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April 26, 2015

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Superintendent to ‘stay the course’ to improve Las Vegas schools


Justin M. Bowen

Dwight Jones, the Clark County School Superintendent, is photographed in his office Thursday, January 20, 2011.

The Clark County School District is moving in the right direction despite its mounting challenges, Superintendent Dwight Jones announced Thursday.

The second-year superintendent of the nation's fifth largest school district released his second white paper, which touted the accomplishments of the past year and foreshadowed his plans for the upcoming year.

Jones' phase II report — titled "A Look Ahead: Progress made and the next mile" — comes on the heels of a phase I report released last year that outlined new educational "reforms," such as reorganized school zones, a school ranking system and a different way to measure school improvement.

"Phase I was a giant step forward, (outlining) what we were going to do," Jones said during a School Board meeting. "Phase II really highlights how did we do … and what is ongoing that we’ll continue to focus on.”

In July 2011, the School District announced plans to reorganize its 357 schools into 13 "performance zones," grouping low-performing schools together into a "turnaround zone" and high-performing schools into a "autonomous zone." By doing so, the district better focused resources toward struggling schools and rewarded top schools with "empowerment" — meaning less oversight and more autonomy.

In August 2011, the School District unveiled the Nevada Growth Model of Achievement, which emphasizes student "growth" from year to year rather than just proficiency levels determined by standardized test scores. This growth model will eventually replace No Child Left Behind's stringent "adequate yearly progress" measure, which punished schools that made significant improvements, but failed to hit proficiency.

In February, the School District adopted a new school ranking system called the "school performance framework," which rated all schools on a one- to five-star scale. By identifying "pockets of success" in the large district, one- and two-star schools could learn from the top-performing, five-star schools.

These three major changes were executed this past year in an attempt to raise student achievement in one of worst-performing school districts in the nation. Expectations for students, teachers, schools and the district were to be raised — to ensure that all children were "ready by exit" to pursue post-secondary opportunities without remediation.

Some "reforms" were started, but are still in progress, Jones said.

These continuing changes include a new four-tiered teacher evaluation system, a "new schools division" to expand innovative school models and new ways to attract, retain and train better teachers.

The district is still working on expanding its technology offerings — such as iPads and online courses — and creating more public-private partnerships to study merit pay for teachers, create early-childhood programs and help launch the more rigorous Common Core State Standards curriculum.

The federal "turnaround" efforts at 11 of the lowest-performing schools in the district are also ongoing, Jones said. The first and second rounds of these "turnaround" schools have decreased their numbers of nonproficient students, Jones said.

Throughout these changes, Jones said he has learned several key tenets:

• The School District cannot excuse its demographics — high minority and high poverty students — for its lackluster performance. That's because similar major urban school districts such as Miami-Dade, Houston and Broward County all posted higher student achievement than Clark County.

• Academic success can be found within every school in the district, albeit in different amounts. Some top-performing schools thrive in high poverty areas as well — although a Sun analysis found these schools are in the minority.

Jones plans to take these reforms and lessons learned to guide the district toward his student achievement benchmarks, to be attained by June 2016. The district showed mixed progress toward reaching those goals, Jones said.

The district's preliminary high school graduation rate improved 6 percentage points to 65 percent. The district is well on its way toward boosting graduation rates to 75 percent within five years.

The rate of improvement for minority students grew modestly from the past year, especially among Native American and black students. That means the district is chipping away at the achievement gap between minority and white students.

However, there is still significant work to be done to achieve Jones' other five-year goals, including lowering college remediation rates, increasing Advanced Placement exam passing rates and college attendance rates, and increasing literacy and algebra proficiency rates.

That's why Jones said he will emphasize building on the reforms started last year, supporting teachers through more professional development and finding collaborative ways to foster innovations in education. The district will also focus its resources on programs that have the greatest "return on investment," Jones said.

"We will stay the course," Jones said. "I believe we’re on the right course.”

Sun reporter Brian Nordli contributed reporting to this story.

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  1. Imagine a doctor proudly telling you he removed 75% of your cancerous tumor or an employer bragging about paying you 75% of what you earned. Is that the America we live in now? If things don't work out, lower your aspirations. Lower your expectations and accept mediocrity.

  2. Good grief, wizardofoz, that document is not 1000's half that. Additionally, you still haven't read it. If you had, you would see that it is the framework for teacher education programs and how to teach English, math, critical thinking. Do us all a favor and actually read the damn thing and then get back to us on what part of it is so scary and wrong. Make up your own mind based on reading the actual document instead of parroting the crazy ideas of some dude with a blog and an agenda. Critical thinking skills, my friend. Use them.

  3. Well, this will give something for all the administrators to do. Here's a thought: RIF half the administrators and retain only those assigned full-time to actual work.

