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October 21, 2014

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A month into school year, district takes student census, backfills areas of need

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Steve Marcus

Marie King removes teaching materials from the walls of a classroom Friday at Gibson Middle School. For the second time this year, King has been reassigned because of shifting demographics, this time to Clark High School, where she will teach English as a second language, rather than Spanish.

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Spanish teacher Marie King spent three weeks setting up her classroom at Gibson Middle School, even paying to have one wall painted a cheery shade of purple that she thought her students would enjoy.

On Friday, she spent three hours taking down posters and packing up her belongings, one of the 168 Clark County School District teachers who were reassigned after enrollment came in lower than expected at their campuses.

The process of reassigning teachers in the wake of “count day” happens every fall in Clark County — but historically, the changes are the result of growth, when campuses get extra, portable classrooms to accommodate more students, and staffs are altered to fairly distribute the more experienced teachers.

This year, however, administrators are cutting elective classes at some middle and high schools, and discovering fewer classroom teachers are needed at elementary schools.

Map of Del Sol

Del Sol

3100 E. Patrick Ln., Las Vegas

The fate of 168 of them played out Thursday night at Del Sol High School. They were called one by one, in order of seniority, to review a list of open positions in the district and write down their top three choices. By the end of the evening, all but one teacher had a new assignment — and that individual is expected to be offered a position soon, said Bill Garis, deputy human resources chief.

King is used to shifting assignments. In May she was transferred from Eldorado High School because of the shift of a large number of students there to a new school. King considered herself lucky to land at Gibson, a magnet middle school, where she says, she was warmly welcomed.

“Everyone was wonderful to me,” King said. “I’m sorry to leave them.”

Although most of the surplus teachers are relatively new to the district — and 34 are brand new — 64 veterans in the crowd had volunteered to take the place of a co-worker in the reassignment pool.

Such were the circumstances for kindergarten teacher Lisa Bright, who with 11 years’ seniority, had nothing to worry about at Cambeiro Elementary. But with this year’s drop in enrollment, someone needed to leave. Bright volunteered to be the surplus teacher, allowing one of her less-experienced colleagues — who had only kindergarten experience — to stay put rather than be reassigned to a different grade level at another school.

Besides, Bright figured, she would have a good choice of assignments because of her tenure.

She was right, and starting Monday she will be a learning strategist at Harley Harmon Elementary. Her new job will require her to work closely with individual students and teachers. Bright said she doesn’t mind giving up her own classroom.

“We’re all in this together,” Bright said. “I’m going to miss my students, but it’s early enough in the year that I know they’ll be fine.”

At the district’s surplus meeting, King wasn’t able to find an opening as a Spanish teacher. However, she qualified for a spot teaching English as a second language at Clark High School, which, like Gibson, is home to several thriving magnet programs. In a time of uncertainty for educators, her dual certification in ESL was something of a golden ticket, improving the odds she would be matched up with an open position.

“That’s exactly why I went back to school and got it,” said King, who taught three years in New York before moving to Southern Nevada to be closer to family. “I can take it with me wherever I go.”

Scott Gratton, who had taught photography at Durango High School for three years, was less confident than King when he arrived at the meeting. Gratton’s teaching license is for art, and he is not certified in any other subject areas. So there were two scenarios for him to worry about — that the open art positions would go to teachers with more seniority than he has, and that he wouldn’t be qualified for any of the jobs that remained.

In fact, it was Gratton’s lucky night. There was one job available for an art teacher, at Spring Valley High School, and there were no art teachers in the surplus pool with more seniority than Gratton.

The district’s process for handling surplus teachers isn’t so much unfair as it is disorganized, Gratton told the Sun. Spring Valley’s administrators had no opportunity to interview him and determine whether he would be a good fit at the school, or whether there might be a better match in the surplus pool.

“I’m a good teacher,” Gratton said. “But what if I wasn’t? They have no way of knowing that.”

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