additional students we are seeing district-wide are not just a result of growth -- we're also seeing an increase in student retention in our middle and high schools. Over the past ten years, we have lost between 2,521 and 3,665 seniors between Count Day and February. This year, we have lost 2,012. That is still 2,012 too many -- but we are making progress in preventing our students from dropping out their senior year.
We look forward to continuing working with our community to address our District's growth and facility needs.
Dwight D. Jones
Superintendent of Schools