Carson City School District will start work on capital projects in 2017 | NevadaAppeal.com

Carson City School District will start work on capital projects in 2017

For the Carson City School District, 2017 will be a year filled with improving the physical structure of the schools, as well as maintaining several important programs within the schools.

The new year will see some big changes for some of the school sites.

The district will start work this spring on capital projects. The first projects are to expand Pioneer High School and Mark Twain Elementary School. Both of these sites still use mobile classrooms and Superintendent Richard Stokes said it is the district's goal to create enough space for every classroom to have a brick and mortar structure.

"We have committed to our community members to eliminate the portable buildings we have in our district," Stokes said.

Additional classrooms also are expected at Fremont Elementary School. Much of these building improvements will be centered on the expected growth of the student population expected with the new housing developments in Carson City.

"As we are observing the growth in Carson City, our job is try to figure out who that growth is going to impact so that we can make sure we can have schools and classrooms that have all the modern accessibility, like access to the Internet and of course, put into the building efficient structures that help us to operate not only in a green way, but a way that is more efficient and cost effective for the public," Stokes said.

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Right now, the district is running at about 98 percent capacity, and with the expected influx of new families to the area, it is vital for them to begin preparing the school sites.

"This means we are almost out of room and we know we have to monitor our building needs, so when those new students come we are ready for them," Stokes said. "Those are key issues and we expect people will start to see evidence of some of that building around our schools sometime in the early spring, early summer time."

The construction on Pioneer High School will begin near the end of summer 2017 and will be broken up into two phases, said Mark Korinek, director of operations for the school district. The first phase will be an improvement remodel of the existing space and the second phase will be a 10,000 square foot addition to the high school. The students will still be in the portable classrooms until the end of the remodel.

"We want to build this addition and hopefully not disturb the students too much," Korinek said.

The construction at Mark Twain Elementary, which will consist of a wing addition to replace the portables as well as add extra classrooms, is expected to start a few months after Pioneer.

To pay for these projects, the district will be implementing their work with the Energy Saving Performance contract, which will help say the district $350,000 annually in money saving costs. This project will be completed by the end of January.

"These savings will pay for the projects," Korinek said. "And the positive thing with that is, we didn't have enough capital money to do all the things we wanted to do in our Master Plan so this frees up capital money for projects and we can both savings and projects on top of that."

These capital projects are possible with the sale of the district's school bonds, which they plan to sell after Jan. 1.

"We also have been very fortunate in Carson City to have the support of community in terms of having our buildings and grounds well taken care of and we have been able to do that through the school bonds that are approved through voters.

"The school bond doesn't raise taxes for community members so we have been able to structure school bond or the process around selling it in such a way that our indebtedness doesn't cause us to raise the tax dollars for our citizens," Stokes said. "We believe that's been important over the years and that's one of the reasons why not being able to not raise those taxes for our citizens, they have come back over time to continue to approve the school bonds when we have been in need."

These school bonds are used exclusively for capital projects within the district for projects that require a large outlay of dollars for things like new construction or remodeling projects.

PROGRAMMING

One of the biggest changes the district will face is the end of the $10 million, federally funded, Race to the Top grant. The upcoming year will be the end of the five-year grant, which helped the district create programs centered around individualized learning in for the middle and high school students. The district will now focus on how to maintain the programming and ideas from Race to the Top without the federal dollars.

"We feel like we have a learned a lot of really great outcomes because of this process. We have developed some really outstanding data keeping systems to quickly and easily look at how students are doing in real time and then being able to respond to where those students are academically," Stokes said.

This system is meant to address all students, regardless of their position on the academic spectrum so that teachers aren't just focused teaching just to the middle group. With Race to the Top, the district was able to create a specific curriculum and assessment for teachers so that all students were receiving the same information regardless of teacher or academic level.

"We want to have a defined guaranteed curriculum," Stokes said. "We want make sure that if someone in our world believes that Algebra 2 is important for all of our students to know, then we want to make sure our students receive the best possible curriculum and then examination to see if they mastered that information we provide. So that's part of Race to The Top is making sure all students have access to information that is important to world today and best possible change of mastering that material so again they can move on to whatever next steps they want.

"Just like all grants, those funds sunset at a certain time and then they go away, but the goal is that it helps us establish or modify a practice that we believe has value for the program," Stokes said. "…It will make us do things differently (losing that money) which means we have to modify the system but those good practices we want to maintain because I believe they have been very valuable to our children."

Stokes said the district also wants to start introducing Race to the Top practices to the elementary level.

Read by Grade Three — an initiative to have all students by able to read at a third-grade level by the time they are in the third grade — is another district-wide program the district is focused on maintaining in the new year.

"Read by Grade Three is relatively new and it is just what it says, that our children need to be able to read, not only in a fluent way but also for content, by the time they complete grade three," Stokes said.

Read by Grade Three is a newer initiative from the 2015 legislative session. As part of the initiative, if a student is unable to show they can read at a third-grade level by that time, they may be withheld until they are.

"We are hoping that the practices and the program we put in place will prevent that," Stokes said. "We don't think that retaining a student is good for them and there are only very few circumstances where that should occur. But it is the law, so we will obviously follow the law, but we will do everything in our power to make sure that all of our children meet that expectation by grade three."

