Carol Lark said the hardest issue she's had to deal with in her first year as school superintendent is the waning student population in the Douglas County School District and what it means in funding education.
"Declining enrollment is the toughest challenge I've had to face," said Lark, who had to deal with an ever-increasing student population in her previous job in the Clark County School District.
Fewer students mean fewer dollars for education because schools are allowed funds based on student numbers. Cuts in funding may mean a reduction in courses available to students. It can also mean cuts in staff, but Lark said people retiring and a redistribution of staff will balance things out.
"It hurts us each year we continue to decline," she said. "Just because we cut courses, it's not a cut in quality - it's not a reduction of services. We will maintain the same high quality Douglas County is known for."
Lark said she wanted to allay parents' concerns from a meeting at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School last week.
"There is not an inequity between schools when it comes to electives. I know, I checked," she said.
Another result of declining students population is the closure of Kingsbury Middle School. Lark said that none of the Lake Tahoe schools will close a year early.
"Kingsbury will be closing the following year," she said. "We have more full school year after this one."
The middle school will close after the 2007-08 school year leaving Zephyr Cove Elementary School to serve kindergarten to sixth-grade while neighboring Whittell High School will house seventh to 12th grades.
Goals of the district's master plan will be difficult to accomplish with a loss of money, but funds from Senate Bill 404 have paid for a program which is the technical equivalent of the Achievement Level Test. Measures of Academic Progress is a computerized adaptive test that shows each student's instructional level and measures their growth over time.
The MAP program is in every classroom and allows teachers and students to view results immediately. She said if teachers know what students don't understand in the beginning of the school year, they will know what to teach.
"For the first time teachers can diagnose what the student needs to learn and direct them to the path they need to take," said Lark. "Kids are cheering and excited. It's created a positive environment.
"We have the way to test, diagnose and treat. Now we can know what they don't know and remediate. We can figure out where the holes are and plug them quickly."
Lark said it is important to get students ready to graduate by diagnosing and preparing them before they get to high school. She said people notice high school drop-outs but "if we're going to lose them, it's going to be in middle school. We need to make middle school more relevant to real life."
Starting this year, it is mandatory for every eighth-grader to have a one-on-one counseling meeting.
"We want each student to know their choices," said Lark. "I sent a phone message to the home of every middle school student to remind them."
She said it's important to let children know from the time they are in kindergarten that education is important. Whether it's a four-year college, two-year college/technical prep, vocational training or the military, some advanced training is critical to students after high school.
"It's not 'if' but 'where' they should go after high school," she said. "We should expect that for every child. We have to let them know there are no doors closed to them."
"The teachers in the classroom are the most important. We're blessed to have an outstanding administration and staff - people who truly enjoy their jobs."
"The atmosphere I'm sensing is very positive. It's important to our success."
Goals for Douglas County School District's 2007 Strategic Plan:
-- Provide more intervention programs and ways for opportunities for credit retrieval.
-- Work on critical content and common assessment, including Career and Technical Education Training, so that all teachers and students are on the same page.
-- Make sure students know about academic and career opportunities available to them after graduation.
-- Review and revise middle school content and make it more relevant to real life.
-- Make sure teachers are teaching critical content and state standards.