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Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

And so it begins...

Students start classes; district opens 10 new schools

CORRECTION -- 08/31/05 -- The city of Geneseo, Ill., was misspelled in a back-to-school story in Tuesday's Review-Journal.


Students attend the first day of school at Arbor View High School Monday. The school, on Whispering Sands Drive near the Gilcrease Orchard, opened with about 1,500 students. Like most new high schools, it opened without a senior class. The school, which is 330,000 square feet, will still have a small feel because students are housed in wings organized by grade level.
Photo by Gary Thompson.

District co-superintendent Agustin Orci, and Regina Adams, principal of Martin Middle School, tour the facility Monday. The two are walking past the site of the school's former gymnasium, which burned down July 5 as a result of children playing with fire.
Photo by Gary Thompson.

Sophomore Michael Green came armed for his first day of class at newly opened Arbor View High School with more than just pencil and paper -- he carried a Styrofoam cup of coffee in each hand.

"I can't survive without my coffee. I usually make my own, but it was too early for that today," said Green, shortly before the onset of the academic year, which began at Arbor View at 7 a.m.

Green, like many students in Clark County, has changed schools several times to accommodate what continues to be one of the fastest-growing school systems in the nation. He has been rezoned seven times since the first grade.

On Monday, the district opened up 10 new schools. Thiriot Elementary School, located on West Harmon Avenue near Lindell Road, will open Sept. 19 because of construction snags.

Clark County, which remains the fifth-largest district in the country, is expected to gain an enrollment of about 5 percent, with its 313 schools topping out somewhere near 296,000 students.

District officials said the transition into the school year was relatively seamless, except for students who tried to ride the bus home Monday afternoon.

Shannon Evans, a field supervisor for the district's department of transportation, said about 1,100 of the about 100,000 bus riders experienced delays of up to an hour.

Evans added that the problems of buses being delayed is no worse than in the past few years. She said they can be attributed to the district being short about 100 bus drivers, coupled with the fact there are still nearly 44,000 students who have not been registered for their proper bus routes.

"We're going to take them if they are at the bus stop," she said of students who are not registered to ride. "We can't leave them on street corners, it's too unsafe."

Evans said delays can be expected for the next six weeks.

Students from Martin Middle School almost didn't get the chance to begin classes at the downtown Las Vegas school. A fire on July 5 destroyed the facility's gym. Though it threatened other parts of the school, additional damage was slight.

"I thought I was definitely going to a different school," said Rose Byrd, an eighth-grader at Martin. "It's nice to be able to come back for my last year."

Co-superintendent Agustin Orci toured the school Monday and said it was a seven-day-a-week job to get the school ready for students' return.

The fire in the gym, which is expected to cost about $6.5 million to replace, caused minimal smoke and water damage to the school's cafeteria and three classrooms.

After the fire, the gym was demolished, ceiling tiles in the cafeteria were replaced, and some electrical wiring in the damaged classrooms was also replaced.

The district is expected to shoulder about $100,000 of the damage, and the rest will be covered by its insurance policy.

"It's amazing that we can gear up for the first day of school and not miss a beat," Orci said of the efforts to open school on time.

Dave Broxterman, the district's administrative manager of facilities, said students at the school temporarily will have physical-education classes outside on the school's various athletic courts.

District officials said two double-wide portables will serve as locker rooms.

Broxterman said district officials are weighing some more long-term options of where to conduct gym classes, including purchasing a tentlike structure or having students walk to a the Chuck Minker Sports Complex, about a block away from the school.

Regina Adams, principal at Martin, said basketball players will conduct practices at that facility, the Chuck Minker Sports Complex, when the season begins.

As of Monday, district officials said they were short about 280 teachers, with the majority of the vacancies in the field of special education.

All openings will be filled by substitute teachers.

To fill the voids, the district has resorted to filling some of it's "high-needs" areas, which include math, science and teachers for students whose primary language is not English, by recruiting instructors from the Philippines, Canada and Spain.

The majority of the international teachers, 51, come from the island nation.

But some students from Desert Pines High School said there was a language barrier between the American students and some Filipino teachers.

Logan Launer, a freshman at Desert Pines, said his Filipino homeroom teacher had trouble understanding him on Monday.

"I'd tell her one thing, and she'd think I would say another," he said.

Other teachers in the district also began their day in new surroundings.

Meridith McCombs, a band teacher at the newly opened Mack Middle School, hails from Genseo, Ill.

Mack is one of three new middle schools to open Monday.

McCombs said she would love to have instruments in the kids' hands by next week, but will focus on gaining a routine for her students in the next few days.

Before her class ended, she quieted her students, who were getting restless.

"Teaching is a very loose term today, it's more like corralling," she said.

Review-Journal writer Jens Manuel Krogstad contributed to this report.


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