  4. All they have to do is break up the school districts. That's right, we need a Henderson School District, where all the smart kids live with involved parents in the highest rated schools. The Las Vegas district will have mostly white trash parents who are never home and could care less about their children's progress. North Las Vegas will have-Oh God-let's not even think about it. What a great city...

  5. In the 1950's American corporations infamously used time and motion studies to install greater [purported] efficiency in manufacturing. The nature of the organization, however, remained the same. At the same time, W. Edward Deming took his ideas, which had been rejected by US companies, to Japan and helped teach and install those ideas in Japan. To our everlasting regret we know how that turned out for the US economy.

    Dwight Jones is not the only educational "leader" following the same path of failure. So long as CCSD remains a bloated, top-down organization no substantive change will occur.

    The Sun is to be commended for spending time and energy looking at our schools and it is to be damned for giving us a series of happy-face stories which do not delve into how and why the District functions as badly as it does.

    Many correspondents to these stories comment on the negative aspects of CCEA, the teachers union. Why do workers form unions? Usually to counter the irrationality and cluelessness of administration and management. Fifty years ago the Education Associations weren't unions, they were voluntary organizations whose primary purpose was improvement of education and of members skills. Why did they evolve into a union?

    Why do CCSD administrators have a union. I've been a union member [IAMAW, LPIW and AFT/NEA] for close to 50 years and only at Boeing were professional and technical employees unionized through the Engineers organization. Even then those folks were not really in supervisory or management position as are CCSD administrators.

    Roslenda, with whom I do not often agree, makes a good suggestion. The only problem is that they are protected in their positions by a contract which is even more restrictive and protective than the teachers'. Jones is not at fault, he is surrounded by folks whose primary purpose is to protect their turf and their homies turf. Go back to my third paragraph; you don't know anything about CCSD administration because the Sun's focus has been on the perceived failings of teachers.

    In a top-down, centralized organization who should be held accountable for poor outcomes....the people who plan, design, implement and manage or the people who merely carry out their instruction?

  6. Interesting that the article states that "The School District cannot excuse its demographics". The first year of this "growth model" should be used to deeply analyze data. Really identify groups of schools with very similar socioeconomic characteristics. Once you identify those, drill down and find what seems to be working inside of those categories. There are obviously going to be a lot of differences with individual students and their lives at home, but I'd have to imagine they can identify some patterns, and really see what works. Is it a parent outreach program? Is it specific types of teacher training? Is it more autonomy for the schools? More autonomy for the teachers?

    They really need to answer some of these questions before they rush in to holding teachers accountable for the results, without knowing what they're analyzing. And I say that as a big proponent of performance based compensation. But it HAS to be done in a fair way, but it should also be done quickly (a year?). They need to work with the teachers to come up with something that's fair. I'm sure we've all had a job where we've had to deal with the negative effects of bad ideas coming from the executives, and I'm sure some of us have seen how different it is when you feel like you have a voice, contribute, and work together to come up with a solution. That should be one of Jones' goals for next year...really try to work together with the teachers to come up with a solution. Listen to their grievances. Of course they're angry to see an assistant making more money than they are. Or administrators with less experience making double what they make, working fewer hours. You need to right some of these wrongs in order to get everyone on board with your plans, even if they have a relatively small impact on the budget. That doesn't mean bending over backwards and accepting all of their demands, it means being reasonable and fair, communicating clearly, and LISTENING to their concerns.

    We can NOT have an "us versus them" attitude if we want to make real progress. That goes for the school board, Jones, the administrators, and the teachers. I think that a large portion of the public is fed up with the bickering, especially on issues where the solution seems obvious (ridiculous pay for administrators compared to teachers, identifying and firing poor performing employees, etc.).

    Sorry for the long post. I'm interested in hearing other ideas.

  7. @bobthebuilder....they can also look forward to working for highly motivated folks who graduated from CCSD schools. I taught Automotive Technology and saw kids ranging from fast-track dropouts to brilliant engineering and robotics kids and everything in between. CCSD has some great teachers and bright kids, parents have to be involved, encourage and monitor. The benefit that your kids have in private schools is that those schools discriminate in favor of motivated kids and parents. There is no diversion of resources to special ed, to remedial education, to dropout prevention, to the vast mass walking through the door every day.

  8. My kids are getting an excellent education in CCSD schools. Gee, I wonder if it could possibly be the fact that their parents value education and have instilled that in their kids? Hmmmm....

  9. Pat Hayes' first post today is the best post I've ever seen concerning the CCSD.

    The problems of the CCSD are the fault of the decision makers, not the people who are forced to implement those decisions.

    Thanks, Pat.

  10., notwithstanding Federal involvement, is a function of the States and its constitutionality is therefore governed by State Constitutions and Statutes. Are you really an ignorant, scared little man behind a curtain?