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May 30, 2015

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The Turnaround:

Hancock principal a forceful presence in classrooms

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Leila Navidi

Principal Jerre Moore talks to staff members via walkie-talkie at Hancock Elementary School in Las Vegas Thursday, August 25, 2011.

Hancock Elementary School

Kindergarten teacher Paula Berry takes a lunch break during training at Elizondo Elementary School in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, August 23, 2011. Launch slideshow »

The Turnaround: Hancock Elementary School

KSNV reports that the turnaround to improve student achievement at Hancock Elementary School already is under way, Sept. 2, 2011.

Related column

Even before the school year began, Principal Jerre Moore knew she had made friends — and critics — at the academically troubled Hancock Elementary School.

“She’s very nice, very polite. She just loves kids to death,” said Sidney Wursch, a precocious third-grader who remembered Moore from last year.

But Sidney’s great-grandfather, Lee Beatty, has a different memory of last year, when Moore arrived and began imposing get-tough changes at the school — including rewriting teachers’ lesson plans and dropping in during classes and taking over if she thought the teacher was missing the mark.

“It became chaotic. It didn’t seem like everybody was on the same page,” said Beatty, who is the child’s custodial parent.

Among Moore’s reforms: tougher grading standards that triggered complaints from parents who saw their A- and B-level children getting C’s and D’s.

Moore found that the Hancock staff was inflating student grades, possibly to placate parents and students. Moore recalibrated the students’ grades to reflect the C’s and D’s that they were getting on objective diagnostic tests. Teacher grades reflected the new reality, but confused parents blamed Moore for the declines.

“The kids did fine with the changes,” Moore said. “It was some of the parents. You went from chaos to structure.”

Indeed, Hancock had lacked structure and consistency; Moore was its fourth principal in a decade. She was recruited from Bendorf Elementary School in the western valley a year ago, and brought 38 years of classroom and administrative experience to Hancock.

Few Hancock parents knew of the standardized test results until Moore shared them a year ago in a series of meetings. “They didn’t understand,” she said. “They asked, ‘Why weren’t we told about the data before?’ ” She could not answer that question.

But during her first year as principal, Hancock’s standardized reading and math scores improved by 15 and 16 percent.

•••

Hancock is one of the Clark County School District’s five new turnaround schools, a designation created by the U.S. Education Department and embraced by district officials for poorly performing schools. They are eligible for a series of federal grants and a range of intensive training programs.

Among the reform strategies embraced by the School District: Replace principals at the targeted schools with new leaders who cannot keep more than half of the existing staff. Moore was allowed to stay at Hancock, however, because she had been there only the prior year.

Moore knew her staff and retained just four of the school’s 32 teachers. The others were transferred. Moore then recruited teachers for Hancock. This would be a fresh start.

The native Texan is married to a former Air Force fighter pilot who flies for Southwest Airlines. Jerre (pronounced JA-ree) and Bill Moore claim Texas Gov. Rick Perry as a lifelong friend, and she possesses a confident, aggressive attitude that would do the Republican presidential candidate proud.

The 63-year-old grandmother routinely works 16-hour days, immerses herself in the latest educational research and has become a School District leader in the embrace of the latest reading and writing initiatives.

Moore routinely reviews students’ classroom writing and spends late nights eyeing the classroom plans of her teachers. On visiting teachers’ classrooms and taking over if she believes a teacher is failing to properly reach students, Moore says: “I don’t have a week to write it up and share my thoughts with a teacher. I want to show them what I want so the expectations are clear.”

Her management style is not for everyone, particularly teachers who like the independence of working in classrooms with doors that separate them from the eyes and ears of their co-workers and administrators. The teachers who balked at what they viewed as Moore’s micromanagement were transferred. (The School District and the teachers union won’t identify those teachers, or where they are this year, citing privacy policies.)

The new staff, such as fifth-grade teacher Gregory Kramer, seem on board with Moore. “Jerre, she’s tough,” he said. “At first her energy’s intimidating, but it brings you up to another level.”

•••

Moore and her counterparts at the School District’s four other turnaround schools — Chaparral, Mojave and Western high schools and Elizondo Elementary School — spent a week this summer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Management. They spent 16-hour days in classes, hearing lectures and discussing a multitude of nationwide school reform efforts. The sessions, funded by a federal grant, required each principal to produce a 90-day action plan to reverse the fortunes of his or her school.

The competitive Moore proudly shows hers to a visitor, noting that she was the first of the Clark County five to complete her plan. It called for building repairs — which have been completed — and using a classroom near the entrance to serve as a center that will provide Hancock parents with basic English classes and training in a variety of life skills.

The 90-day plan also called for an intensive public relations effort to gain the trust and commitment of Hancock parents. “The Hispanic parents do not get involved in the school activities (but) totally trust the school to educate their children,” she wrote. The solution: Develop a welcoming culture.

Moore also wants her teachers to “shake every parent’s hand and thank them for getting their child to school on time or thank them for ensuring that they make sure their child has prepared their homework.”

•••

Beatty has grown more comfortable with Moore’s managerial style. “Things got better and better and better,” he said of the academic progression last year. “Mrs. Moore cared about the students.”

The spotlight remains on Moore and her staff. As she considers the often overheated communitywide and national debate about the state of public schools and the efforts of all involved, Moore expresses her sense of confidence.

“You’ve got to hire people who are relentless in what they do, people who are always prepared. We’re under a microscope, which is OK. If you’re doing your job and you’re effective, you’re going to get it.”

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