Clark County School District leaders joined students, teachers and elected officials at events throughout the valley to kick off the first day of school.
The country’s fifth-largest district, with more than 360 campuses, returned for classes Monday following a year marked by concerns over school safety, a national teacher shortage and dysfunction on the School Board.
“The goal for the day, just to be quite candid, is getting our kids to school and getting them home,” Superintendent Jesus Jara said at an early-morning event with bus drivers who were starting their routes for the day. “That is the No. 1 priority to get all of the systems moving with children.”
Some students and staff also were met with fanfare in the form of a red carpet by Gov. Steve Sisolak, U.S. Rep. Susie Lee, Jara and other officials gathered at Kelly Elementary School on the Historic Westside.
Earlier this year, the district reported that Kelly had the highest teacher vacancy rate in the district at 40.7 percent. Nearly 80 percent of students at schools with at least a 20 percent teacher vacancy rate are Black or Hispanic, according to the district’s numbers.
“For the academic year I’m going to tell you we’ve got to try and fill our vacancies,” Jara said. “Our academic numbers have to improve.”
Sisolak said he had made a point to visit Kelly for the last several years for the first day of school because of its diverse population. More than 90 percent of the households in the school community were headed by single moms, he said.
“That school, they need to know, the students, the teachers, the faculty, everybody … that the community is behind them and we support them,” he said.
‘A crisis of inequities’
The district had 291,893 students enrolled on the first day of school, according to Jara.
District spokesman Tod Story said families are expected to continue enrolling students throughout the week, and the district doesn’t expect to certify its official enrollment until count day in September.
Classrooms were 92 percent staffed with teachers heading into Monday, director of recruitment Brian Redmond said last week. In mid-July, the district had more than twice as many job openings as it did for the same period in previous years, according to data obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Schools had a 62.5 percent “substitute fill rate” — or the number of classrooms on the first day that were covered by substitute teachers.
The rest were covered by teachers selling their preparation periods and administrators from the district’s central office being deployed to classrooms.
Jara said the teacher shortage is “a crisis of inequities,” since many schools with the largest number of vacancies are largely in the north valley.
He said the district is monitoring the situation, and channeling substitute teachers to those campuses is a high priority.
90 percent on-time arrival for buses
There are 82 vacant bus driver positions, compared with 250 vacancies at one point last year, according to District Transportation Director Jennifer Vobis.
Vobis said safety was a top priority as 1,302 buses hit the roads to transport kids on the first day of school.
Last month, the district announced it had upgraded cameras on buses to allow for real-time surveillance capabilities.
The district had a 90 percent on-time arrival rate for buses Monday, Jara said.
Later in the school day, a district bus caught on fire, prompting a partial closure of the 215 Beltway in the western Las Vegas Valley.
Nevada Highway Patrol spokeswoman Ashlee Wellman said the bus caught on fire on the shoulder of the highway at 12:30 p.m. near Hualapai Avenue. Only the bus driver was on board, and no one was injured.
As students streamed through the front entrance of Eldorado High School to start their first day of classes, they did so through a single point of entry that was just one of the latest security measures the district adopted following the brutal attack of a teacher at the school in April.
In the wake of the attack, the district announced new security measures at valley schools, including an instant alert system, upgraded security cameras and increased police presence. Eldorado will receive more than $26 million in promised upgrades.
Fifteen-year-old junior Ethan Burton said the teacher who was attacked last year was his English teacher.
“I felt pretty bad about it. She was such a nice person, I don’t know why somebody would do something like that,” he said. “I can only hope she’s better now.”
The district also has authorized $99,970 in upgrades for Clark High School and, at its Thursday board meeting, will recommend that an instant alert system it has piloted at several valley high schools be implemented throughout the entire school community.
Law enforcement did not respond to any incidents on the first day of school, Jara said at a midday news conference.
Jara issued a message to parents, calling them the “first line of defense” and encouraging them to ask their children about their day at school and then dive deeper to ask what they learned and how they can support them.
At Duncan Elementary in North Las Vegas, Jara also toured the school’s “Zen Den,” which was created pre-COVID-19 pandemic to help children curb aggressive behaviors in an appropriate way, Principal Amy Manning said.
After children returned to campuses in 2021 after a year of distance learning, the focus shifted to it being used as a positive reward, as well as for students who need more support.
Teachers and staff also use the room during preparation time when they need a calming environment or a reset, Manning said. “Everyone is entitled to a bad day.”
Shortly after the dismissal bell rang at Foothill High School in Henderson, students streamed outside as parking lots and nearby streets became congested with cars.
Sixteen-year-old Savannah Thomas, who was standing on a sidewalk near the school with her bicycle, said there were lots of new faces on the first day of school, noting she has friends who have graduated.
Thomas said there are stricter tardy lockouts — when the school’s entrance is locked — and new gates.
She said the first day wasn’t much different than past years, but she noticed one change: “The security is a lot better.”
Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter. Contact Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or email@example.com. Follow her @lolonghi on Twitter.
— Staff writer Glenn Puit contributed to this report.
Contact Lorraine Longhi at 480-243-4086 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @lolonghi on Twitter. Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at email@example.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.