The Nightclubization of Schools: a Daydream

The tipping point was the residencies.

Admittedly, when they began, we were all for them. Legendary primatologist Jane Goodall did a 13-day run at Halle Hewetson Elementary and we were so amazed, so pleased; here was someone with a career’s worth of material, someone with all the juice she needed to do a world tour, doing a Vegas residency. “We’ve evolved,” the critics said. Goodall’s residency validated Las Vegas as a major school-life player.

But that wasn’t all. Shortly after Goodall followed legal scholar Lawrence Lessig’s monthlong run at William Lummis Elementary, the postmodern cultural critic Bell Hooks raised the roof with an unprecedented three-month residency with the K-through-fivers at Patricia A. Bendorf Elementary. Rumors abound of a yearlong residency by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at Ruth Fyfe Elementary, with Cirque du Soleil providing the audiovisual materials. Gordon Ramsay is reportedly signed on for snack time.

It’s become clear that Las Vegas is on the cusp of a school-life bubble, with speculators building bigger and more lavishly equipped schools to draw in the kids. And there’s no stopping it.

Some of these places are architecturally dazzling. Sig Rogich Middle School has just finished a top-to-bottom remodel, its third in as many years; now, every single wall is a giant iPad, running off a server farm the size of a soccer field. Not to be outdone, Coral Academy has in the past three months built a 5 million-gallon saltwater aquarium and a radar telescope modeled after Russia’s RATAN-600.

And their amenities are no less remarkable. Ethel W. Staton Elementary recently introduced milk bottle service—a private table, fully stocked with Prismacolor markers and fine-grain construction paper, for as long as you want it, provided you keep ordering 2 percent at house prices. And class sizes across the Valley are shrinking as schools attempt to court return enrollments; they’re now averaging 10 kids per instructor. Meanwhile, schools have been waging intense bidding wars for the best teachers. Legislators and businesses alike have praised the process. “These people deserve whatever we can pay them,” he said.

And, of course, the Downtown Project is on the case. Plans are in motion to create a group of so-called “Zools” inside converted school buses along the Fremont East corridor. (Though sources admit that they may switch to standard portable buildings at the last minute.) The Zools Project expects to hire most of their talent from in-city, housing them at Towne Terrace.

This educational brinksmanship has brought a few notable ancillary benefits. The Smithsonian and the Louvre are both contemplating opening branches here, and NASA anticipates a major presence in a soon-to-be constructed building just north of the Stratosphere Tower (to be renamed the Stratosphere Center for Astrophysics). The venerable publisher Random House plans to relocate its headquarters from New York City to Henderson’s Water Street, and Condé Nast is rumored to be weighing a similar move.

“Given Southern Nevada’s unique investment in its students, we anticipate an unprecedented upsurge in talent and human capital in Southern Nevada,” a spokesman for Penguin Classics said. “Combined with the lower cost of office space and the allure of the Western way of life, this makes an undeniable case for relocating to the Las Vegas metropolitan area.”

Not everyone is on the bus. Some have complained about the “velvet rope attitude” at schools like Ruth Fyfe, where some parents can wait for hours to get in if the doorman doesn’t like the color of their minivan. These irate parents say that the school-life bubble is creating a culture of elitism, in which their kids actually know more than they do. They insist that the government should intervene and bust up what they consider to be “an educational oligopoly” by increasing class sizes and levying heavy taxes on them, funneling the collected monies into our broken nightclub system.

They believe their ideas will find a receptive ear in Washington.