Schools such as Van Gorder and Spanish Springs Elementary schools are in the first year without the multi-track year-round calendar, which was in place due to overcrowding in the school’s population. With the schools tallying more than 1,550 students combined this week, there was a very different feel inside the schools, according to Van Gorder principal Jennifer Van Tress.
“There is such a change in the attitude of the building. It has been great and I have loved it,” Van Tress said Wednesday afternoon. “The kids are really excited about it. Yes, we had more parents and more students in the building (the first) morning so it was extremely busy, but it did have a good feel to have all of the staff members here at the same time and kids here at the same time.
“For the teachers, their attitudes were more positive by being here and following the same routine.”
Diane Dullanty, who is in her first year as principal of Spanish Springs Elementary, came over from Desert Heights Elementary in Stead where maximum capacity was not an issue.
“I never had to deal with the multi-track schedule, but the comments I am getting from teachers are that it is nice being off of it,” Dullanty said. “Teachers are good communicators and I think working together they were able to communicate and make it work, but there is something to be said for having all of us in the room at the same time.
“It’s easier, especially for me, for them and great to have the kids all there at the same time. Certain events can be done as one and not having to do two or three will be great this year.”
Van Tress said part of getting her school under the population cap was managing the number of variances the school maintained, including students and staff, from other areas of the school district. Variances at Van Gorder decreased from roughly 230 to about 70 during the summer due to the rezoning of the Spanish Springs area, which was designed to remove all the elementary schools from multi-track.
“It was the most heart-wrenching struggle I think I have ever experienced as an administrator in Washoe County School District,” Van Tress said of reducing her variances to fewer staff and students. “Every single family had a reason that they needed to stay or wanted to stay. Obviously, I was already over 100 percent capacity and I couldn’t accept all of the variances we had.
“It was just one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do in my life to have to tell these parents ‘I am so sorry’ and ‘you are going to do fine at Spanish Springs. It is a great school with a great principal and staff and your children will be fine.’ Every single family has a story but I just could not accept all of them. I had to follow district protocol. There is a reason those procedures are in place and I had to stick with that.”
David Keller, principal at Jesse Hall Elementary School, has tapped out the number of variances his school can accept at about 50 this year, which he said is consistent with the past two years he has been at the helm. He said limiting the variance rate helps keep the school from edging toward a multi-track calendar and keeps classroom environments optimal for his nearly 650 students.
“This year, as with all schools, families are staying with what they know best, so our plan is not to refuse anyone, but we are pretty much full,” Keller said. “Anybody who is looking to get in late with us will have some difficulty and they will be on a waiting list. What happens then is the families end up searching for other schools.
“Each building is designed to house a certain number of students and the district has ‘capacity’ and ‘teaming capacity,’ then it has multi-track. Our goal is to provide the best classroom environment at all times so we don’t want to run those numbers overboard where we hit the second trigger.”
With multi-track schedules removed from all Sparks-area schools administrators said they are most looking forward to having their staff on site each day for regular classes, training and a cohesive atmosphere. Van Tress said community support is vital in all the elementary schools and she feels that another year of continued support is ahead for Van Gorder.
“I still think we have a very strong relationship,” Van Tress said of her parent support. “I think our families recognized the struggle. They were talking with their friends and neighbors who were able to stay, and some who had to leave, and I think they recognized that this was a very hard process to go through.
“They have a respect for what they have here and an appreciation for being able to stay at Van Gorder. I don’t think, in my opinion, it was any harm in any of our relationships.”