"We're excited about the new school year. We're excited to get this rehab done and get the teachers and students back in the building," Cliff Hughes, Principal at the Virgin Valley High School remarked about the upcoming school year that begins Aug. 27. Hughes discussed a wide range of topics in a recent interview with the Mesquite Citizen Journal.
Teaching Positions in Aftermath of Layoffs
Much has been made in the Clark County School District (CCSD) about teacher lay-offs in the aftermath of an arbitrator's decision stemming from union negotiations earlier in the Spring. The arbitrator ruled that teachers must be given promised pay raises contrary to what the District wanted. The District therefore handed out about 1,000 pink slips to teachers across the County. Most of those teachers have been hired back to replace teachers who resigned or retired.
"We lost two positions at the high school," Hughes said. "Fortunately, I had two positions that did not have full-time teachers. One was a long-term substitute position. The other was a position we had traded out for other hours. So we didn't lose any actual bodies."
"But it still affects us. We've had to make some adjustments in our math program. We had some freshmen taking two math classes. We can't do that this year. And, our math classes are going to be larger."
Hughes explained that class sizes are remaining reasonable for core curriculum classes. He's projecting an enrollment of 690 students, about the same number as last year.
"We are still able to keep the average number of students in our core classes down around 30. But in our elective classes, we're in trouble." He remarked that some of the elective classes sizes range from 35 to 45 students.
Some elective classes were eliminated under the previous administration because of District cutbacks. "Our elective class programs are bare-bones. We realize that. I was hoping to bring a new elective class in this year but with the cutbacks I wasn't able to."
He's also concerned about the sports programs at the high school for the upcoming year. "We're hoping the kids will show up. The coaches are really excited. But we have to fill the rosters for the football teams. We're going into a new league after a recent realignment. We'll be in the new Division 1A league and it will be much more competitive."
Proposed Tax Increase and Construction Rehab
"We hope the public will support it," Hughes said about the property tax increase that's on the November ballot for the CCSD.
The ballot measure will add 21.20 cents on top of the .5534 cents homeowners and business owners already pay, for a total of 76.54 cents on every $100 of assessed value.
If approved, the Virgin Valley High School is slated to get a new gymnasium. It's the only school in the Mesquite area that would benefit from the tax increase. Moapa Valley High School in Overton/Logandale would receive major capital improvements and a new gymnasium. See MCJ story Additional School Tax Levy Wins Place on November Ballot-Video
The High School is in the final stages of completing a major rehabilitation on its building that's been in progress for the last year. "We'll be okay in that way. If the tax measure passes, we'll get a new gym which we badly need. So for us, we hope the public supports the increase. But there are a lot of schools in Vegas that are 20 or 30 years old. It takes a lot of maintenance to keep those schools up."
Hughes predicts that most of the school's rehab work will be completed by the time classes start Aug. 27. "But, we've had a lot of setbacks throughout the project. The contractors are telling us we'll be ready to open our doors. However, parts of the cafeteria won't be ready when school begins."
He explained that all of the equipment was removed from the cafeteria kitchen and the whole floor was ripped up. "Now, they're getting ready to replace all of that. We'll work around it. We've talked to the District office and we'll probably have trucks bring food in."
Some classes were held in portable classrooms last year because of the construction but Hughes thinks most of them will be gone this school year.
"We're just going to roll" with the situation, Hughes quipped. "What else are you going to do?"
Hughes himself has been severely affected by the construction rehab. He is currently working out of a conference room with equipment, books, papers, and
filing cabinets crammed into nooks and crannies all over the room. "My office is a mess. But I'm more concerned about getting the classrooms ready for the students. I can't find anything when I need it but I can deal with it."
"They (the District) have changed how they calculate graduation rates," Hughes explained. The numbers for the school year that ended this June aren't yet available. "They work a year behind. For the school year 2010-2011, the graduation rate was 67 percent. I assume we'll be close to that for the school year we just completed."
He went on to explain the different factors that go into calculating graduation rates. "We use what's called a 'cohort' method. When a kid comes in here as a freshman, he becomes part of a cohort group. If we cannot account for him when he is a senior, then he's classified as a drop-out."
"If a student transfers to another state and we don't know about it, he's classified as a drop-out for us. So unless the new school requests transcripts from us, which they usually do, we have to list the student as a drop-out."
"Every year, we have students that enroll in adult education classes rather than stay in regular classes. But, because adult education is not accredited to us, those students are classified as drop-outs even though they earned their diploma. The year before, we had 22 students that marched across the stage with a diploma. But they finished their classes through the adult education program. Under the cohort method of accounting for them, they were considered drop-outs on our record," Hughes lamented.
"Even special education kids that don't get a standard diploma are considered drop-outs. Even though they were here for four years and tried very hard, they can't pass the proficiency exams. They get a certificate of attendance instead. But they go against our graduation rate," Hughes explained.
Student Drug-Testing Program
"We are still in the process of developing the program," Hughes said about the student drug-testing program he wants to start in the high school. "The next step for us is to complete the parent survey. We started it in May but we need more responses from parents. As they come in to register their kids for school, we're asking them to complete the survey. Once that's finished, we'll go back to the District office and wait for their approval."
Parents and guardians must opt into the program and sign an agreement to have their child randomly tested throughout the school year. At least 80 percent of the parents/guardians must agree to the program before it can be implemented. Athletes cannot opt out of the program; they will be mandatorily tested according to Hughes.
See MCJ story VVHS Exploring Student Drug-Testing Program
Healthy Nutrition Programs
Hughes explained that the School District has guidelines on the kinds of foods that can and cannot be served to students.
"Soda pop and candy machines will not be turned on during class hours. Unfortunately, those machines used to be huge fundraisers for the schools," he commented. Some of the profits from food machine sales are given to the schools.
Hughes explained that while he was the Principal at Hughes Middle School, the school received about $15,000 in one year from machine sales. "That dropped to $5,000 after we began limiting the times we could sell soda and candy to the students. What we found though, was that students were still bringing the food and soda from home. That's what I found so frustrating. We were adhering to the new guidelines but some of the parents weren't."
"What we've found is that kids are going to eat what they want to eat. We can't control that and we're not going to try to control that. That's something that parents and kids are going to have to control. We're not going to go around confiscating food and sodas the kids bring from home."
According to the CCSD Web site, "Clark County School District created the CCSD Student Wellness Regulation 5157 in 2006. This governs the food served in cafeterias, student stores, vending machines as well as foods used for fundraising during the school day and 30 minutes before and after the first and last bell. The CCSD Food Service Department follows this regulation when planning menus for students. The ultimate goal is to positively impact how children think about food and create better lifelong eating habits." (More information about the CCSD food nutrition program is available at http://ccsd.net/departments/food-service/health-nutrition )