Editor's Note - School daze in May

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By Tom McDonald

May is always a crazy month. The end of a school year can come at a dizzying speed for a lot of people.

Now comes a big question about how best to shape the 2012-13 school year in the Las Vegas City Schools district.

Of course I’m talking about East Superintendent Sheryl McNellis-Martinez’s proposal to move the district from a five-day-a-week classroom schedule to four days, with Fridays set aside for teachers to improve their skills and some miscellaneous student activities, including tutoring and various extracurricular activities.

Personally, I’m open to the idea, though not yet convinced of it. I suspect that’s the case for a lot of people.

Making such a big decision over the next month, along with the hustle and bustle of the school year drawing to a close, seems too fast. But that’s the point of the editorial to the left of this column, so I’ll move on.

• • •

At Thursday’s public input session on East’s proposed budget for 2012-13, which was mostly about the four-day schedule, McNellis-Martinez made an information-filled powerpoint presentation, telling the audience that more information is available on the district website (cybercardinal.net). I went to the site on Friday and found very little about the issue. Maybe I didn’t look in the right places, but all I found was her powerpoint presentation.

Of course, googling “4-day week schools/districts” as she also suggested brought to my screen a plethora of information. Clearly, the four-day week is being considered and implemented in school systems all over the nation, with money being a central consideration for many if not most of them.
I suppose the question here is whether we’re ready to jump on that trend, even though we’re told that money’s not the issue here.

• • •

While it’s commendable that McNellis-Martinez is putting the four-day issue to a vote, I’m concerned about a couple of things. First, I see no indication that the district’s patrons know about it, and even if they do, they might not know how to go about voting. My search on the district’s website on Friday only turned up (in one of the powerpoint attachments) information that the vote would take place May 15-18 and that the public is invited to participate.

I hope there’s more information available by today.

My other concern is that the school board members will put too much stock in the results of the vote. I hope they realize how misleading an online vote could be. It’s merely a sampling of opinion, not a referendum. It will still be up to the board to decide this issue.

• • •

Turning our attention to this month’s graduations, allow me to offer up my annual unsolicited advice to those who are transitioning from high school into college or the real world, and the college graduates who are moving on, “sheepskin” in hand:

For all the high school grads, I say: Don’t forget who loves you, and ask for help if you need it. And remember that you’ll make mistakes, just don’t make any that will get you killed.

And for the college grads: Your diploma tells the world that you can learn, that you’re capable to completing a formidable task. What it should tell you is that you’re now ready to start thinking for yourself. Use your smarts and figure things out for yourself. It’s still a free country; exercise that right responsibly.

• • •

Regular readers should know that I’ve been touting a debate team at West Las Vegas High School. I was invited to be a judge for some in-school debates in 2011, went back again this year, and recently reported on a debate “scrimmage” between West and United World College students, where West got a taste of how formal debate competitions operate.

I’m still rooting for West’s goal to begin debating competitively, but I’ve learned about another academically based competition in the works: quiz bowls.

Quiz bowls are typically played with two teams of four or five players each. A moderator reads questions and the players try to be first with the correct answers, thereby scoring points for their team.

Locally this effort is being spearheaded by Jim Abreu, head of the North East Regional Education Cooperative, which includes the West and East Las Vegas school districts along with Mora, Wagon Mound, Pecos and Santa Rosa. He and volunteer Frank Splendoria have been working with the districts’ superintendents to develop a regional competition for some time now.  

The approach being used is similar to West’s approach to forming a debate team. Each area district will start with some in-school Quiz Bowl competitions. Then, Abreu says, “Once they’ve mastered it, they can challenge other schools.”

Abreu confirmed that the cooperative has acquired buzzers and question-answer CDs for each of the districts’ high schools; they’ll be passed out at the beginning of the new school year.

Academic competitions next year would be a great addition to our schools’ list of extracurricular activities. I hope the community gets behind this initiative and it becomes a great success in 2012-13.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.