Las Vegas Sun

November 24, 2015

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Where I Stand — Guest Column:

Reforms vital for Nevada education

Three high schools and two elementary schools in the Clark County School District have been designated as needing help to turn around poor performance. Starting today, the Sun, with the cooperation of the district, will chart their progress.
Also today, in partnership with the Sun, KSNV Channel 3 launches its coverage of “The Turnaround: Inside Clark County Schools” at 11 p.m. Sunday. News 3 anchor Jessica Moore will explain the project and introduce the five leaders of the turnaround schools. Starting Monday, coverage moves to “News 3 Nightly at 6,” focusing on one school each day. These schools will also be featured by the Sun throughout the week.

  • Monday: Principal David Wilson’s effort to restore “Chaparral Pride.”
  • Tuesday: The new “relationship-builder” at Mojave High, Principal Antonio Rael.
  • Wednesday: How Western High Principal Neddy Alvarez will pass on lessons learned from her father.
  • Thursday/Friday: Where many principals focus on teachers and students, Elizondo Elementary’s Keith France says his focus will be on parents. When it comes to her staff, Hancock Elementary Principal Jerre Moore says, “I don’t have three months for them to get it.”

In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Today’s columnist is Gov. Brian Sandoval.

With the release of this year’s No Child Left Behind accountability reports, Clark County residents were confronted with more bad news concerning our public schools. Unfortunately, a similar story was told throughout our state. Although we are all eager for changes to the federal law’s matrix, and we can acknowledge flaws in the way schools are evaluated, we cannot ignore the fact that too many of our students lag behind.

I have placed education reform at the forefront of my agenda as governor. That is why I worked with legislators from both political parties to institute systemic reforms in our schools during the recent legislative session. I am pleased that we made tremendous progress.

The comprehensive package of reforms enacted this year represents the most significant overhaul of our education system in recent memory. We passed reform bills that will not only change how we govern education and hold the system accountable, but also how we evaluate and reward educators, enhance parental choice, and encourage a new and more diverse teaching workforce.

With the passage of Senate Bill 197, Nevada governors will appoint the state superintendent of public instruction — giving direct control over education policy to the state’s chief executive for the first time in Nevada history. A new state board of education, to be constituted in 2012-13, will ensure closer coordination as well.

Educator accountability was one of the most crucial issues this session, and we responded with sweeping reforms. We have ended teacher tenure — first, by making it harder to achieve tenured status and, second, by requiring that underperforming teachers and administrators be placed on probation.

Equally as important, we have ended the practice of “last in, first out” decision-making in the event of teacher layoffs. This practice currently limits how school districts handle layoffs, but our reform package will ensure that low-performing teachers — not just new teachers — exit the system first if layoffs are necessary. As part of these reforms, we also laid the groundwork for a pay-for-performance program to reward our very best educators.

Senate Bill 212 establishes the State Public Charter School Authority, making Nevada one of only eight states to have a specific entity focused on authorizing and supporting charter schools. I intend to leverage this reform into increased choice for parents and to highlight the best practices of innovation among our charter schools. In future years, we will continue the choice conversation by revisiting school vouchers and pursuing reforms that give parents more control over their schools.

Finally, we enacted two “alternative routes to licensure” bills. These measures will make it easier for qualified professionals from other fields and other jurisdictions to join the ranks of our teaching workforce. Nevada will embark on new professional development efforts as a result of recent legislation. The Principal Leadership Institute, a public-private partnership spearheaded by the Clark County Public Education Foundation, will pave the way for improved school leadership, while efficiently leveraging scarce public resources with private contributions.

All these measures, together with many other new laws, offer the promise of opportunity to transform our public schools. Although schools and school districts must work to ensure students receive the best instruction possible, statewide efforts must build a new infrastructure for the governance and operation of our public education system. We are well on our way, but we are not finished. Closer attention to test scores, graduation rates and accountability measures will indicate if the system is responding to Nevadans’ demand for improvement.

I believe we can and must do more — and I urge all Nevadans to help build on the reform foundation we have established. Volunteer in a school. Join the Nevada chapter of StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s advocacy organization that helped pass this year’s reform package. Read to your children or grandchildren. Provide a scholarship for graduating seniors. There is a role for everyone.

If we work together, we will produce a system that delivers the results our children deserve and our economy requires.

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