Friday, March 11, 2011 | 2:54 p.m.
The announcement that the Clark County School District wants to reorganize five low-performing schools and make staff reapply for their jobs brought anger from students, but district officials insisted Friday they are acting in the students’ best interests.
“We know that some are feeling uneasy about the change,” Superintendent Dwight Jones said during a Friday news conference. “We know that change is always hard, but we also know that it’s necessary, that students matter most, that we’ve got to take the necessary steps to ensure that kids get better results.”
The district said Wednesday that it was applying for a School Improvement Grant for Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools, and Elizondo and Hancock elementary schools.
The grant is part of a federal program that awarded funds to eight states, including Nevada, with the goal of improving schools. Nevada received $9.4 million. The Clark County School District is asking for money to perform a “turnaround” program on the five schools beginning in the fall.
How much of the funding the district will receive won’t be known until the state Department of Education announces the awards in May.
Jones said the five schools have been low-performing for at least five years and the changes are past due.
Under the plan, school staff members must reapply for their positions and a maximum of 50 percent can be rehired. The rest of the staff will be shifted to other schools in the district.
In addition, principals at the schools who have been in their positions for more than three years will be replaced, leaving only Western and Hancock with the same principals next year.
The schools would then get extra money to reduce class sizes, offer longer school days or for other programs.
District officials emphasized that no one is being fired or laid off through the program, although layoffs remains a possibility depending on the state budget.
“This is not about the adults in our system, this is about the children and our children being successful,” School Board President Carolyn Edwards said.
The board members support Jones’ plan, Edwards said; “I share in his belief that this is the right thing to do and I applaud him for his courage to move forward in this way.”
The plan prompted protests Wednesday and Thursday from students at Chaparral High School, where some students say they don’t want to lose their principal.
Critics of the district's plan argue that it unfairly places blame on teachers instead of students, while some students worried that classmates might leave school if their favorite teachers were let go.
District officials said they have to replace school staff this way because of grant requirements from the federal government. They said students would benefit from the change.
“This is certainly not an attack on the school, but rather it’s a commitment to their success and we have got to be committed to getting better results,” Jones said.
The money also comes at a welcome time as other programs end and the state budget remains in question, officials said.
Chaparral, for example, is expected to lose as much as $2 million next year as funding for current programs expires, said Lauren Kohut-Rost, the district’s deputy superintendent of instruction. If the new grant is awarded, the school will have money to make up for those cuts.
Part of the intent is also to give schools a fresh start, where the staff has the “opportunity to hit the ground running as one cohesive unit,” Kohut-Rost said. “That’s the excitement of a new school.”
Hancock Principal Jerre Moore, who will stay next year, said she has been talking to parents who are worried about the changes.
“Any time you talk about change it’s different and you just have to keep reassuring them that a fresh look at things is OK and we’re here to make sure that these children are learning,” she said. “You’re just looking at things with a fresh set of eyes, and that’s OK when you mix things up.”