Virgin Valley High School was very familiar to Riley Frei when he walked through its doors this fall. He had competed against VVHS sports teams as a student at Moapa Valley High School and after college he was hired for his first teaching job as a Social Studies teacher at VVHS.
Frei knows the territory as he returns here, succeeding retiring Principal Cliff Hughes. But as he tells his staff, “We aren’t here to look backward, we are here to move forward.” He keeps his eye on a vision of excellence at VVHS. “This school has such a strong basis that has been built here,” he said. He simply wants to reinforce a sense of pride and pursuit of a world class education for the 700-plus students of VVHS.
VVHS has achieved a Nevada Four Star rating for the past two years. This is a point of great pride for this rural school that serves Mesquite and Bunkerville. The ranking underlines the fact that VVHS is not only a strong school in its athletic program, it is also a school where students can gain solid academic and career training.
Frei is not satisfied with coasting on past reputation. He is here with a mission to change for the better, improve student ACT scores, increase proficiency scores and graduation rate above current levels, and make the student experience one of enthusiasm for learning. He is glad to be working with a veteran staff of teachers who are strongly committed to the community. He notes that many grew up here in the valley and have been a part of VVHS for many years.
Most impressive to him is the caliber of students at VVHS. He sees them as problem solvers, not problem makers. “Our number of disciplinary issues here at VVHS is very low These are good kids who have an amazing capacity to learn and manage themselves well.”
His philosophy of respectful autonomy can be seen in the new cellphone policy that relies on students to follow each teacher’s classroom rule. Phones must be quieted in some rooms, while they serve useful purpose in others.
Frei believes in rewarding outstanding achievement. He has instituted “Freidaze” at VVHS, when students who have been nominated for recognition by a teacher receive a tangible reward for that effort. A number of students have received green and white athletic shoes as their reward. Monthly Super Stars will earn a gift bag or prize. On Oct. 15, a deserving group of students will be treated to a dinner out at a nice restaurant, the first of a series of dining experiences for kids who have shown excellence at school.
Collaboration and teamwork are valued in Frei’s book. The school uses a variety of communication tools keep everybody informed and involved. VVHSDAWGS.com is the school website where anybody can add an account to sign in and check out the weekly calendar of events for the school. The Spirit Store online shop has logo apparel that can be purchased to “color up” and show support for the school.
Facebook and Instagram are useful communication tools that Frei uses judiciously. His Freidaze posts give insights into school events, shout-outs for good work, and assorted items of interest to everyone following the school. Media blasts are sent to parents for key events and can be utilized for emergencies. Without “polluting” social media, the school notifies individual parents of important messages pertaining to their child, such as commendations and notifications of tardies and absences.
Technology is a great ally of education, and Frei intends to expand its use for VVHS. He looks to the future when interactive TV can cluster students to learn from an offsite teacher that might not otherwise be available to a rural school. He has worked with such “bridge” programs at his former school district, and wants to offer such opportunities to our local students. Plans are also in the works to potentially do “exchange” programs between Moapa Valley High School and VVHS, allowing students in both schools to benefit from specialty classes that are current taught on only one campus. He sees possibilities in providing college level classes to high school students through interactive courses taught by college level instructors.
Cost comes to mind when considering academic advancements. The financial shortfalls of Clark County School District have made big news in recent months. Virgin Valley High School operates on a $5.1 million budget, and Frei credits past principals with conservative use of funding, stretching budgets to do the most good.
The school is given latitude in how it wishes to allocate much of that money, with the district allowing funds to be moved between accounts so individual schools have certain control over spending. Frei points out that the last session of the Nevada Legislature passed SB178, providing additional funds for strengthening English language learning, and VVHS received $170,000 to be used only for that purpose.
Part of the school’s budget is derived from programs and grants that target areas of learning. The privately funded Get Smart Program recently provided new guitars for the music department, and other donors underwrite specific needs that are identified at the school.
Frei sees the Virgin Valley as a community of high expectations and vast generosity. He is anxious to expand cooperation between the school and the community. The VVHS campus is well-maintained and is holding its age well for a facility that was built in 1991. Addition of a second gym two years ago was a major improvement and point of pride for the school, and he sees other areas that can be spruced up, with local involvement. He foresees cosmetic improvements to the front desk reception area and the student center. Updates in the library such as glass walls could enhance individual and small group learning environment, and added bleachers in the sports field would accommodate the expanding student population and fan base.
Great dreams precede great accomplishments. Frei is determined to make those dreams come true for VVHS and its students.