Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: EDUCATION:

District guessed right on enrollment

Accurate projection of slower growth means no layoffs

The Clark County School District’s enrollment has grown by just under 1 percent this year, according to the head count taken Friday.

The third Friday in September is the official “count day” used by the Nevada Education Department to determine school funding. Although the district’s enrollment won’t be official until the state verifies and accepts figures, there were 311,356 students in school Friday. That’s 2,611 more than last year, an increase of 0.8 percent.

Before the economy took a downward turn, the district had been predicting enrollment growth of 1.7 percent, to 314,136 students. But that estimate was revised in the spring, and this summer the district announced that schools would be staffed at 98 percent of the projected need.

That decision has paid off, Clark County Schools Superintendent Walt Rulffes said. Instead of facing possible layoffs because enrollment fell short of projections, some schools will now be hiring, Rulffes said.

The demographics of Friday’s head count show the district remains a “minority majority,” with white students accounting for 35.4 percent of the total enrollment. That’s a decline of nearly 1 percent since last year, and more than 8 percent since 2003. The district’s Hispanic student population continues to increase, and now stands at 40.4 percent, up a half-percent since 2007. Black students make up 13.9 percent of the enrollment, a figure that has remained relatively unchanged in five years.

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As principal of Clark County’s first “empowerment” high school, Jeff Geihs gets extra per-pupil funding and more control over Cheyenne High School’s daily operations in exchange for stricter accountability.

And one of the first uses of those empowerment dollars will be to foot the bill for all Cheyenne students who take the Advanced Placement exam, which can translate into academic credit at many colleges and universities.

As reported by the Sun, nearly a third of students in AP classes didn’t take the exams last year. Some students opt out because the colleges to which they are applying don’t offer AP credit, or because they worry about scoring poorly. But for others, especially those who take as many as six AP classes, paying $84 per exam is a hardship.

Last year, Cheyenne had enough AP students to fill 450 classroom seats, but fewer than half took the exam, one of the district’s lowest participation rates.

Recent studies suggest that AP students who take the exam (including those who don’t score well) fare better academically in college than their peers who skipped the test. That’s one reason why School Board member Carolyn Edwards wants to make taking the exam a requirement for AP students.

And there’s another benefit, Geihs told the School Board at a recent meeting. Newsweek magazine’s annual ranking of the nation’s top high schools uses a formula that rewards campuses where the number of AP exams taken in a given year exceeds the size of the graduating class.

“That’s a very achievable goal, especially at my school,” Geihs told the School Board.

The low participation rate at Cheyenne “has always been about affordability,” Geihs said. “We are removing the (financial) barriers and making education the equalizer it should be for all students.”

The most recent appearance by a Nevada public school on the Newsweek list was Green Valley in 2003, coming in at No. 613.

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Calls continue to pour in from readers seeking to help homeless students and schools in need. The Sun reported last week that the district has seen a spike in students classified as homeless.

For information about the weekend food backpack program, call the Three Square Food Bank at 644-FOOD (644-3663) or go to

threesquare.org. The district’s School-Community Partnership Office matches individuals, organizations and businesses with campuses in need. Call 799-6560 or go to

ccsd.net/partnership.

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