Read by Grade Three is a state-funded initiative and the district used the money to employ more teachers to help students and create and more one on one atmosphere for the students who may be struggling. The money was also used to help improve the teachers' skills with teaching reading so that they can be the front-line person and identify where and what a student may be struggling with in reading.

"Our business is heavy in human performance, so in order to teach humans you need other humans to do that and so that is part of (the funding)," Stokes said. "We are also working to be better at teaching reading… We recognize our teachers as the experts in the classroom and we rely heavily on their skill to recognize where a student has got strengths and where the student has area to grow.

"The combination of the teacher skill with our program and materials, we expect to strengthen the academic portion of our students' reading, their ability to be stronger readers in terms of reading fluently and also being able to understand the content that are in the reading passages they are given as assessment."

2017 BUDGET

The school district also is expecting to see a $1.96 million deficit for fiscal year 2017.

The district will be losing general fund considerations with the projected loss of the full-day kindergarten grant, loss of the Race to the Top grant and staffing kindergarten through third-grade professionals in every classroom.

Though the district will be at a loss of nearly $2 million, Stokes said it isn't detrimental to the district's finances.

Stokes said the district has the option to adjust certain functions and programs in the district to help alleviate financial stress.

For example, with the Race to the Top grant, they were able to hire teachers specifically to work with that program, and now that they don't need those teachers in that position, they can reposition them to classroom teachers for those that are retiring or leaving.

"We believe we will have to adjust where we will be losing that money so some people could call that a reduction, but we are thinking of it more in how are we going to operate our house in light of the revenues we have so we don't have to dip too much into that savings."

Stokes said it is the district's goal to avoid layoffs to teachers and staff because of budgetary conditions.

"The attrition process allows us to manage our human capital in such a way so we don't have to lay people off, we just work within the system so they leave in their own accord and able to use people who are already in our system to fill those positions. You try not to do layoffs when times are bad but sometimes they are unavoidable but we do have a pretty good idea of how much we are going to get."

But Stokes said the budget numbers are just estimates at the moment, and the final budget isn't expected until the Legislature finishes its business.

"We are always very conservative in our projections because we don't want to think or project a higher number then have a greater deficit," Stoke said

STATE TESTING

The district also will begin to look at how to improve student assessment in the coming year, primarily looking at Common Core's SBAC testing.

After three years of SBAC testing, the district has finally received the results of those testing to be able to look at how to better prepare the students and teachers for the assessment.

"There recently have been some opportunities that have become available to us," Stokes said. "We went three years without really having that and so our teachers were going through the standards, lesson plan and material and the kids were taking the test but until this last year, we didn't really know how we were doing, so now with the exam results, it has been eye opening and we know we need to do more."

One way the district is altering its plans, is allowing the teachers to take the SBAC test at their grade level ahead of time so they have a better understanding of the types of questions present to better prepare the students for what they will see on the exam.

Stokes said by allowing the teachers to know what the students will face with the SBACs, they can create a deeper understanding of the material.

"What is expected through Common Core is to not only do the same algorithm, but to explain how you understand the concept behind the algorithm so that takes a deeper understanding and knowledge of the discipline," Stokes said.

But like many initiatives and practices, there is a chance the Common Core methods will be altered statewide following the upcoming legislative session.

The district also may see a change with the ACT testing required by all juniors in the state of Nevada.

Currently, all juniors in high school are required to take the college-entry ACT testing regardless if they have taken any college prep courses. Stokes said because of the mandated testing the average test score is going down.

There is a political push to alter the ACT testing and offer both a college-ready test and a career ready test for students who may want to go right into the working field after high school.

"Having that ability to give students a choice to which they feel they are most ready to take is likely to improve the outcome," Stokes said. "One, the preparation piece may be better suited for one of those types of students than the other. And two, students that may not feel prepared for the college ACT probably won't try hard on the exam, so we want to have the right exam for the right type of student and we believe that in and of itself could change the outcome of those scores."

This type of change however, will have to be enacted at the state level, depending on legislative decisions.

EMPOWER CARSON CITY 2017

The district also is in the process of creating and finalizing its five-year strategic plan, Empower Carson City 2017. This plan helps the district assess the necessary concerns and modifications to focus on in the upcoming five years.

There are five main goals addressed in the strategic plan: Community and full partnership to bring together the students and local businesses and residents to assist in real-world learning; engaged parents and guardians to help make the adults comfortable with the schools to provide academic success outside of the classroom; healthy generations of students to focus on good mental and physical health of the students so they can learn successfully; a curriculum that matters to make sure the district is providing the best tools and skills for post-secondary life; and an extraordinary staff to be successful.

Stokes will present a draft of the strategic plan to the School Board on Jan. 10 for final approval.

MOVING FORWARD

"As far as new stuff we feel that we have a lot going, in fact in education right now a common word is initiative fatigue and we are trying to reduce that," Stokes said. "Our teachers, administration, students and families work hard and we believe a lot of the systems and programs that we have in place are beneficial and helpful and we believe in them.

"We have a lot of positions and programs set up to support them so we aren't anxious to create anything new. We need to get better at what we are doing and see those events benefit our students."

Stokes said the district is excited to continue to move forward.

"I think we are moving in the right direction I think we have been well supported by trustees and community in general," Stokes said. "We know we have some areas to improve and we believe we have conditions in place to have some of those improvements occur and of course to provide our students with academic, social, emotional, physical needs that will help them to be productive citizens."